After years of dragging its races out and running as many as seven or eight minutes after the listed post times, Gulfstream Park had a major surprise for horseplayers Wednesday on the opening day of the Championship Meet. The races were run at their advertised post times.
The change was ushered in by Aidan Butler, who had been working at the California tracks for The Stronach Group, the owners of Gulfstream, before he was recently promoted and reassigned, with his new duties including overseeing Florida racing.
“There are so many reasons why it is the right thing to do,” Butler said. “It's the right thing to do from the aspect of the enjoyment of the sport. It's the right thing to do when it comes to professionalism and being efficient. It's the right thing to do for the animals. You don't want them hanging around out there when it's hot and going around and around in circles. Going forward, the team at Gulfstream and the team at The Stronach Group, we want to try to be the best at everything we do. That might sound cheesy, but that's what we are striving for. That involves everything we do.”
Butler was aware of several postings on social media praising Gulfstream for the new strategy, many of them from horseplayers who had grown tired of having to guess when a Gulfstream race was actually going to be run.
“I didn't expect the amount of feedback we have been getting because I just saw it as an operational tweak,” he said. “This is one of many things we want to tweak. I see that it is being well received.”
The post time drag was instituted as a means to increase handle, the idea being that giving bettors so much extra time before a race is actually run would lead to more money being put through the windows. Having to wait for the Gulfstream races could also have had the effect of keeping people from betting on other tracks. However, another possibility was that no extra money was actually being bet because players knew they could wait until the very last minute to place their bets and weren't fooled by the post times that were listed.
Butler was among those that didn't believe that the drag was having a positive impact on handle.
“I don't believe what they were doing was productive,” he said. “All that it ended up doing was causing confusion. We all want horse racing to be taken super seriously and as a really good wagering sport and an enjoyable thing to be involved with. Then all these things happen across the industry, and I'm not just talking about post times, that are a little bit rinky dink. I don't know how else to describe it. It's not what you would find at an 'A class' sporting event. We need to refocus a little bit and find things like this and address them.”
Speaking prior to the day's fourth race, Butler said it was too early to tell if the change had negatively impacted handle with gamblers having to adjust to a new schedule and possibly getting shut out. A possible plan to first take the drag down to three or four minutes was discussed but then abandoned.
“They had been doing this for such a long time that we were thinking of backing into this slowly,” he said. “But then even if handle was going to be a little light at first because people weren't getting their bets in, we decided to get right into it. Sometimes you are better off having that shock so more people hear about what you are doing and more people will pay attention.”
While Gulfstream was one of the first and worst offenders when it came to the post time drag, the majority of tracks in the U.S. followed their lead to the point where it is rare to see races go off on time anywhere. Butler said that, going forward, all of The Stronach Group tracks will strive to have their races go off on time.
“We're going to try to be as efficient as we can with these times,” he said. “There might be times where we don't want to end up crashing into other racetracks. That's not going to be the norm. The norm, hopefully, will be what you saw today at Gulfstream.”