Gulfstream Park announced Monday it will allow fans inside for its Championship Meet, which begins Dec. 2 at the South Florida track north of Miami.
Bill Badgett, the executive director of Florida racing for track owner The Stronach Group, told Thoroughbred Daily News Gulfstream Park will cap attendance at 50% of track capacity. He said this will allow upward of 7,000 fans inside.
Gulfstream Park was the highest-profile track operating during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. On March 28, it ran one of its signature races – the Grade 1 Florida Derby – without spectators after closing to the public on March 13. Since June, owners and invited guests have watched races inside Gulfstream Park.
The plan, however, remains subject to change because of the fluid nature of the pandemic. On Sunday, the state reported 5,570 new cases and 178 deaths. Broward County, Gulfstream Park’s home county, reported 537 new cases Sunday, with 12 deaths.
“Trying to come up with a plan more than 60 days out before the meet starts is almost impossible because things change virtually hour to hour here,” Badgett told TDN. “They opened up the bars and restaurants to full capacity and the numbers are starting to go back up.”
There’s Plenty of Room, Permission for More
This, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis relaxed restrictions on businesses throughout the state. He announced late last month that bars and restaurants can open at full capacity. DeSantis also green-lighted a full crowd at Miami Dolphins’ games at the 65,326-seat Hard Rock Stadium, but the NFL team continues to operate at less than 25% capacity, or around 13,000 fans
Gulfstream Park plays host to one of the country’s highest-profile meets during the winter and early spring. Aside from the Florida Derby, one of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps, Gulfstream Park’s other marquee event is the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup. At one time, that late January event was the richest race in the world before cutting its purse. That honor now belongs to the $20 million Saudi Cup.
This year’s Gulfstream Park Championship Meet features 75 stakes, including 41 graded stakes offering $13.06 million in purses. The meet is headlined by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup and the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf on Jan. 23.
Many Star 3-Year-Olds Run Here in the Winter, Spring
The track usually unveils several Kentucky Derby contenders throughout the winter and spring, starting on Jan. 30 with the Grade 3 Holy Bull. That’s where Tiz the Law opened his sophomore campaign, winning the first of his four consecutive 2020 races.
The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth celebrates its 75th anniversary on Feb. 27.
As for fan safety protocols for those races, Badgett told TDN they are still a work in progress. Masks will be required along with a temperature check upon entering. Everything else, including deciding which parts of Gulfstream Park’s grandstand will open, is on the drawing board.
This includes keeping not only fans safe, but the trainers, jockeys, support staff, and backstretch workers migrating in for the season.