01/01/2009 12:00AM

New look for Gulfstream meet

Mike Mullaney/Gulfstream
Construction for a new shopping area, to be completed by October 2009, is one of many changes at Gulfstream Park this year.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park may be celebrating its 70th birthday this winter, but the old place will feature plenty of new wrinkles when the 79-day 2009 meet opens on Saturday.

Changes and improvements at Gulfstream this year include the hiring of a new racing secretary, Doug Bredar, and two new stewards, Bernie Hettel and Don Brumfield; the switch from a six-day racing week for most of the meet to a five-day racing week; some tweaking of the stakes schedule; renovations to the turf course; and an already star-studded jockeys colony that will be further bolstered by the additions of such promising young riders as Julien Leparoux, Alan Garcia, and Paco Lopez.

The 2009 meet will also receive complete coverage on a daily basis for the first time from HRTV and will be available for account wagering on XpressBet, Youbet, and Twinspires.

The opening-day card figures to be a harbinger of things to come with fields of 11 horses or more in seven of the nine races on the program, including the 14 entered in the $100,000 Hal's Hope. The Grade 3 Hal's Hope is one of two stakes on opening day, along with the $100,000 Spectacular Bid.

As always, 3-year-old racing will be the centerpiece of the meeting, with the $750,000 Florida Derby once again the marquee event on March 28. Both Barbaro, in 2006, and Big Brown last spring used a victory in the Florida Derby as a springboard to winning the Kentucky Derby five weeks later.

Bredar, who earlier in his career served as stakes coordinator at Gulfstream, has made several changes in the stakes schedule, most notably shortening the distances on such longstanding fixtures as the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. The Fountain of Youth, previously run at 1 1/8 miles, will be run at a mile. The Gulfstream Park Handicap has been shortened from 1 3/16 miles to a mile.

"I'm very excited to be back at Gulfstream Park and I feel I can add some things that will help make this meet something special," said Bredar. "I think our opening card shows exactly what to expect during the meet: Full fields, with horses converging from all over the country and Canada that will make for some fabulous racing on a daily basis."

Bredar also explained some of the changes he has made to the stakes program.

"I thought there were some flaws in the schedule the past few years, so I switched a few things around to help maximize our horse population with the hope of giving horsemen an opportunity to run in a stakes race a month in nearly every category," said Bredar. "I also changed some distances to create a better flow, including shortening both the Fountain of Youth and Gulfstream Park Handicap to a mile."

Last year, the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby were both run at 1 1/8 miles. Bredar said he would have liked to card the Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles, but because of the configuration of the main track, dirt races cannot be carded at that distance.

Bredar's first condition book has been well received by the majority of area horsemen.

"I think it was a great move to bring Doug in," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "I've always been a fan of his from back in the days he worked here as stakes coordinator. I always believed he'd make a great racing secretary."

The switch to a five-day race week and renovation to the grass course - it underwent a process called vertical mulling, meant to soften the course and make for a smoother ride - are reasons Gulfstream president Bill Murphy is looking forward to a very successful meeting, despite the obvious problems created by the sagging economy.

"Cutting back to five days a week as well as the number of races we card each day will help us maximize field sizes and better maintain both our horse inventory and purse structure," said Murphy. "I think the horsemen and jockeys will also notice a big difference in the turf course from the improvements we've made since last winter."

There may be no future champions among the eight starters in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid, but the race does feature You Luckie Mann and Notonthesamepage, who posted the two highest Beyer Speed Figures of any 2-year-old colt or gelding in North America in 2008, as well as Silent Valor, who closed out his 2-year-old campaign by finishing less than four lengths behind Midshipman in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

You Luckie Mann has not started since earning a 107 Beyer for his 11-length victory in Calder's Birdonthewire Stakes on Oct. 18.

"He suffered an ulcer in his eye after winning the stakes," trainer Marty Wolfson said when asked why You Luckie Mann had been off so long. "He's fast but he doesn't necessarily have to be in front, and he's trained extremely well for this race."

A hot pace would play into the hands of Silent Valor, who rallied to win the Grade 3 Sapling going six furlongs in August and made up nearly eight lengths during the final half-mile of the BC Juvenile.