There's only one spot in South Florida where on any weekend from January to mid-March you can catch acts such as Cheap Trick, Air Supply, or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and it's not the Button South. It's the unlikely locale of Gulfstream Park. "We're selling a day of entertainment," says David Rovine, Gulfstream's director of marketing. "The main product is horse racing, but there are many other things to do; we're a multifaceted entertainment complex."
Mighty ambitious words to describe a place that in the past attracted mostly solitary men content with sticking their noses in racing forms and chugging beers. But Gulfstream is a hip racetrack for the Nineties. To help combat an industrywide lull in attendance, it has incorporated children's activities, a skit in which actors give instructions on how to bet, and good old rock and roll. In fact, there's so much music that for Gulfstream's two-and-a-half-month racing season, the track is the most prolific, affordable concert venue in South Florida.
With the possible exception of swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, scheduled to play February 20, the performers are generally less than hot commodities. (The future holds REO Speedwagon, Rick Springfield, Christopher Cross, and more.) Nonetheless the majority of acts aren't quite ready for the glue factory, and the public seems to agree because Saturday attendance is up 25 percent since 1995, the year before the concert series started. (Earlier this month, Huey Lewis and the News helped lure a crowd of more than 30,000, setting an opening day record.) Saturday success paved the way for Sunday concerts, which began this year and have also proven a strong draw. Rovine notes that attendance at a recent Air Supply concert was greater than any Sunday in 1998.
"No other track offers this type of entertainment," Rovine explains. "No one has done it full-blown like us, and smack dab in the middle of the races. Some tracks will have bands here and there, but not on a consistent level. Many other track owners are afraid to do this, especially in the middle of the race card. But the goal is to attract more people to the track, and the numbers speak for themselves."
Performers this weekend include the Pointer Sisters on Saturday and Buster Poindexter on Sunday. Fox Sports will be on hand Saturday to cover the Donn Handicap, which features internationally famed horse Silver Charm making its Florida debut. They'll broadcast the race and perhaps footage of the show and attendees as part of their pre-Super Bowl coverage. Even the biggest sporting event of them all can't resist the combination of horses racing and musicians rocking.