Updated on 09/16/2011 8:13AM

Palm Meadows progress bodes well for Gulf meet

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BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - After some delays, construction has progressed rapidly at Palm Meadows, the state-of-the-art training center being built by Magna Entertainment Corporation, the owner of Gulfstream Park.

As of last weekend, 20 barns were near completion, and the foundations were laid for the 1 1/8-mile main track and one-mile turf course at Palm Meadows, which is 40 miles north of Gulfstream Park. Scott Savin, Gulfstream's president and general manager, said the training center would be open for business on Nov. 25.

Savin said there will be 24 barns with stall space for 800 horses available this season. When construction is completed in 2004, Palm Meadows will have 40 barns and stall space for 1,440 horses.

Although the 100-foot-wide main track will be open this winter, the turf course and 1 1/2-mile jogging track will not be available until 2004. There also will be no dormitories, track kitchen, or recreation hall on the site this season, which could pose problems for horsemen.

"We're still working on the housing and food situation," Savin said. "We are exploring several options, although we are assuring all trainers housing will be provided at no cost by Gulfstream Park for all grooms and hotwalkers."

The availability of Palm Meadows is crucial in solving the Miami-area horse shortage that was created last winter when Hialeah Park closed. Hialeah traditionally housed nearly 1,000 horses each winter. Last year, Gulfstream's betting handle declined more than 17 percent from 2001 as the track struggled to fill races, and attendance fell by 9 percent.

Just two months ago, the Palm Meadows site was an empty lot, leading to widespread speculation that the facility would not be completed in time for Gulfstream's winter meet, which begins Jan. 3.

Construction was delayed by contract and permit problems as well as some bad weather, officials said.

"We've come a very long way on this project in a very short time," Savin said. "And when it's done, this will be a racetrack any trainer in America will want to train over. Cushionwise, the track will mirror what we have at Gulfstream, but because of the soil composition it will have a little more give to it. And having the extra stalls available is a big plus for our racing program. The sheer lack of stalls hurt our fields immensely both quality- and quantity-wise last winter. But with Palm Meadows open, this could be Gulfstream's finest meet."

Brett Woodward, an assistant foreman for Ryan Construction, the firm contracted by Magna to build the track, said the main track was 65 percent completed. "Barring any disastrous weather, we'll be out of here by Oct. 18," Woodward said. "This project is our company's number one priority, and we'll bring in added equipment and manpower if necessary to get the track finished on schedule. That will give Gulfstream's track superintendent one month to do whatever last-minute tweaking is necessary with the cushion before the horses arrive."

Stall applications are available and due by Oct. 2.

"We will try to accommodate everybody the best we can," Savin said. "There will be no charge for stalls at Palm Meadows this season although we probably will charge some type of fee next year. This is going to be a facility second to none, and I think people will want to get their foot in the door this winter."

Many Northern-based horsemen struggled through the 2002 Gulfstream meeting without the additional stall space provided by Hialeah Park. Nick Zito, who had split his stable between Gulfstream Park and Hialeah for several years, was forced to make other arrangements last winter.

"I'm glad to hear Palm Meadows will be available this winter," said Zito. "I train for some of the biggest people in the business - the Whitneys, Farmers, Condrens, Cornacchias, and Buckram Oak - and they all want their horses to be trained over the best and safest track available. I realize there will be some inconveniences at Palm Meadows the first year, but if the track is safe I'm willing to put up with those inconveniences."

Todd Pletcher split his stable between Gulfstream and the Fair Grounds in 2002, but he said he would prefer to keep all his horses in one area if possible this winter.

"New Orleans worked out fine last year, but it's easier for me and more attractive to my owners if I can have 60 horses in Florida," Pletcher said. "If the track is good, splitting between Gulfstream and Palm Meadows makes sense and is a viable option, assuming I get enough stalls. My primary concern is the condition of the track, although the dormitory issue is equally important. If it's hard for me to have staff there, I cannot operate."