01/03/2007 12:00AM

High spirits at meet opener

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - For trainer Vickie Foley, the 88-day meet at Gulfstream Park started in perfect fashion Wednesday. Foley sent out Donnie's Madam to win the first race of the meet, leading to smiles all around for Foley, her staff, and jockey Edgar Prado.

"We'd all said at the barn how nice it'd be to win the first race of the meet," said Foley. "This filly hadn't panned out so far for us, so we dropped her into this spot, and it happened to be the first race. It all worked out just great."

This aura of good feeling was not limited to the winners of the nine races. After more than seven months of racing at Calder, the regulars on the south Florida circuit were ready for a change of scenery, as were the multitudes of horsemen and snowbirds who migrate annually to Florida to escape the colder climates up North.

Even jockeys such as Kent Desormeaux, whose first few mounts of the day ranged from poor to awful, said he was elated to be at Gulfstream. In Desormeaux's first three races, one mount finished last, the next bolted, and the third was eased.

"It's all going to be fine," said Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who is riding regularly at Gulfstream for the first time in his 20-year career. "It's exciting to be here. It almost feels like I'm on vacation. I'm reinvigorated, fresh, ready to make myself known to the fans. It's a good feeling just to be here."

Unfortunately, there was a spill during the opening day's fifth race, when apprentice Jermaine Bridgmohan was thrown from his mount, Toms Mulligan, on the clubhouse turn of the 1 1/8-mile turf event. Bridgmohan, the leading rider at the recently completed Tropical at Calder meet, took off all remaining mounts and was taken to Memorial East Hospital in Hollywood. His agent, Cory Moran, said Bridgmohan was in a lot of pain and was undergoing X-rays of his shoulder, ribs, and right hand.

"He's banged up pretty good," Moran said. "He's having trouble breathing. But, thank God, it could have been a lot worse. He looked like a rag doll being thrown around out there."

Except for the spill, most everything seemed to proceed smoothly at the 68-year-old track, which has experienced growing pains since a $170 million renovation project began in 2004. More than 500 slot machines have been installed since last year's meeting, and there were plenty of available machines Wednesday in the second-floor slots room.

As for how the turf and dirt courses played, jockey John Velazquez said: "No complaints. The turf course has some water in it, but hopefully it will hold up."

Ontrack handle was up over last year but all-sources handle was down considerably, although comparisons may not be valid because only eight races were carded on the 2006 opener. Also, the Gulfstream signal was not taken Wednesday anywhere in New York because Aqueduct was closed and a disagreement on simulcast rates prevented the signal from going to New York's offtrack betting sites.

Ontrack handle Wednesday was $811,464, up 22 percent from the $659,943 handled on opening day last year, while the all-sources handle of $4,641,301 was down 32 percent from $6,742,026 last year.

The estimated attendance for the opener last year was 5,150, but no estimate was available Wednesday.

Prado, Velazquez, and Joe Bravo had the best opening days among jockeys, winning two races each.

The Gulfstream meet runs through April 22.