Eddie Cofino shares his experience as an invitee to Gulfstream Park for the first day they allowed fans since the pandemic closing. Thank you Gulfstream Park and The Stronach Group on behalf of Past the Wire and the industry!
Monday this week I felt honored to be invited to Gulfstream Park’s Silks Simulcast Center. This week marked the first days of invited guests / bettors allowed back to the track for live racing.
Today, Friday, I entered Gulfstream Park for the first time in about 3 months. I was anxious, not knowing what to expect or what to feel. With everything happening in our world, I was unsure what today would feel like.
In the past, as I drove in through the North entrance to Gulfstream Park, as I passed by the Pegasus sculpture, I’d think “What a waste of $30 million”. I think I finally understood the vision of the Pegasus sculpture, what it stood for. It was a totally different feeling, a sense of victory.
Today it was, “Man what a beautiful sight! I missed this place and I’m so happy to be back”. It was as if it was saying to me, “We’ve missed you too, and everyone else, welcome back Eddie C.”
I honestly had no idea what to expect. It had felt like an eternity since I’d stepped on these grounds. Just last week I had written about this day, about Gulfstream wanting to open the track to invited guests, but being careful to follow proper protocols established by the city and government, making sure everyone is safe. I can tell you first hand Gulfstream Park and their staff were prepared and did it right.
I purposely wanted to come in blind to experience the day without expectations, so I didn’t inquire other than to confirm my invite dates. I parked my car by the track and walked to the South entrance. The attendant welcomed me with a smile, asked if I was invited, and I gave her my name. She checked the list and responded, “Welcome back Mr Cofiño, enjoy your day and good luck.” I walked through a temperature controlled entrance to make sure I was safe to enter, and off to the races I went.
As I walked around the walking ring towards Silks Simulcast Center, I paused and reminisced about Pegasus Day. I was with a good friend of mine inside the walking ring, a moment I’ll always remember, looking at these magical animals from just a few feet afar. Sometimes we take these moments for granted. Today I remembered with a swelling heart the memory of who I was with and what we saw. Those magical horses, the crowds and the atmosphere. Chills. I never realized how much I missed that, how my love of this sport has impacted my life, and opened me up up to a life I didn’t know. It hit me hard.
As I entered Silks I was greeted with a big warm smile and an “air hug” by one of my most favorite people at Gulfstream Park. I smiled from ear to ear (honestly had to hold back a tear). I was home. We chatted and got caught up on how life has been over the past few months, how her daughter was, and such. As you might imagine she was super busy so after a few minutes off I went. I picked up my racing forms and went to my reserved seat / booth. Along the way I said hello and chatted with a few people. I noticed there were 4 live tellers, several tote betting machines open, and complimentary water, snacks and chips. Gulfstream had it right.
After getting comfortable, and about 2 minutes to post, (which means 10 minutes to post) I saw a teller I’ve known for 24 years and went up to say hello. We started chatting, catching up on the past few months. The race was about to go off and she asked,”are you gonna bet? And I said, “If it’s ok with you let’s just keep catching up.” She said yes, we didn’t even watch the race and kept on talking. It was without a doubt my favorite part of the day. Real life, real people. It was a reunion of friends (By The Way it cost me as my friend George Weaver’s horse won and paid $11.00, but we all know how that goes))
The point is, I was just so happy to be back at Gulfstream catching up with people and friends. I felt so welcomed back by everyone, some of who I can call true friends, that I never knew how much I missed the place. It was a great feeling.
I got settled in and watched the races, hit a few winners in the first few races.
Here’s a few highlights of what impacted me most:
As I mentioned previously, my chat with my teller friend;
Having Gulfstream friends and staff stop by to make sure everything was ok throughout the day;
Seeing and catching up with old friends, even though it was only 3 months, it felt like years;
Hearing Track Announcer Pete Aiello LIVE!!! The track was empty but his enthusiastic race calls made me feel like the stands were full.
After the 5th race I decided to walk around outside, where the walking ring is, and the promenade area where the shops, bars and restaurants are. I noticed that the owners and trainers were the only ones allowed on the track apron (facing the track) which I thought was a nice touch. I thought, this is a work in progress and we will learn as we move forward if this is the best way, or should fans be allowed? I think it’s best, at least for now we should walk before we run. Health and safety first.
I saw the horses parading around the walking ring. I spoke to a couple trainers. I said hello to a few jockeys. Finally I made my way to one of the restaurants close to the paddock. (Probably broke a few rules of where I was allowed to be, but that’s me) I ran into a few more track friends and I sat with them to catch up, watch a few races, and had a beer or two. It almost felt normal, except for wearing masks and being socially careful. The overwhelming feeling was, man it’s great being back.
Everyone was in a good mood, everyone was respectful, everyone was nice. I wish “everyone” could have been there and soon everyone will be. It felt that good. It was much more, much better than I imagined.
Gulfstream Park did it right. Safety first, and the experience was fantastic.
I left Gulfstream Park today with a big smile on my face. Not because I had a big win. I left happy because Gulfstream Park is working for us, the fans, the industry, the owners, trainers, jockeys and horses, trying to get back to some normalcy, and being safe and careful in doing so. They should, no actually need to be commended for their efforts, and those of their employees.
Many of you know of my love for Saratoga, it’s my favorite track (My Yard) and maybe my favorite place in our great country. I mention this only because, today, Gulfstream Park was the favorite place I’ve been this year. It felt that special, and they should be applauded for doing it right for the city, the industry, and the fans.
Welcome back, it’s nice being home!
Past the Wire
Follow Ed on Twitter