Calder's Top Racing Official to Stay With CDI
by Jim Freer
Date Posted: 7/12/2014 11:30:16 AM
Last Updated: 7/28/2014 11:34:44 AM

John Marshall
Photo: photosbyz.com

John Marshall, top racing official at Calder Casino & Race Course since 2009, has taken another management job with parent company Churchill Downs Inc., which leased the Miami-area track's racing operations to Gulfstream Park.

Marshall plans to spend at least another month at Calder, where he is vice president and general manager of racing

"I will relocate to a new assignment, but we don't yet know when or where," Marshall said July 10. "Until then, I will be here at Calder, helping to work toward a smooth transition with Gulfstream."

That transition began July 1 when the two tracks and their parent companies signed an agreement that ended their bitter racing dates dispute.

For the past 12 months, they raced head-to-head on weekends. Both tracks, especially Calder, had periodic problems with field sizes. The better-known Gulfstream usually beat Calder by a margin of 3-to-1 or more in all-sources handle.

"I am relieved that it is over," Marshall said. "But I think South Florida racing is now in a stronger position."

He described the outcome as "win, win, win" for Calder, Gulfstream, and horsemen.

Gulfstream has expanded its racing season to 10 months each year, and will also operate Calder's two-month stand. CDI will continue to own Calder and has attained its goal of continuing to run the track's casino. Trainers and owners will again be able to make plans knowing that they are finally back to a situation where only one track is running in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.

Marshall declined to talk about negotiations that led to the settlement, details on the price of the transaction, or about the resultant job cuts at Calder.

Calder is eliminating 246 of its approximately 600 jobs, a 40% reduction in its workforce.

On July 1, Calder president Maureen Adams sent a required notice of pending layoffs to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, listing the positions that Calder is cutting without providing any names. Adams' notice said that all the layoffs would take place by Sept. 2.

All of the affected positions are in racing, not in casino operations. Information on how many are full-time, part-time, or seasonal was not readily available.

Adams is among members of Calder management who are retaining their jobs.

All Calder employees losing jobs will be paid until their last workday, and will receive at least several months of severance pay based on their years of service, said Courtney Norris, director of corporate at CDI headquarters in Louisville, Ky. She declined to provide specific numbers.

CDI will offer some laid-off employees assistance with health care costs and will provide help preparing resumes. CDI also will provide training for racing employees who are seeking jobs in Calder's casino, which is adjacent to its grandstand.

The list of eliminated jobs includes racing secretary, which was held by Mike Anifantis for the past eight years.

Anifantis said he expects to remain at Calder for several more weeks.

"I have contacted some people, trying to see what is out there," he said. "I will miss the people at Calder and the horsemen, and I appreciate the concern they are showing for me."

Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said: "Mike has been a friend for 30 years, and I think he is one of the best racing secretaries in the country."

"It is shameful how Churchill Downs let Calder deteriorate," said Larry Bates, a long-time Calder trainer who last month moved his stable to Gulfstream, "but Calder had so many people who really, really cared about Calder and racing. I can't say enough about Mike Anifantis and his staff. They did a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances."

Other Calder job cuts include the three stewards, five placing judges, 11 members of the gate and starting crew, and apparently all employees in the paddock area. Gulfstream personnel will be at Calder for those jobs when racing is at Calder Oct. 7 to Nov. 30.

In addition, Calder is laying off 36 mutuel clerks. Its grandstand is no longer open for simulcasting and will be open only to racing personnel in October and November. Calder and CDI officials are not commenting on reports that Calder might tear down its 43-year-old grandstand building late this year or early next year.

Gulfstream has hired about 50 employees that Calder is laying off, Norris said. Most are in security and maintenance jobs.

Marshall joined Calder in January 2009.

He was previously the general manager for Magna Entertainment Corp.'s racing operations in Pennsylvania. He was responsible for The Meadows, a Standardbred track in Washington, Pa., and for several off-track betting facilities.

Magna Entertainment was the pre-bankruptcy predecessor to The Stronach Group, the parent of Gulfstream.

Marshall said he felt his top Calder achievement came in 2009, when he helped the track reverse some problems of the previous year.

In 2008, contract disputes between Calder and the Florida HBPA resulted in a series of blackouts of incoming and outgoing simulcast signals. Calder's total handle, as measured by CDI, fell from $922 million in 2007 to $650 million in 2008.

Calder handle grew to $673 million in 2009, and it began improving its relationships with horsemen.

But Calder's handle started declining in 2010, and Calder and the Florida HBPA soon began an ongoing series of disputes over purses and conditions on the Calder backside. Meanwhile, CDI began giving added priority to non-racing businesses such as the casino that Calder opened in 2010.

Through the controversies, horsemen often directed their harshest criticism at CDI.  Marshall remained on good personal terms with many trainers and owners as well as with Gulfstream officials.

"I enjoyed my years at Calder, and I have no regrets," Marshall said. "Things were difficult at times during the past year. But both sides came away with some things they wanted and are working together toward the future."



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