Gulfstream Park is beginning a large and quick project to build stalls with the goal of resolving a potential "homeless horses" crisis in South Florida.
Officials Dec. 20 said the company will build between 500 and 600 temporary stalls for horses that by the end of December will be forced to leave their current stalls at Calder Casino & Race Course. During the days prior to the eviction deadline, Gulfstream plans to put up about 300 stalls on a parking lot and a piece of land it has leased and controls at Calder, the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned track in Miami Gardens.
Calder has given its required approval for the project.
Work was scheduled to start Dec. 20-22, said Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which joined Gulfstream in looking for ways to keep horses from being displaced.
Gulfstream also will build between 200 and 300 stalls at a training center adjacent to Calder. The center's owner is Giuseppe Iadisernia, a South Florida-based trainer and principal of The Big Stable.
In mid-February, Gulfstream is scheduled to add about 150 stalls at its property in Hallandale Beach. Prior to that Gulfstream and the Florida HBPA might be able to find space for some horses at South Florida training centers, even though that market is tight as always during the winter.
The new stalls will accommodate about 700 horses that are facing year-end eviction from the stables at Calder, which is located about eight miles west of Gulfstream. Those horses are stabled in a recently fenced-in area at Calder, where CDI is planning the first stage of a commercial redevelopment for which it has not announced details.
In recent days, several horsemen said they have heard reports that CDI is planning to use the area for a Federal Express-like ground transportation center for trucks to drop off and pick up packages. CDI and Calder will not comment on any development plans until they make official announcements, Calder vice president John Marshall said.
Marshall headed Calder's racing division, which was dissolved following the historic racing dates agreement that Calder and Gulfstream signed July 1. CDI then began making plans to redevelop parts of Calder's 220 acres for non-racing uses.
Calder put up a quarter-mile wire fence in its stable area during the first week of December. On Dec. 19 signs were posted along the fence saying the area would be a construction zone beginning Jan. 1. The signs had the standard "unauthorized persons will be prosecuted" warning, thus amounting to eviction notices for approximately three dozen trainers.
"We are disappointed that this happened, and it again shows that Churchill Downs does not care about horse racing in Florida," Combest said. "We thank Gulfstream for all it did to find space for these horses."
Gulfstream and the Florida HBPA asked CDI to postpone its development plan at least until next April. By then, many trainers will have taken horses back to northern states, which would free up some stalls at Gulfstream and its affiliate Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach.
"But Churchill Downs did not seem interested in talking about that (postponement)," Combest said.
Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo was traveling Dec. 20 and could not be reached for comment.
The cost for building the new stalls was not disclosed. The stalls have canvas tops and wood sidings, and are similar to enclosures Hialeah Park puts up each year for its Quarter Horse meet. Combest, said trainers will find the stalls to be better than adequate.
Keeping the 700 horses in South Florida is important for Gulfstream's field sizes, and consequently, its pari-mutuel handle during its winter/spring meet that began Dec. 6 and will end March 28.
The "fencegate" controversy has its roots in the July 1 agreement, with provisions that included an end to the previous 12 months of head-to-head weekend racing between Gulfstream and Calder. The Stronach Group, Gulfstream's parent company, took control of Calder's racing operation for six years; CDI remains the owner of Calder and continues to operate a casino that opened in 2010.
For CDI to keep the casino license, a state law requires that there be at least 40 racing days a year at Calder. Under the six-year deal, Gulfstream leased 430 Calder stalls where the land is not subject to CDI redevelopment.
This year Gulfstream ran a meet at Calder from Oct. 8 to Nov. 30 under the name Gulfstream Park West. During those two months CDI assured The Stronach Group and Gulfstream that it would not begin redevelopment at Calder until at least the spring of 2015.
Gulfstream officials relayed that message to trainers stabled in Calder-controlled stalls. But CDI began putting up fence posts Dec. 1, which worried trainers in the impacted area and led to the decision by Gulfstream to add stalls.
"Back in July some of us felt that Gulfstream should have insisted on getting more stalls," said one trainer who asked to not be identified. "But they wanted to finally get a deal done."
Now many South Florida horsemen have become even less trusting of CDI and are increasingly concerned about the prospects of being caught up in more disputes between the two South Florida tracks.