10/03/2016 1:06PM

Gulfstream Park West meet best experienced offtrack


MIAMI – The grandstand is gone, but live racing will return to the old Calder Race Course when the 40-day Gulfstream Park West meet opens Wednesday and continues through Nov. 27. Racing will be conducted Wednesdays through Sundays, with additional programs this coming Monday and on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Officials from The Stronach Group, which leases the facility from Churchill Downs Inc. for the two-month session, are stressing that amenities will be lacking and are urging local patrons to wager on the Gulfstream Park West races from their parent track at Gulfstream Park.

“Our goal is to always make the customer comfortable,” said P.J. Campo, general manager of Gulfstream and vice president of racing for The Stronach Group. “But right now, we’re playing the hand that’s been dealt us, and because of the ongoing construction at Gulfstream Park West, we can only provide limited amenities and no simulcasting on-site.”

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According to Campo, there will be only a handful of self-service wagering machines at Gulfstream Park West, with the only cover from the elements being a tent that has been set up for owners and trainers. A series of containers stacked atop one another has been set up for racing officials and the track announcer.

Despite the almost surreal atmosphere that will prevail for the live racing, with few if any spectators present on a daily basis, Campo expects the racing to be good over the next eight weeks.

“We put a lot of time and money into the turf course, and we’ll probably use it to run four or five races a day, although, of course, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature there,” said Campo. “A lot of guys are starting to come back early from up north. Last year, we averaged a little over eight starters a race here, and hopefully we can better that this fall, dependent on the weather.”

There are 12 races on the Gulfsteram Park West stakes schedule, topped by the Grade 3 Tropical Turf and Grade 3 My Charmer handicaps on Nov. 26. Sunshine Millions Preview Day will be held on Nov. 12, with seven stakes worth $100,000 apiece that mirror similar races on the Sunshine Millions card, decided at Gulfstream Park each January.

“It’s nice to be able to get a break at Gulfstream Park while we renovate the facility as well as the turf course and still be able to continue racing at Gulfstream Park West,” said Campo.

Among the Calder regulars participating during the upcoming meet is Kathleen O’Connell, who still has a large contingent among the 450 horses who remain stabled at the track.

“It’s gut-wrenching to see the grandstand down, and while the writing is on the wall, I’ll continue to ride it out as long as I can over here,” said O’Connell, who has been coming here since the early 1980s and is a member of the Calder Hall of Fame.