With vans continuing to roll in on a regular basis since Thanksgiving, it will only be a matter of days before the barn areas in both Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park are operating at near-full capacity.

World-class racing returns to South Florida Jan. 3 when Gulfstream opens its 70th anniversary meet, with racing on a Wednesday-through-Sunday basis.

The growing anticipation of the 2009 meeting among the nation’s elite horsemen can best be illustrated by the fact that Racing Secretary Doug Bredar, in his first year on the job, received 3,615 stall applications, 320 more than last year.

“As of today,” Mr. Bredar said, still 25 days away from opening day, “there are approximately 800 horses at Palm Meadows and 670 at Gulfstream Park. We have 1,324 stalls available at Palm Meadows and 1,024 available at Gulfstream. Both stable areas are full ‘on paper’ and I continue to have a ‘hold list’ for both properties. The majority of the stables not here yet are based in New York, Kentucky and Canada. And Woodbine (located just outside Toronto) just closed last weekend.”

Dale Romans, a Gulfstream Park regular the last several seasons and annually among the meet’s leading trainers, spoke of Palm Meadows Tuesday, a day that saw temperatures on a cloudless afternoon reach the low 80s.

“It’s always great to come back to Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park. Palm Meadows is the perfect environment for training racehorses. The climate is fantastic, and what can be said about the facility that hasn’t been said a thousand times over: It’s safe for racehorses, it’s a great place for the help to work and live; and it’s in an incredibly beautiful area.

“If Frank Stronach (Chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park) has a masterpiece, it’s what he’s done with Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park.”

Bill Murphy, Gulfstream President and General Manager, said Mr. Romans’ comments were typical of what he’s heard from horsemen since the stabling areas at both facilities opened last month.

In crediting the work of Gary Vandenbroek, General Manager of Palm Meadows; Jeff Gooch, Gulfstream Park Director of Operations and Doug Bredar, as well as their respective staffs, Mr. Murphy said, “We have some very talented, very dedicated people working for MEC in South Florida and we appreciate hearing horsemen express their satisfaction with the hard work put in by Gary, Jeff, Doug and their staffs.”

The accent at Gulfstream Park will again be on the quality of racehorses performing on a day-in, day-out basis.

“I am particularly pleased not only by the amount of stall requests, but the quality of horses as well,” Mr Bredar said. “Any track in the country would be thrilled to have trainers such as Tom Albertrani, Rick Dutrow, Allen Jerkens, Jimmy Jerkens, Michael Matz, Shug McGaughey, Kiaran McLauglin, Kenny McPeek, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Jonathan Sheppard, Barclay Tagg and Nick Zito at their facility.”

Mr. Bredar also mentioned that the leading saddle stars will be on hand this meet, such as Joe Bravo, Javier Castellano, Eibar Coa, Kent Desormeaux, Alan Garcia, Julian Leparoux, Edgar Prado, Cornelio Velasquez and John Velazquez.

“Gulfstream Park continues to be the place to winter for top jockeys and trainers throughout the country,” said Mr. Bredar. “Our redesigned stakes program should be as strong as ever and I anticipate many maiden and allowance races to be loaded with the stars of tomorrow. Gulfstream’s racing program has a rich tradition of getting 3-year-olds to the Kentucky Derby and, additionally, our 170-foot wide turf course will showcase some of the best grass horses in the country.”

With those ingredients, racing fans can expect the 2009 meeting to be one of the finest in the history of the track.