Though Hurricane Irma ripped through South Florida over the weekend, the storm caused only minimal damage at Gulfstream Park, where there were no reports of any injuries to horses or the humans who stayed behind to care for them, and the track will reopen for racing Saturday.
Gulfstream officials ordered the evacuation of about 750 horses who were housed in barns that were deemed most vulnerable to wind damage and flooding, but allowed trainers who had horses in the newer barns and tent structures serving as barns to stay put. About 500 horses were on the backstretch during the storm.
“The trainers who stayed in tents and the upper barns are ecstatic,” said Bill Badgett Jr., a member of the Gulfstream management team. “Our patience and perseverance paid off for the guys who stayed in the barns and the tents. It is unbelievable that absolutely nothing happened.”
It was harder to get information out of Ocala yesterday as cell phone service to that area had been seriously disrupted, but Craig Bernick, the President and COO of Glen Hill Farm in Ocala reported that his farm was in good shape and he had heard that the entire area came through Irma relatively unscathed.
Badgett said there had been some minor damage to the roofs of the barns that were evacuated and some flooding. However, there was no damage to the Gulfstream grandstand and the racing surface came out of the storm in such good shape that the track will re-open for training Tuesday morning. Gulfstream Park West and Palm Meadows will also re-open for training Tuesday.
“With the track, amazingly enough, nothing really happened to it,” Badgett said.
As of 11 a.m. yesterday, Gulfstream did not have any power, but Badgett said he was hopeful that situation would not last much longer and that plans were to re-open for simulcasting Wednesday.
The biggest challenge for Gulfstream now is to get the horses back that evacuated prior to the storm. Most went to either Ocala or Palm Meadows. Badgett said they will begin to return today.
“For safety reasons, the vans were all in Ocala,” he said. “They’ll start making their way back (Tuesday). We’ll start putting the horses back in the barns that weren’t damaged.”
Though the entire state of Florida was pelted by Hurricane Irma, the Miami-Gulfstream area did not get hit as badly as was originally expected. The storm took a westward turn and did not make a direct hit on South Florida, which helped spare Gulfstream further damage.
At Bernick’s Glen Hill Farm, there were problems with flooding, but he said there was a sense of relief that none of the horses or employees on the farm suffered any serious injuries. Like Gulfstream, Glen Hill was also making do without power yesterday.
“Over all, we feel pretty lucky,” said Bernick, reached at the Keeneland sale. “Our horses are fine and the structures are fine. There is a lot of water. We had a pond in our front paddock and now we have a pond in our front five paddocks. We can’t get in our front entrance, but we have a second entrance on another street that is passable. We probably lost, so far, about eight trees and a bunch of fencing is down. Overall, though, we are OK, the horses are OK, the people are OK and from what I understand, all the houses of the people who work for us are OK.
“Ocala is in the middle of the state, not on a coast, so a hurricane is never going to be strong as it would be if you’re on the Gulf or the Atlantic. You’re inland, so when it got to Ocala, it had weakened, which is great. But instead of going way to the west of us, it came straight over Central Florida, so all the horse farms in Ocala would have gotten hit. For what was left of the storm, it was a direct hit. It was a pretty big storm, but we feel very fortunate that our people and horses are OK.”