11/16/2001 12:00AM

Stall shortage could lead to horse shortage


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With many horsemen having their stall allotments cut in south Florida or deciding to ship elsewhere this winter, a cloud of uncertainty is hanging over Gulfstream Park as it prepares to open its meet on Jan. 3.

The deregulation of racing dates in Florida, beginning in 2002, has put nearby Hialeah Park out of business, and Gulfstream has responded by extending its meet an additional six weeks through April 24. But the historic Hialeah stable area will be closed, eliminating stall space for more than 1,000 horses, and Gulfstream will be drawing from a smaller horse population than in recent years.

In an effort to bolster horsemen's confidence, Gulfstream will raise the purses in its first condition book from $500 to $1,000 a race compared with the corresponding period in 2001, track president and general manager Scott Savin said on Friday. But even with an increase, which will bring daily purse distribution to $280,000, Savin was uncertain what to expect when the entry boxes open and the meet gets under way.

"We realize this is going to be a difficult year and a transitional one until we can open our training center next season," said Savin. "We are doing all we can on management's end to minimize the impact of the loss of the Hialeah stable area. Needless to say, we also understand this is going to put a burden on our horsemen. If the trainers pitch in and respond favorably, as we expect they will, I think we'll see little or no difference from last winter."

Magna Entertainment, which purchased Gulfstream Park in 1999, recently broke ground on a 304-acre training facility called Palm Meadows located in Boynton Beach, approximately 45 miles north of the track. When completed, the facility will offer stables for 1,900 horses and three training tracks. Phase one of the construction is expected to be completed in time to provide accommodations for 640 horses next winter.

"This is a one-year problem we're facing," said Savin. "Everybody is just going to have to toe the line and make it a group effort if we are going to have a successful meet this season."

Racing secretary Dave Bailey, who is faced with the task of filling six cards and 62 races a week under the current schedule, was confident the quality of racing will not suffer this winter but was unsure what to expect regarding the quantity of starters per race.

"Obviously, the loss of over 1,000 stalls will affect us," said Bailey. "But overall, we've got a pretty good group of horsemen on hand. We cut back on some of the ones who were just vacationing here for the winter and not running and were able to make room for quite a few of the Hialeah people who ran over here. We averaged 8.8 starters a race in 2001, and I'm not sure if that will be attainable this winter. Right now, I'm shooting for 8.5."

The two most notable trainers not returning in 2002 are Neil Howard and John Terranova, who will spend the winter at the Fair Grounds and Hollywood Park respectively. Trainers Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito will continue to maintain full barns of 29 horses apiece at Gulfstream but have had to make other arrangements for the approximately 30 horses they normally stable at Hialeah each season.

"I've already sent 30 horses to the Fair Grounds and will keep a lot more in New York this winter," Pletcher said. "Which means my starts at Gulfstream will be significantly less this year compared to recent seasons. I'll probably split my better 3-year-olds between Florida and New Orleans, since the Fair Grounds has a 3-year-old program similar to Gulfstream. There's no way the closing of Hialeah can't adversely effect the upcoming Gulfstream meet. Although the new training center is scheduled to open next winter, I'll just see how life is at the Fair Grounds before deciding what I'll do in 2003."

Rick Violette has spent the last 10 years stabled at Hialeah, where he maintained 20 stalls in 2001. This winter he will be at Gulfstream, where he was allotted only 12 stalls.

"I'll miss Hialeah dearly," said Violette, whose stable includes handicap stars March Magic, Free of Love, and Man From Wicklow. "It was a combination training center and racetrack, and very useful for a program like mine. I like to bring in my young horses in February and March to start them in the program for their 2-year-old campaigns. I won't have that option now. I'm also afraid a lot of the nicer races just won't fill with Hialeah out of the equation."

Among the other Hialeah regulars to receive stalls at Gulfstream this year are Angel Penna Jr., Edward Broome, Chuck Simon, Derek Ryan, Joe Pierce, Alan Seewald, Phil Gleaves, and Kathy Mongeon. All had their allotments cut significantly.

"I was cut from 20 stalls to 12 and I usually claim a lot of horses down here to restock for New Jersey, which means I'll either have to ship out the ones I take or ship out something else to make way for the new ones," said Broome. "I also have a lot of help who have been with me so long I can't let them go. So I'm also going to absorb a lot of extra payroll because of this situation."