12/01/2006 1:00AM

Slots boost Gulf purses


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The slot machines at Gulfstream Park have been open for less than three weeks, and with business booming right out of the gate, horsemen can expect to see an immediate boost to purses when the 2007 meeting begins on Jan. 3.

According to Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, overnight purses will be up approximately 18 percent across the board from last year. In addition, Florida Owner Awards, which traditionally are given in south Florida only during the Calder meets, will also be available throughout the 2007 Gulfstream season.

"We're doing better than we'd have expected right off the bat," said Stirling. "Naturally we're thrilled, although obviously we'd have liked purses to have been even higher this winter. Unfortunately, Gulfstream was just not able to get the slots up and running as early as we all would have liked, which means there was less time to accumulate purse monies for the 2007 meet."

Stirling said the 18 percent purse increase would remain uniform throughout the meet, which ends in late April. According to Gulfstream officials, 7.5 percent of the gross revenue from the slots will go directly to purses during the 2007 meet.

"The main thing we wanted to do was to push things as high as we could right from the start for those outfits that don't have Florida-breds," said Stirling. "We figure we'll probably wind up giving away more money in FOA's near the end of the meet, when many of the Kentucky and New York outfits ship out and the majority of the races are won by Florida horses."

As an example of the increase, Stirling said maiden special weight races would probably be worth $44,000 at Gulfstream this winter, including $6,000 in owner awards. Last season, similar races were worth $32,000.

Stirling said it was hard to predict exactly what impact another full year of slot machines could have have on purses for the 2008 meet.

"There are a whole lot of variables to consider, the most important being just how many machines will be open during the year," said Stirling. "If Gulfstream continues to operate with only 516 machines, purses might double by 2008. If they are able to add more machines, obviously that figure would go up. Naturally, there will be some competition coming in the near future from both the dog and jai alai tracks just down the road. But I don't expect the drop-off to be that much."