The opening salvos were fired in what could be a bloody war when Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park each filed with the Florida Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering plans to expand their live racing dates by approximately one month during the fiscal year that ends June 1, 2002.
Unless altered by the deadline of March 31, 2001, Gulfstream will operate from Jan. 3 through April 20, 2002. Calder will run its usual Tropical-at-Calder dates in 2001-02, then open for its "summer" meet April 26, 2002.
Both of those periods encroach on Hialeah Park, which previously filed an application for its traditional dates of March 17 through May 22.
"With the state changing its regulation and no longer penalizing tracks for running outside of assigned dates, it gives all tracks the opportunity to re-evaluate their positions," Calder president Ken Dunn said. "There's really no reason not to take advantage of the opportunity to run more dates."
Gulfstream president Scott Savin echoed Dunn's comments. "With the investment we're putting in rebuilding at Gulfstream, we need to show an increase in profitability stemming from more racing dates," he said.
Simulcasting is another factor central to the date requests: Gulfstream's dates would coincide with Magna Entertainment's other major property, Santa Anita Park in California, while Calder's opening would coincide with the opening of Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park, both owned by Calder's parent company, Churchill Downs Inc.
Hialeah officials were unavailable to comment on a racing calendar that, unless modified, would force the track to compete against one or the other of its crosstown rivals for all but a handful of days, but it remains possible for negotiations to take place that may give John Brunetti's track yet another last-minute reprieve.
"If they called, I would sit down with the other tracks together to discuss what was best for Florida racing," Dunn said, while insisting he had not spoken with either of the other tracks in preparing his date submission. "To discuss dates with one other permit holder would be an anti-trust violation."
Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, was delighted with the requests. "This should result in an increase in purses of somewhere between $5 and $6 million," he said. "We were worried about those tracks overlapping on dates, but this was the absolute best thing that could have happened."