From legendary racing to carriage rides, Florida’s horses steal the show. Florida has long been recognized for its equine attractions, which begin with breeding farms in Ocala and branch out to many interesting activities throughout the Sunshine State. Florida is home to more than 500,000 Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Quarter Horses, Arabians and Paso Finos, and Ocala is the epicenter. Close to 5,000 race horses are bred annually in the Central Florida region.
Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale, which recently underwent a billion-dollar renovation, has produced 21 Kentucky Derby winners, including Barbaro and, most recently, Big Brown, who went on to dazzling victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
Gulfstream’s annual meet spans January through April and features the Florida Derby, which has a $1 million purse. Newly minted venues at the track are Frank’s Beach, an outdoor entertainment hub, the Jameson Jockey Club, designed with an informal tiki bar, and two dozen luxury box seats.
Florida has long been recognized for its equine attractions, which begin with breeding farms in Ocala and branch out to many interesting activities throughout the Sunshine State.
Hialeah’s racing live American quarter horses three days per week. The 2010 season was short, but the 27,000 opening day guests were a clear indication that Hialeah’s glory days are neither forgotten nor entirely in the past.
Calder Casino and Race Course offers gaming action with over 1,200 slot machines in the Calder Casino, thoroughbred horse racing during two consecutive meets, year-round simulcasting, and live poker games in Studz Poker Club. The track is home to Florida’s top racing events, including the Summit of Speed, Florida Stallion Stakes, Festival of the Sun and Florida Million.
Another Florida asset, Kathleen O’Connell, was the first woman to earn the title of lead trainer during Calder’s 2009 season and is also leading at Tampa Bay Downs. This historic and picturesque course is the only Thoroughbred facility on Florida’s West Coast, and fans love its intimate scale, which allows more interaction with horses and horsemen.
A unique on-site combination allows horse lovers to improve their game at the Downs Golf Practice Facility, one of the top 50 golf instruction spots in the nation. The Silks Poker Room is also a draw.
Central Florida’s Equine Attractions
Horse-drawn carriages can take many forms, which is part of the allure at the Florida Carriage Museum and Resort, in Central Florida. Among the more than 160 meticulously restored carriages is the 1840s Dress Chariot formerly owned by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.
Hunter/jumper horse shows are produced at HITS Post Time Farm in Ocala, which has 450 acres, 27 permanent barns and RV sites with full hookups. Equestrians from Europe, North and South America are drawn to these championship events. The season runs eight weeks, from late January to mid-March.
Polo in Palm Beach County
Tens of thousands of polo fans and some 5,000 horses flock to Wellington, in western Palm Beach County. During halftime at these lively matches, entire families walk on the field to fill the divots created by the power-driven horses and players.
The International Polo Club hosts major tournaments and world-class events throughout the Palm Beach Polo Season, including the Highest Goal Polo, the Iglehart Cup, Joe Barry Memorial Cup, Ylvisaker Cup, C.V. Whitney Cup, Piaget Gold Cup and culminating with the coveted 107th U.S. Open Polo Championship™.
Another Palm Beach highlight is the annual Winter Equestrian Festival for Olympic-level athletes competing in show jumping.
Whether you prefer following one of Florida-born Secretariat’s offspring in a tight race or you’re looking for the bucolic setting of a carriage ride in the forest, the Sunshine State offers enticing equestrian activities.
Where To Go:
(954) 454-7000 901 S. Federal Hwy. Hallandale Beach, FL 33009 www.gulfstreampark.com
(305) 885-8000 2200 E. 4th Ave., Hialeah, FL 33010 www.hialeahparkracing.com
Calder Casino & Race Course
(305) 625-1311, 21001 N.W. 27th Ave., Miami Gardens, FL 33056 www.calderracecourse.com
Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park
1-877-ISLE – 2WIN, 777 Isle of Capri Circle, Pompano Beach, FL 33069 www.pompano-park.isleofcapricasinos.com
Tampa Bay Downs
(813) 855-4401, 11225 Race Track Rd., Tampa, FL 33626 www.tampabaydowns.com
Florida Carriage Museum and Resort
(352) 750-5500, 3000 Marion County Rd., Weirsdale, FL 32195
HITS Post Time Farm
352-620-2275, 13710 U.S. Hwy. 27, Ocala, FL 34482 www.hitsshows.com
The Kelly Seahorse Ranch
Amelia Island, (904) 491-5166 , www.kellyranchinc.com
Hutchinson Island – St. Lucie County
(800) 344-TGIF, www.visitstluciefla.com/beaches_horseback_riding
Palm Beach Polo Club
(800) 257-1038, 11199 Polo Club Rd., Wellington,FL 33414 www.palmbeachpolo.com
Palm Beach International Equestrian Center