09/02/2010 12:57PM

Gulfstream plans to add lights before next meet

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Tom Keyser
A Florida law prevents racetracks from running past 7 p.m., but officials are confident they can have it changed.

Gulfstream Park in Florida plans to install lights at the track prior to the opening of the 2011 meet in early January, despite a law that prohibits Thoroughbred tracks from running a race after 7 p.m., the chief executive of Gulfstream’s parent company, MI Developments, said Thursday.

Dennis Mills said that MI Developments is in the midst of taking bids on the project, which would allow Gulfstream to hold night-racing cards if the law prohibiting night-time Thoroughbred racing is changed. No Thoroughbred track in the state currently has lights.

Mills, a former legislator in Canada’s Parliament, said the company was “confident” that it could convince legislators to overturn the law, which is designed to protect the state’s greyhound industry. Florida has 14 operating greyhound tracks, including three in the greater Miami area. One of the Miami area tracks, Hollywood Greyhound Park, is approximately two miles north of Gulfstream.

“We’re so confident [the law will be changed] we’re going to set the lights up,” he said. “You find me the legislator who is going to oppose something that creates jobs and sustains an industry.”

Mills said that MI Developments officials have had “preliminary” discussions with legislators about changing the law. The legislature is not scheduled to return to session until March 8, 2011. Gulfstream’s meet typically runs from early January until late April.

Night racing is uncommon in the Thoroughbred industry, but in the past two years, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., has had success in drawing enormous crowds to night-racing cards held during its spring and summer meet. The track installed permanent lights last year because of the experiment’s initial success.

Mills said that Gulfstream would hope to replicate Churchill’s success, and added that he has discussed Churchill’s night-racing experience with officials from that company.

“It’s like a bar with 35,000 people in it,” Mills said, referring to the party-like atmosphere at the Churchill night-racing events.

Kent Stirling, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents trainers at South Florida tracks, said that the organization “hadn’t really ever talked” about the project with MI Developments, noting the law that prohibits night-time racing.

MI Developments took over the operations of Gulfstream Park on April 30 after the track and other racing assets were transferred to the company from its bankrupt subsidiary, Magna Entertainment Corp., which was dissolved. Magna tore down Gulfstream and rebuilt the track at a cost of $170 million in 2006. The money to rebuild the track was provided by MI Developments, but the debt was erased as part of the asset transfer.