12/05/2011 1:02PM

Gulfstream Park enjoys strong start to meet

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Gulfstream Park’s earliest opening in its 69-year history proved to be a success on Saturday with a crowd of 8,524 on hand for the start of the 2011-2012 meeting.

Because opening day last season came a month later and on a Wednesday, Jan. 5, it is impossible to precisely compare business on the two days. But total handle on Saturday of $4,837,605 was an increase of 22 percent over last season’s opening day, and ontrack handle of $436,107 was up nearly 23 percent.

Perfect weather conditions and full fields averaging nearly 10 starters per race helped fuel the big day.

“We were really excited about our opening weekend and especially happy with opening day,” said Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream Park’s president and general manager. “There was lots of energy in the building on Saturday and I think that  bodes well for the entire winter. Whenever you do something new like this you’re always nervous but after what I saw Saturday and again Sunday, I’m very happy about the dates swap.”

Ritvo said he received a lot of good comments from fans and horsemen alike over some of the changes from last season, which include a second finish line that allows Gulfstream to run 1 1/16-mile races.

“People were using the new seating out on the grandstand apron, and patrons complimented us regarding the Trakus system as well as how great the food was,” Ritvo said. “And the new mile and one-sixteenth races were well received by horsemen.”

The Gulfstream meet also will end earlier than last season, on April 8, which means the track has essentially traded some dates in April for dates in December.

“We’re not trying to pretend it’s January or February, that our cards or business will be as strong now as during the peak of the winter, by opening early,” Ritvo said. “Our goal is simply to have our business in December beat the business we traditionally would do after the Florida Derby in April. And from what I saw this weekend,  I’m positive we’re going to achieve that.”