Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino & Race Course have started the annual process of picking racing dates, with Gulfstream stirring up yet another dispute by saying it plans to expand its four-month schedule to "year-round racing" starting in 2014.
Racing dates are set through June 30, 2013 for the two southeast Florida tracks, which are eight miles apart. Florida tracks have until Feb. 28 to give the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering their lists of proposed race dates for the 12 months between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.
That schedule could be changed dramatically with the unwelcome prospect of some days of head-to-head racing if Gulfstream carries out anything close to its ambitious plan.
Gulfstream now has live racing from early December through early April—southeast Florida's prime winter season. Calder has live racing the other eight months.
Calder plans to keep its April through November schedule regardless of changes Gulfstream might make, said John Marshall, the oval's vice president and general manager of racing.
Gulfstream's change would involve having races at least several days most weeks each year from early 2014 onward, said Tim Ritvo, the track's president. Gulfstream would continue to race five days a week during its winter season, he said.
Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, will end its 2012-2013 race meet on April 5. Calder, in Miami Gardens, will open the following day and has dates through June 30, 2013.
Gulfstream and its parent company, The Stronach Group of Aurora, Ont., are preparing an expansion that includes racing. Officials of the Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc., Calder's parent, has said its company's expansion will probably be in gaming other than live racing.
That is leading to expectations that Gulfstream might offer financial incentives to convince Calder to reduce its racing schedule, according to Scott Savin, a former Gulfstream's president, and other industry officials who asked to not be identified.
Savin is chief operating officer at the greyhound track Magic City Casino in Miami, and owns several horses stabled at Calder. He was Gulfstream's president from 1999 to 2006.
Marshall and Ritvo declined comment regarding the prospect of talks about race dates.
Since 2002, Florida tracks have picked their own racing dates with approval that is usually automatic from the Florida DPMW.
The preliminary filing period is Dec, 15-Jan. 4. Tracks can amend their filings an unlimited number of times through Feb. 28.
If two neighboring tracks pick overlapping dates it would not prevent the Florida DPMW from giving approvals, said its spokeswoman Sandi Poreda.
As of Dec. 26, Gulfstream, Calder, Tampa Bay Downs, and Hialeah Park had not made their first filings.
"We will file for the same dates we have now," Marshall said.
"We will start our 2013-2014 meet around Dec. 1 and then begin year-round racing," said Ritvo.
Hialeah has not had Thoroughbred racing since 2001. It is holding its fourth season of Quarter Horse racing. Under its state license for that racing, it can have Thoroughbreds for up to half its races each year.
"We would like to have the Thoroughbreds back, and a lot of people ask me about that," said John Brunetti, Hialeah Park's chairman and owner. "But we don't plan to do it (Thoroughbred racing) if we have to go head-to-head with one of the other tracks."
Marshall noted Calder's important role for Florida racing—including its annual stakes program for 2-year-olds. He also said Calder needs an eight-month racing calendar.
Calder's slot machines contract with the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association requires it to race at least 150 days a year through 2019.
Phil Combest, president of the Florida HBPA, declined to comment on racing dates issues, noting that negotiations are ongoing for a purses contract with Calder that ends on Dec, 31, 2012.
Calder must race at least 80 days a year to comply with state rules to retain the license for its casino.
Trainers David Fawkes and Henry Collazo, who have horses at Calder, joined Savin in saying the expectation of higher handle and purses is a reason they would like Gulfstream to have more race days.
Ritvo expects Gulfstream's name recognition and popularity of its simulcast signal to help generate higher summer and fall handle than Calder.
He said Gulfstream would race just three days in many weeks, with horses some trainers would leave at Gulfstream and others, he expects, vanned over from Calder. Gulfstream would permit trainers to send horses to Calder for its races.
Peter Walder and Edwin Broome are among trainers who have said they would leave some horses—although not top strings—at Gulfstream year-round, Ritvo said.
Calder and Gulfstream had a similar dates dispute early in 2011, when Calder had been racing from late April through early January and Gulfstream had the other months. The tracks agreed to let Gulfstream take December in return for giving Calder two additional weeks in April
Gulfstream is timing its racing expansion plan to coincide with finishing the first part of a massive development project, for which it has not announced a cost. Construction is set to begin next April on two trackside hotels and two new grandstand sections, and work will be carried out near Gulfstream's track through November 2013. Thus, Gulfstream does not plan to race during those months.
By next December, Gulfstream expects to complete construction of the outer portions of the hotels and most construction of its new grandstands. Construction will continue in 2014 in ways that will not disrupt racing, Ritvo said.
Gulfstream will increase its seats facing the track from about 1,500 to 52,000, including views from hotel rooms and existing restaurants and luxury suites. It hopes that will qualify it to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships in 2015 or later years.
A casino building and movie theater complex are part of the plan.
Ritvo said Gulfstream also wants more race days because many fans stay to eat or shop at the adjacent The Village at Gulfstream Park outdoor mall, which The Stronach Group owns.