Gulfstream Park's 75th Anniversary: Dress Like Downton Abbey, Guzzle 75-Cent Cocktails

On Feb. 1, 1939, Hallandale Beach's Gulfstream Park hosted its first thoroughbred race. Over 15,000 people packed the venue to watch the horses and their jockeys compete, and many were surely wowed by the grand price: the $1,000 inaugural stakes.

Times, clearly, have changed since then. These days, $1,000 would barely keep a racehorse in hay and carrots. This summer, Gulfstream will host a race worth $1 million. And, of course, the place looks more than a little different than it did back in the mid-1900s, with a new racetrack and a winding walking mall housing restaurants, boutiques, and big, brand-name stores.

"Gulfstream has come a long way in 75 years," president Tim Ritvo says in a statement. "But we are as excited about the future as we are proud of the past." And to prove it, Gulfstream will celebrate its 75th anniversary this weekend in throwback 1930s style.

The opening of Gulfstream in 1939 lasted just four days; afterwards, despite earning over $400,000, the track closed until 1944. Its reopening ushered in an age of celebrity visits, including Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch. In the summer of 1968, Gulfstream hosted the Miami Pop Festival, a Woodstock-esque event featuring Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Chuck Berry, among others. In the decades since it opened, Gulfstream has hosted NFL players during the Super Bowl; appeared in the TV series The Glades; and of course, seen some of the world's top horses compete on its track.

"We have a lot of good history," says Michael Nyman, director of marketing. "We've had some of the greatest horses ever. A lot of our horses go on to win Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby. We've been the winter capital for racing globally for a long time now. So it's an exciting celebration."

The track will, of course, be hosting races this Saturday, with the first post at 12:40 p.m. Featured races tomorrow include the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes and a $75,000 Gulfstream Turf Sprint Championship.

But racehorse owners aren't the only ones who stand to hit the big-time on Saturday. There's free money out there for attendees to grab, too. Gulfstream will give away one $75 betting voucher before each race to would-be gamblers who register starting at 11 a.m.

You can up your chances of betting for free if you show up in traditional 1930s and '40s attire, too. Gulfstream has hired a "mystery judge" to wander the crowd on Saturday looking for the best in Downton Abbey-era cosplay. (Downton's only up to the mid-1920s at the moment, but we doubt Gulfstream's judge will quibble.) If the judge deems your vintage getup worthy, you'll win a little extra cash to place on the horses. It's the cat's pajamas, see?

"I wouldn't call it a costume," Nyman says. "More of a representation of how people dressed back then. It was much more formal: men in bowties and top hats, women in long dresses."

But the most enticing part of Saturday's festivities isn't the chance to win big at the track or dress up like Lady Mary. It's the booze, of course. Gulfstream will be serving period cocktails like the Side Car, Gin Sour, Whiskey Sour, Mint Julep, Gibson, Champagne Cocktail and Sazerac -- for 75 cents each. So even if you lose your shirt betting on a long shot, you can still afford to drown your sorrows.

Visit gulfstreampark.com.

Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.

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