World's Richest Race, Hometown Horse Spur Buzz At Gulfstream Park

Jan 25, 2018

The bugler’s iconic First Call rings out five days a week at at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

The daily thoroughbred races are free to the public. But if you want to make a bet, you’ve gotta speak the language.

“Win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, super high 5, daily double, pick 3, and early pick 5 wagering -- open now at the window,” the announcer declared over the loudspeaker.

“I like the 6 and the 8 in the first race,” said David Gilpatrick, from outside Boston.

Gilpatrick rents a condo in South Florida for three months every winter. And he plays these ponies on the regular.

“I’m here because of the weather,” said Gilpatrick. “But I play the horses all the time. I’ve been coming to the Gulfstream for 50 years.”

Lots of the seasoned regulars in the crowd Wednesday say they come every day. Retired Jews, cigar-champing railbirds, Cubans and Venezuelans, families with kids -- all holding crumpled, rolled up tipsheets and programs with details of the day’s track action.

Spectators crowd the Gulfstream Park cabana for the Pegasus World Cup post position draw on Jan. 24, 2018.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN

But they’re not necessarily the target audience for the big draw this Saturday: The Pegasus World Cup Invitational.

With a $16 million purse, it’s the world’s richest thoroughbred horse race. It’s run at a mile and a furlong (a furlong is an eighth of a mile). Saturday will be the second running of the annual event at Gulfstream Park. Last year's winner, Arrogate, went on to become the top money-winning horse in history.

This race is not free — tickets start at $75. Gulfstream Park owner, The Stronach Group, is working to modernize the sport and introduce it to a new set of fans, according to company president Belinda Stronach.

“Of course, horse racing and wagering are at the core, but we really view this as entertainment,” said Stronach. “So we're competing for the same customers that want to go to a football game or a basketball game. We’re doing all kinds of events in and around horse racing that combine lifestyle, entertainment, music. Excellence in horse racing calls for a great party.”

Case in point: this year’s race features performances by rappers Ludacris and Post Malone in an event partnership with Miami Beach nightclub LIV.

Stronach Group President Belinda Stronach says the company is working to modernize the sport of horse racing.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN

But there’s another draw that will have South Florida race fans champing at the bit Saturday — the hometown horse, Gunnevera.

The chestnut colt was born on a farm in Kentucky and orphaned at an early age. But he caught the eye of famed Venezuelan trainer Antonio Sano. Sano and a group of investors bought Gunnevera and brought him to live and train at Gulf Stream West in Miami Gardens.

Sano was on hand for the post position draw Wednesday at Gulfstream Park. Gunnevera drew the No. 6 position out of 12 — right in the middle, seen by many as a prime spot.

Sano agreed.

2018 Pegasus World Cup top five contenders (odds as posted Tuesday at Wynn Las Vegas): Gun Runner 3-5, Collected 9-2, West Coast 5-1, Sharp Azteca 8-1, Gunnevera 12-1.

“It’s a good position for me,” said Sano. “My horse likes to run from behind. He’s ready.”

But David Gilpatrick, the Boston snowbird, is not so long on Gunnevera.

“No, I don’t like the horse at all,” said Gilpatrick. “That’s the way I feel.”

Fair enough. Gilpatrick doesn’t share unbridled enthusiasm for the hometown thoroughbred. But if he stays in South Florida, he might not feel that way...furlong.