Dumb Sizing

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dumb Sizing



Vic Zast

(MIAMI BEACH, FL -February 28, 2011) Americans
have lost their zeal for the good life. They’ve replaced the desire to live
simply and well with an existence that’s wanting and consumptive. On South
Beach, the pace is frenetic and frantic and the days move alarmingly fast. Yet,
they’re decidedly empty of anything meaningful or fully enjoyed, as when Ernest
Hemingway wrote novels and President Harry Truman dealt poker hands in nearby
Key West 60 years ago.

A bit farther north, an experience that used to
be mellow – a day at the races – has become numbing. Saturday, Gulfstream Park,
the home of Florida’s finest thoroughbred racing, hosted more than its typical
number of sun-seeking visitors who like to play the horses and watch them in
person. Never mind that most of the crowd huddled deep in the bowels of the
building at slot machines or spent time stuffing mouths with high caloric fuel
from an obnoxious buffet. Understanding that eating mountains of food doesn’t
equate to satisfaction of the palate is a concept that sailed out to sea in a
cruise ship.

Not much is accommodating about Gulfstream in terms of
creature comfort. The lines at the parimutuel windows are tediously long because
of their remoteness and number. The seats in the grandstand are limited and
cramped by an architectural design that placed saving ahead of investing.
Ingress and egress cause distress. It’s near impossible to read the odds shown
in the infield, especially when the sun takes a spot at your back and douses the
toteboard with brilliance. If nature doesn’t interfere with the display’s
readability, then the thick stucco pillars that lift up the roof block your

As for the tone of the
proceedings, elegance has been completely removed, eradicated like the Royal
palms that used to cast shade on the gardens and parking lot. Some owners and
trainers still grace the premises by dressing the part of ladies and gentlemen.
But wife beaters and cut-offs are worn in the dining room with the same sense of
propriety that previously accompanied seersucker suits. Gulfstream Park is a
mall where anything goes – only the people pay money to eat, drink and gamble
instead of to fill out a wardrobe.

Regardless, for as wildly as Frank
Stronach’s erred with his grand restoration, he’s managed to get an important
part right. Horse racing’s no longer the “Sport of Kings” but the “Sport of the
Proletariat.” Redesigning a racecourse, or replacing one from scratch, requires
an understanding of your audience. It’s a skill that’s not easily learned by
people in ivory towers who don’t walk the streets. The age of lavish plants,
serving a privileged class in luxury, is apparently over. New York racecourses
would kill to have as many warm bodies for next Saturday’s Gotham as Gulfstream
had for its Fountain of Youth, a stakes with a name that aptly describes how the
czar of car parts has revitalized the sport by dumb sizing it.

There are
racetrack properties that derive their popularity because they present the
established, traditional experience. The most notable are Saratoga nd Keeneland.
Observers used to believe that Gulfstream was that kind of racecourse, too. With
its long history of Kentucky Derby preps compacted into three winter months, it
was the sport’s ultimate escape – a proper venue for assessing the relative
abilities of the nation’s best three-year-olds, a place deserving of reverential
observance. What is is now – now that the world has become “let me be myself”
lazy – is an equine pachinko parlor. Give Stronach credit to see us for who we
are. Many people see us differently.

Burdened by obesity, we can’t button
a fancy shirt at the neck or cinch a belt on our waistline. Afraid to think
because life doesn’t require it, we fill our heads with cacophony, believing
quiet is for those who are boring. The A.D.D.world that dictates daily behavior
has us believing that patience is time wasting. If something requires sacrifice,
we pass on it. The value of enterprise rests in how much money can be made, and
so businesses that are built to help people and serve customers are often plowed

It’s a snap to write about what’s wrong with Gulfstream; a little
tougher to defend the features that have made it successful. You can begin with
the weather. People simply want to be where it’s warm when it’s cold where they
normally are. That’s what brings the very best horses and trainers and jockeys
here. This makes one wonder also why Stronach believes Gulfstream can race
’round the calendar. The dates fight between the owners of Calder and him merely
makes him look bully-like – an image he can’t seem to shed. The argument proves
that he still hasn’t learned the most basic lesson in luxury goods marketing –
limit the supply of everything that’s precious.

Like the old Gulfstream,
most racecourses are wrong-suited for the sport’s current constituency. Like the
new Gulfstream, most racecourses should be smaller. Only people with
over-starched attitudes, however, would prefer the pickled, un-democratized
gathering places to one that’s alive, albeit imperfect. Fans have become
accepting of Gulfstream’s foibles because they feel at home in the track’s frat
boy trappings. Stronach was smart to develop a village of retail establishments
selling the same junk you can buy elsewhere next door. Familiar is preferred to
the exotic these days. It may seem as though the horse is the least important
ingredient in Stronach’s brew, but it’s not. Fans can cozy up to the action, if
they care.

Whether you like Gulfstream or not depends on what you think a
racetrack is. The worst part of leaving this Earth comes from leaving your
memories. People who have been around racecourses for a long time treasure the
flamingos at Hialeah and the street cars to Greenwood. It would be an enormous
stretch to assume you’ll remember anything fondly about being at Gulfstream –
unless, of course, you remember it in green and pink, long and low to the
horizon like an indigenous element, with the orchids in bloom and a Donn in



Vic Zast is grateful
to Dailyn at the Z Ocean Hotel on South Beach for assisting him in bringing this
column to HorseRaceInsider.com when his computer screen went black and he was
left helpless without the use of technology.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s