01/24/2007 12:00AM

Gulfstream's ontrack business soars


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Less than one month into his first meet as president and general manager of Gulfstream Park, and Bill Murphy already has plenty to smile about. Business inside his building is up dramatically over corresponding figures from a year ago, and the best is yet to come. The Sunshine Millions is on tap this weekend, and a tremendous Donn Day program that will feature two Eclipse Award winners and the top 3-year-old prospect Nobiz Like Shobiz looms the following week.

Through the first 15 days of the 2007 session (Jan. 3-21) ontrack handle on live racing was $11.9 million, up 32 percent from the same period a year ago, while the handle on incoming simulcast signals during live racing was up 90 percent from 2006. Overall, the total ontrack handle is $22.3 million, compared with $14.5 million from last year, an increase of nearly 54 percent.

"I think there are a number of reasons for the business increases in the building," Murphy said on Wednesday. "The live racing product has been outstanding. We've added 70 mutuel machines on the first floor. Our patrons are starting to find their comfort zones both inside and outside the main building. Cutting back one race a day to nine on weekdays and 10 on weekends has led to bigger purses. We are offering poker this year, which we didn't for much of the 2006 meet, and I think there is some crossover between poker players and horseplayers.

"Opening our nightclub Serenata for simulcasting has been extremely popular. And we have gained some additional customers during the opening 14 days that we lost last year during the same period when Calder was operating as a simulcast outlet."

Murphy said not being able to send the simulcast signal to its biggest customer, the New York offtrack betting outlets, for nearly the opening three weeks of the meet was responsible for a decline in business on the export signal. But he expects that will pick up quickly now that the New York OTB's are back in the fold.

"If field sizes hold up, and with some of our big days coming up, we should be able to make up that deficit rather quickly," said Murphy.

Cherry on top for Wolfson

Trainer Marty Wolfson thought winning the Breeders' Cup Mile with Miesque's Approval was as good as it gets. But Wolfson admitted that having Miesque's Approval, a former claimer, be named the Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top male turf horse on Monday may have been even better.

"The phone didn't stop ringing Monday night from the moment they announced Miesque's name as the winner," said Wolfson, who watched the ceremonies on television from his home in Davie, Fla. "I was very confident a week ago that we could win. But then all the California commentators on TVG started talking about how The Tin Man deserved the award, and I got a little nervous. I didn't think it could get any better than the Breeders' Cup, but this is a great feeling, one more of accomplishment than anything else, because he's just a neat, blue-collar-type of horse who made every dance right from the start of the year through the Breeders' Cup."

Miesque's Approval, owned by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation, is stabled year-round at Calder. He won his five races in 2006 at five racetracks, although according to Wolfson the horse came within a scratch away of perhaps never becoming more than a mainstay on the south Florida circuit.

"It's such an ironic story how he came to have a year like that," said Wolfson. "I was going to buy this horse with a client from Mrs. Weber if he didn't run in the Sunshine Millions Turf, and I probably would have just kept him around here and run him every couple of months in overnight handicaps, considering his age and past history. He was number 13 on the also-eligible list for the Sunshine Millions but got in at the last minute due to a late defection, and then beat Silver Tree to deprive Jerry Bailey of winning with the final mount of his career. After that Mrs. Weber just decided to keep him, and the rest is history."

Miesque's Approval will make his 2007 debut next Saturday in the Canadian Turf Handicap, one of the two races he lost last year. He was defeated by fellow Eclipse Award finalist English Channel.

"Right now the plan is to keep him on pretty much the same schedule as last year, unless Mrs. Weber decides to send him to Dubai, which has been discussed," said Wolfson, who breezed Miesque's Approval five furlongs in 1:03.40 at Calder on Wednesday.

Lake gets back to work after bans

Trainer Scott Lake returned to work here on Tuesday, his first morning at the track since beginning the first of his two consecutive 30 -day suspensions for clenbuterol positives in November. The first suspension came from Delaware Park, the second in New York.

"It feels great to be back," Lake said from the Gulfstream backstretch on Tuesday. "My wife and I drove down on Friday, and I couldn't wait to get to work this morning."

Lake, who led the country in total victories in 2006 with 528 wins despite missing the final five weeks of the season because of his suspensions, said he spent much of his time vacationing in El Carmen, Mexico.

"All of my help comes from El Carmen, so I decided to go down there, visit some of the guys who have worked for me in the past, and just lay back and take it easy for a while," said Lake.

Lake, who will split his time between south Florida and Philadelphia Park this winter, has 16 horses stabled locally and was to have his first horse of the meet on Thursday, when his multiple-stakes-winning veteran Tacirring was entered in the afternoon's feature event.

* Trainer Allen Jerkens won the Grade 3 First Lady Handicap with Any Limit last weekend, and he worked her Grade 1-winning stablemate Swap Fliparoo in 35.40 seconds under jockey Javier Castellano here Wednesday for Saturday's Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.