Calder Race Course is preparing to open its 2009 season on April 24, but as of April 7 the track’s parent Churchill Downs Inc. had not signed a purse contract with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Sam Gordon, president of the Florida HBPA, and John Marshall, Calder’s general manager and vice president of racing, each said CDI is seeking to change two parts of a 15-point tentative verbal agreement that the Florida HBPA and Calder officials approved in late March.
Both are hopeful that a purse agreement for the Miami Gardens, Fla., track will be signed before April 24.
But Gordon said: “Unless this (purse agreement) gets resolved, there will be no contracts” when Calder opens its meet.
In that situation, he said the Florida HPBA, as in 2008, would use its authority under the Interstate Horse Racing Act to prevent Calder from sending its simulcast signal to non-Florida race tracks and to many off-track betting outlets. The Florida HPBA’s agreement for several of the largest advance deposit wagering (ADW) companies to take bets on Calder races in 2009 is contingent on the two parties signing a purse contract.
Similar contract disputes in 2008 resulted in Calder not being able to send its simulcast signal outside Florida until early July and its races not being available on most ADWs until late December. Last Dec. 22, 10 days before the track ended its 2008 meet, Calder and the Florida HPBA signed an ADW contract for 2009.
Calder’s all-sources handle fell 30% from $923 million in 2007 to $650 million in 2008, according to CDI’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Amid the decline in handle, Calder reduced overnight purses several times in 2008 and canceled more than a dozen stakes over the final three months of its meet.
Marshall and Gordon both said contract negotiations for 2009.were cordial through the first weekend in April. Gordon said the Florida HBPA approved the tentative agreement on March 26, after negotiations with Calder officials, but that CDI rejected two provisions on April 7.
Gordon and Marshall each said the amount of purse money is not one of the unresolved issues.
Marshall said one issue “involves a form of additional purse subsidies.”
The Florida HBPA estimates the changes CDI is seeking will result in the company saving approximately $250,000 in 2009, said Kent Stirling, executive director of the horsemen’s group. That is not a significant amount of the overall dollars in the proposed contract, he said.
Marshall would not provide an estimate on the amount of money involved in the two contract items.
But he said: “After an in-depth financial review, two items were deemed unacceptable.”
He said CDI made that decision based on the current economy and the impact that last year’s disputes had on Calder purses.
“There are no disputes on the other items,” Marshall said.
“CDI asked us to sign this (agreement), and now they are saying they don’t like it,” Gordon said. “We spent six weeks negotiating (with Calder officials), and we gave up some things to get this agreement. We thought we had a deal.”
The impact of last year’s stalled negotiations included Calder’s Sept. 12 decision to cut its average daily overnight purses from $180,000 to $150,000. Calder made that decision after lower-than-projected handle resulted in an overpayment into the purse account for the two preceding months.
Marshall said Calder in 2009 expects to maintain daily average purses in the range of $160,000 for overnights and for $190,000 including stakes.
“We will have to manage it responsibly and be able to throttle it up and back based on the flow of business,” he said.
Calder’s first Condition Book, posted on its Web site, shows a 12-race opening day card with $190,500 in purses. No stakes are listed for that card.
On April 25, Calder’s first Saturday, the Condition Book shows two graded stakes and two overnight stakes. The graded stakes are the $150,000 La Purveyance (gr. IIT) at 1 ½ miles for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up and the Miami Mile (gr. IIT) for 3-year-olds and up.
A calendar on Calder’s Web site shows it plans to race four days a week through September. Racing is scheduled for Thursdays through Sundays in May and September and for Fridays through Mondays in June, July and August.
Starting in October, Calder will hold racing from Thursdays through Mondays until it ends its season on Jan. 2, 2010. South Florida racing will then move to Gulfstream Park from Jan. 3, 2010 to April 24, 2010.
Calder’s marketing theme for 2009 is “Racing into the Future.” Marshall said the track by April 10 will announce its full schedule and details on stakes days and other promotions.
Without providing a projected announcement date, he said Calder is preparing plans for a casino it will build adjacent to its clubhouse building.
The short-term success of Calder’s plan is dependent on signing a purse agreement.