At a meeting with horsemen Feb. 22, officials of Calder Casino & Race Course said that starting Feb. 26 their track will not allow horses that ship from Calder to race at Gulfstream Park to re-enter Calder without the prior written approval from Calder’s racing secretary.
In an announcement it issued at the meeting, Calder said the restrictions would not apply to graded stakes at Gulfstream. Calder officials later said the restrictions would apply to all other Gulfstream races at its meet that will end April 24.
Calder’s statement added: “Stalls previously occupied by any such horses will be reallocated.”
Three South Florida horsemen who spoke with The Blood-Horse were very upset about Calder’s new policy on shippers. They called it unexpected, adding that it could financially harm their business and that they consider it a ploy by Calder in its dispute with Gulfstream over December race dates in Southeast Florida.
In a phone interview the afternoon of Feb. 22, Calder president Austin Miller said the restrictions on returning shippers would apply to all tracks--including Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.
Miller said Calder is taking those steps with a goal of helping to assure “a healthy horse population” when it resumes racing April 25.
He said that Gulfstream’s plan, announced last Dec. 31, to race in December 2011 has led to a chain of events in which Calder might expand its schedule--perhaps to year-round with at least three race days per week.
John Marshall, Calder vice president of racing, said the track’s racing secretary Mike Anifantis “on a case-by-case basis” will examine any trainers’ requests for prior approval to return some horses that race in non-stakes races at Gulfstream.
Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s vice president of racing, declined to comment on Calder’s decision to put restrictions on shippers.
Calder’s announcement was met with surprise and irate reaction by the approximately 60 owners and trainers at the meeting, according to Sam Gordon, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, trainer-owner Barry Rose, and a Calder-based trainer-owner who asked to not be identified.
Calder, in Miami Gardens, Fla., is eight miles west of Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
For more than two decades, Calder has been the only Thoroughbred track to have live racing in southeast Florida in December.
But in a preliminary filing Dec. 31 with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Gulfstream said it plans to run four days a week in December 2011. It would start Dec. 2, and extend its season until April 8, 2012.
In its preliminary filing with the Florida DPMW, Calder said it plans to run three days a week in December 2011. Its latest preliminary filing shows it running at least three days a week in all months except January and February during the 12 months beginning July 1, 2011.
The two tracks have until Feb. 28 to submit final dates, with automatic Florida DPMW approval, for the 12 months beginning July 1, 2011.
For several weeks, trainers and owners have been hoping the two tracks will reach an agreement and not race head-to-head in December. Rose said he is among horsemen who are concerned that neither track would have large fields or be able to offer race purses consistent with regular operation.
Meanwhile, there are other contentious issues in southeast Florida.
Calder and the Florida HBPA do not have contracts for purses and simulcasts for the Calder meet that will begin April 25, 2011.
“If they have this ban on shippers, we do not intend to have contract talks with Calder,” Gordon said.
In that event, Calder could set a structure for race purses. But Gordon noted the Florida HBPA and horsemen’s groups in other states could prevent Calder from sending and receiving some simulcast signals.
Calder is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., while Gulfstream is owned by MI Developments.
Miller said neither he nor Marshall are involved in any talks that would resolve the dispute over December dates.
On Feb. 17 Mike Rogers, MID vice president for racing and gaming, said through that date he had met once with two senior CDI officials and expected to continue talks on the Gulfstream-Calder dates issue.
On Feb, 22, Gordon and the Calder-based trainer who asked not to identified said if the tracks were to race head-to-head in December, they expected Calder to not let shippers back from Gulfstream.
Both said they did not expect that ban during the 2011 Gulfstream meet that runs through April 24.
“Calder is dictating terms, and using us in its battle with Gulfstream,” said the trainer, whose stable includes several stakes-caliber horses.
He asked not to be identified because he said some horsemen are concerned Calder will take away stalls if they say anything derogatory about that track.
Calder-based horses always account for a major share of the entries at Gulfstream meets.
One indication was Gulfstream’s nine-race card Feb. 17. Of the 110 entries, including also eligibles, 43 had recent published workouts at Calder.
Marshall noted that Calder has stalls for 1,800 horses and does not charge rent to owners and trainers. The cost of maintaining stables is about $6 million annually, he said.
Miller said Calder wants those horses to race at Calder this year, adding that restrictions on racing at Gulfstream might result “in not being in one or two races.”
But Rose said the inability to race in the Miami-area for two months could lead some owners to send horses from Calder to farms or to tracks in other states--if stalls are available.
“Once they leave, they might not come back,” he said.
Miller said that during the afternoon of Feb. 22 he and Marshall received several calls and e-mails from horsemen, including some in Florida HBPA leadership, who support Calder’s new policy on shippers.
Those horsemen understand that Calder races eight months a year and needs to assure it will start its meet with a horse population that can fill races, Miller said.
He added: “They understand that Calder is standing up to some unwise behavior from others.”
But there also was an indication of a return to the sometimes bitter relations between the FHBPA and Calder/CDI.
Gordon said at a trainers’ meeting on Feb. 18 that “John (Marshall) said they might have a ban on shippers if they race head-to-head with Gulfstream but that they would not do it now because he does not want to do anything to hurt horsemen.”
Gordon said he expects that Marshall “might have been overruled by Churchill.”
“Their word means nothing,” Gordon said. “This is typical of the way Churchill negotiates.”
Marshall said: “I don’t recall saying that to Sammy last Friday.”
Regarding whether Calder might lift its ban on Gulfstream shippers if the two tracks resolve their dates dispute, Miller said; “As the marketplace changes, we could react and make some changes in our operations.”