11/16/2011 12:29PM

Gulfstream Park adding new finish lines, video boards, Trakus

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Activity around the racetrack, grandstand, and barn area at Gulfstream Park is in full swing, with the Dec. 3 opening of the 2011-2012 meeting just around the corner.

Construction crews are working feverishly to complete the track’s $3 million capital improvement program in time for the opener, which comes one month earlier than Gulfstream’s traditional Jan. 3 opening date.

Among the major projects is the construction of a second finish line approximately 100 feet past the sixteenth pole. That will allow 1 1/16-mile races to be run on Gulfstream’s 1 1/8-mile main track for the first time since 2004. The start for 1 1/16-mile races will be approximately 100 feet past the normal finish line.

Three-year-olds pointing to the Grade 1, $1 million Floriday Derby, which is run at 1 1/8 miles on March 31, will be able to take advantage of the new distance in two key prep races: the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26.

“We want to be able to get young horses around two turns early,” said Tim Ritvo, president and general manager of Gulfstream Park.

The Fountain of Youth has been decided at 1 1/8 miles for six of the last seven years. The race was run at a mile when won by Quality Road in 2009.

The new finish line will get tested quickly with three 1 1/16-mile races in the condition book for opening day.

Other projects being completed include the installation of six high-resolution video boards throughout the facility and approximately 250 free covered stadium seats in the enhanced Tiki Hut area, which will run along the grandstand apron up to the eighth pole.

Gulfstream also will introduce the Trakus system, which allows fans to better track the running paths taken by horses on television. Trakus uses microchips in the horses’ saddle cloths to track their position during a race and measure how far each actually ran.

Gulfstream has a new mobile betting system, called M Bets, which allows bettors to wager from a cell phone or iPad while on the track property.

“That means they can bet right from their seats and not have to fight the long lines at the mutuel windows,” Ritvo said.

Ralph Pagano, a former contestant on the “Iron Chef” television program and who recently left STK Restaurant in South Beach, is the new head of Gulfstream’s food and beverage program.

Ritvo said he expects that the earlier meet opening and closing – the final day of the meet is April 8 – should result in better business.

“We believe the realignment of dates is in the best interests of not only Gulfstream Park but all south Florida racing,” Ritvo said. “We were up 15 percent in live handle last season and our goal, with a break from the weather, is to better that figure this year.”

Approximately 500 horses are on the grounds, with more arriving daily. Nominations for the meet’s first stakes, the $100,000 Spectacular Bid for 2-year-olds on opening day, close Saturday.