Florida training facility earns thumbs up for Stronach, Magna

Other promises hanging, but no one's complaining about Palm Meadows

Horse Racing

January 23, 2004|By Dave Joseph | Dave Joseph,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Frank Stronach has not endeared himself to everyone in thoroughbred racing.

Stronach, the chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Pimlico, Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park and 12 other tracks, has not fulfilled his promises to renovate some facilities - including Gulfstream, more than four years after purchasing the Florida track.

But he has come through on his promise to build a world-class training facility to strengthen racing in South Florida. And that has occurred by spending in excess of $90 million to construct Palm Meadows, which is about 45 miles north Gulfstream.

Palm Meadows, a 1,250-stall facility with grooms quarters for 208, is drawing rave reviews from horsemen for everything from its racing surface to its idyllic setting.

"This place is about as nice as it comes," said Barclay Tagg, the former Maryland-based trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, who now works mainly in New York and Florida.

"The track surface, for a training facility, is the best I've ever been around," said New York-based horseman David Donk.

Not only has Palm Meadows been able to help Florida racing absorb the loss of Hialeah Park and its 1,200 stalls, but it also has lured quality stables from the North and Midwest.

Palm Meadows is home this winter to Funny Cide, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat and several Derby contenders, including Maryland's Tapit.

"It's the whole atmosphere of the place," said Steve Margolis, trainer of Cajun Beat. "The airy barns, the nice walk to the track. It's a relaxing environment."

With a sand-loam mixture, the 1 1/8 -mile track offers a deeper cushion than Gulfstream, according to Palm Meadows general manager Gary Vanden Broek. "It's very horse friendly and very forgiving."

A seven-furlong turf course, 176 feet wide, could open in March.

Many horsemen who stabled at Gulfstream in the past were not always happy with the track's surface, which seemed to change daily. That problem hasn't occurred at Palm Meadows.

"I had problems with the Gulfstream surface," said trainer Phil Hauswald, spending his second winter at Palm Meadows after several years at Gulfstream.

"I never had a problem with a horse coming back bad from a race, but it was the daily training, trying to get a horse ready to run. Every horse who had to do something once a week as far as breezing, I'd get set back with that horse because he wasn't able to handle the daily grind on that track. ... So I came here and, honestly, I've been delighted with the track."

Tagg, who is training Funny Cide here for the second straight winter, said, "The barns are well-made, they're safe and all the corners are rounded. The surface is perfect. It's very, very kind on a horse. You can still work fast, they can still do what they have to do and they can get good and fit from it."

With Gulfstream's property along U.S. 1 worth millions of dollars, and with plenty of room at Palm Meadows to build a grandstand and turf club, the question is whether Stronach will attempt to move his permit there.

"It's not going to be a racetrack," said Gulfstream president Scott Savin.

Under Florida law, Stronach would have to gain permission from the Palm Beach Kennel Club to operate a pari-mutuel facility in Boynton Beach. He would also have to gain support from several state agencies.

"Not only would we have to get permission from the kennel club," Savin said, "but there would have to be a legal referendum. It would be too much to do, and so there's no immediate plans to make that a racetrack."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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