My dad was a racing fan his entire life. He’d fondly recall the names of some of the greats; Northern Dancer, In Reality, Nashua. These were just a few of his all-time favorite Gulfstream performers.
It was 1978, the year Alydar won the Florida Derby. I stood at the fence of the old paddock and thought about the great horses my father told me about that became stars under the bright South Florida sun.
Over the next 20 years I was fortunate enough to see Proud Truth start his championship campaign in 1985; Unbridled in 1990; Holy Bull four years later, then Thunder Gulch and Unbridled's Song in the two years following.
Florida Derby day, like big race day at any venue, was special. To witness them first-hand is a memory that lasts a lifetime--just like the two Breeders' Cups in 1989 and again three years later.
In 1992, I celebrated the victory of Prized the Breeder's Cup Turf with my good friend Ed Fountaine of the New York Post. Back in the day, the PR guy was the legendary Joe Tannenbaum.
Hall of Famer Joe Hirsch, the dean of America’s turf writers was a press box fixture, along with Andy Beyer, John Pricci, Bob Roberts and Bill Christine, to name just a few of the great turf writers who made the annual trip to South Florida to cover the Derby.
Along with Bill Finley, I was the young kid in the room but you would never know if from the way the veteran writers treated us. The old Gulfstream press box was a great space.
Over the last decade, my travels to Florida have been limited. I’ve heard many things about the new Gulfstream. It’s fair to say that the reviews were mixed, so I decided it was time to see for myself.
And so I called an old colleague, Dave Joseph, former Sun-Sentinel turf writer and now Gulfstream's Press Director. The media staff is lean but very talented.
Former Boston Herald turf writer Ed Gray seeks out the great back stories, along with veteran publicist Jack Will. The certainly make up in quality what they lack in quantity. It was good to see these two professionals on my first visit to the new press office.
I confess that I miss the camaraderie of the old Gulfstream Press Box but things change as older tracks give way to today's modern racinos. Given a dearth of full time turf writers these days, there’s no need for a traditional press box.
But Gulfstream has made available a very comfortable space in one of the third floor suites. It’s quiet and comes with a wireless modem. Given that, and access to needed racing information, what more could a modern-day writer want or need?
But I do miss the old paddock where I first learned about horses from my dad. The new paddock is more of a walking ring, small, workmanlike and the stadium seating surrounding it is unique to American racetracks.
I'm not a casino player but those casino areas are open and spacious and I was very impressed with the simulcast room, Silks; lots of large screen TV's, along with individual consoles with plenty of betting windows and self-service machines.
I could see myself playing the races there on simulcast afternoons. The amenity I really did like were the ladies walking around taking bets. Several times I was saved a long walk to the windows by these lovely and pleasant tellers.
The new Gulfstream will most likely never host another Breeder's Cup but that's not the goal anymore but with memories of the old days still fresh and everlasting, the new Gulfstream has already begun to write its own history.
Now the names are Barbaro, Big Brown, Quality Road. I'm betting that in the future, fathers will be telling their sons that Kentucky Derby winner Union Rags prepped here. I’m sure if he had a chance, that’s exactly what my father would have done.