10/08/2016 3:20PM

Small crowd for opening day of meet


MIAMI – P.J. Campo stood in the paddock and looked over the “crowd” as the field walked onto the track for the first race on Saturday’s opening-day program of the Gulfstream Park West meet.

“It’s bigger than I thought,” Campo, vice president of racing for The Stronach Group, said with a bit of a grin. “But it’s Saturday, and it’s the weekend.”

Indeed, there was a surreal atmosphere on opening day of the eight-week Gulfstream Park West meet, which was postponed from Wednesday due to Hurricane Matthew. A crowd estimated at 150 was in attendance as the field left the gate for the first race, about half of which appeared to be owners and trainers. The Gulfstream Park West session is being run once again this fall at the track formerly known as Calder Race Course, where the grandstand was demolished earlier this year.

“It’s different, that’s for sure, but I’m optimistic we’ll have another good meet,” said Campo. “The fields are big, the main track and turf course are in great shape. We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Campo said he was still unsure whether he’ll make up the three programs canceled this week due to the hurricane.

“We have to look into it further to see if we have to make up the dates because of the situation with the casino over here,” said Campo. “If not, we probably would not make up the days. We only have 24 races to make up with 37 days to do it. That’s less than a race a day, so it shouldn’t be any problem.”

Campo and The Stronach Group are still basking in the success of the Gulfstream spring-summer meet, which concluded Oct. 1 with record-breaking numbers. Total handle for the meet, which began April 4, was $556.9 million, up $66.9 million from the previous season, and daily average handle increased 11 percent from 2015.

“I would have been happy if the numbers were flat from the previous year,” said Campo. “To be up double digits, while comparing apples to apples, especially in this day and age, is tremendous. Our goal with the summer meet is to be the third-largest handle in the country during that period behind California and New York, which we were again by a large margin. And I only see reason for improvement as we continue building on both the number of new summer outfits we bring in and the guys who have stayed and supported us over the first few years.”

Tyler Gaffalione, the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice in 2015, won the riding title at the spring-summer meet in a cakewalk, with Edgard Zayas finishing second and Luca Panici third in the standings. And Gaffalione said Saturday he’s hoping to build on that success at Gulfstream Park West.

“Hopefully, we can just keep working hard and duplicate what we accomplished over there at Gulfstream,” Gaffalione said after finishing third in Saturday’s first race aboard Dero D.

Gaffalione said it was very odd to be riding Saturday in front of such a sparse crowd and without the grandstand, which had stood at the site since Calder first opened in 1971.

“It was definitely a bit strange riding here today, especially not seeing the grandstand, because I grew up here; it’s my home track,” said Gaffalione. “But everybody is doing the best they can under the circumstances, and we’ll make it work.”