07/01/2013 4:14PM

Gulfstream Park opener attracts almost $2.5 million in betting


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Gulfstream Park began its inaugural summer meeting Monday amidst an air of uncertainty, but racing there was welcomed back with enthusiasm by local fans and simulcast players around the country.

The 47-day meet is the first time in Gulfstream’s 74-year history that it has raced during the summer. Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course across town will race in direct conflict on weekends, competing for both horses and betting dollars.

Monday’s program lured a larger-than-normal crowd for a weekday card, while featuring a sparkling performance from jockey Joel Rosario, who won three of the first five events on the day.

According to the track, all-sources handle for the eight-race card totaled $2,493,688, of which $156,660 was wagered ontrack.

“We’re pleased with the way the public and the horsemen responded to the first day of our summer meet,” Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said. “We’re also thankful to the New York jockeys who came out to ride, greet our fans, and take part in our opening day.”

Rosario was one of four New York-based riders who flew down for opening day to ride and accept a donation to the Disabled Jockeys’ Fund from track management. Rosario was joined at Gulfstream on Monday by two-time defending Gulfstream riding champ Javier Castellano along with Hall of Famers John Velazquez and Edgar Prado.

Rosario won the first two races on the program, with the 7-1 Tyler’s Wildcat and 1-5 Kitten’s Gift. Tyler’s Wildcat was saddled to victory by Jose Garoffalo, one of more than a dozen trainers who transferred their stables from Calder to Gulfstream over the weekend after Calder officials instituted a policy that forbids horses stabled in its barn area to re-enter the grounds if they leave to compete in a race at Gulfstream.

Garoffalo, who has 20 horses bedded down locally, said: “I decided to move my stable to Gulfstream because I believe we have better conditions here, better purses, and more respect for our jobs by management by allowing us to run at both tracks this summer. So for me, the decision to be here was a no-brainer.”

Rosario completed his hat trick aboard the heavily favored Heiko in the co-featured fifth event, one of three turf races on the card. Heiko is trained by Marty Wolfson, who said he plans to move his entire stable of 25 horses to Gulfstream from Calder on Sunday.

Wolfson said Heiko was not allowed to return to Calder after winning Monday, although he was given permission by management to bring the horse he ran in the seventh race, Jewel in the Sky, back after the race. Heiko was entered for Friday at Calder, but Wolfson said he intends to scratch.

“They said because Heiko is in the body of the race at Calder on Friday he can’t return,” Wolfson said. “There’s 14 horses in the field, and they know ahead of time I’m scratching, so it’s not like it will cost them a starter. Somebody will get in.”

Wolfson said he likes training his horses at Calder. But he feels he has no choice but to move to Gulfstream from his longtime home at Calder, which runs its stakes-filled Summit of Speed card Saturday.

“I’m kind of forced to make the move,” Wolfson said. “It just makes me mad that an hour after they told me I couldn’t bring Heiko back I entered 11 horses for Summit of Speed Day. I wish I didn’t have to run those horses on Saturday.”

According to John Marshall, Calder’s vice president of racing, the track has already had 163 horses relocate to Gulfstream. He also acknowledges that many other trainers are seriously considering making the move.

“Our horse population last week stood at 1,571, today we are at 1,450, and we can stand another little hit and still run three days a week throughout the summer,” Marshall said Monday. “One message getting lost in our new policy is that it’s a restricted-access policy, not closed access. Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis after being reviewed by our racing secretary Mike Anifantis, although to my knowledge the majority of the horses from Calder who competed there today stayed there.”

Marshall said some exceptions in the restricted-access policy are being made to allow an owner to become eligible to claim horses at Gulfstream.

“One twist we are acknowledging is in regard to the claiming rule at Gulfstream, where owners need to run at least one horse to become eligible to claim,” Marshall said. “We’re giving some respect to that rule. If we have a horse that cannot be used here in the foreseeable future, we’ll allow a trainer to take that horse to run at Gulfstream out of respect for the owner.”