More Head-to-Head Racing in South Florida?

More Head-to-Head Racing in South Florida?
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino & Race Course have sent the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering  preliminary dates filings that would result in another 12 months of head-to-head weekend racing starting in July 2014.

Meanwhile, there are renewed hopes among horsemen that the parent companies of the two Miami-area tracks will find a way to end the dates overlap that began last July and has been unwelcome throughout Florida's racing industry. Any settlement would probably revolve around Calder relinquishing some racing dates in return for financial incentives from Gulfstream.

Gulfstream said in its filing that it plans to have racing Wednesdays through Sundays in January, February, and March in 2015, and on Thursdays through Sundays during the remaining nine months from July 2014 until June 2015.

Calder's filing calls for it to race Fridays through Sundays every week during the 12 months, thus repeating its schedule for 2013-14.

Under Florida's "pick your own dates" system, the two tracks and all other Florida pari-mutuel facilities had until Jan. 4 to send the Florida DPMW their preliminary dates filings for Florida's 2014-15 fiscal year, which goes from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. They have until Feb. 28 to send the Florida DPMW their final filings for 2014-15.

Hopes for a pre-Feb. 28 settlement have been fueled by reports that Frank Stronach, chairman of Gulfstream's parent company, The Stronach Group, was at Calder Jan. 1 and had a brief tour of that track's stable area.

According to a Calder official, Stronach and Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo went to Calder to see trainer/owner Phil Combest at his barn. Stronach reportedly had not been to Calder for several years. 

"Frank said he wanted to see Calder," said Combest, who is president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

The trio spent about 10 minutes driving around Calder's property, including part of  the stable area.

"Frank seemed pleasantly surprised about the conditions," Combest said.

Stronach did not meet with Calder officials.

Ritvo has said the parties are continuing discussions, and that Gulfstream and The Stronach Group are hoping "to reach an agreement that would benefit all of Florida racing."

Gulfstream's ongoing goal of expanding its live racing schedule is at the root of the dispute.

In May 2013 the two tracks were negotiating an agreement under which Gulfstream would lease some racing dates from Calder and move them to Gulfstream. They also were negotiating for Gulfstream to lease and operate Calder's stables.

Negotiations fell through because Calder owner Churchill Downs Inc. and The Stronach Group could not agree on some splits of revenue from simulcasts and from HRTV, which the two companies own and operate. Amid the dispute the two tracks began head-to-head weekend racing in July 2013 and are scheduled to continue it through the end of June.

Ritvo said Gulfstream plans to race at least four days per week year-round "because a lot of our horsemen have asked for it. Our year-round trainers want more days, and a lot of the trainers who come down from the north have told us they would like to keep a string here year-round. Many of them have second homes in South Florida. One of the things they like is that we will continue the tradition of Florida racing for 2-year-olds."

Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown are among the trainers who have indicated an interest in keeping some horses year-round at Gulfstream or at its Palm Meadows Training Center affiliate in Boynton Beach, Fla., Ritvo said.

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