Eight tension-filled weeks have gone by since Churchill Downs Inc. told trainers to move 700 horses from a stable area it has designated for non-racing redevelopment at Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla.
But Calder and CDI still have not applied for any of the permits required to tear down barns and put up new structures, the head of the development department for the city of Miami Gardens told The Blood-Horse Jan. 26.
Calder is preparing to file for permits, CDI director of corporate communications Courtney Norris said in an email dated Jan. 26. She did not provide a timetable for filing applications.
Calder and Louisville, Ky.-based CDI also have done no apparent work at the site since early last December, when they installed a controversial wire fence around part of the stable area and issued an order that horses would not be allowed in the area after Dec. 31, 2014.
All 700 horses have been relocated, with more than half of them in temporary stalls Gulfstream Park built quickly at Calder on land and a parking lot it leased last year. The rest of the horses were moved through a combination of being shipped to farms in Ocala, Fla.; placed in the limited number of stalls available at Gulfstream; or sold to owners in other states.
One disturbing trend for displaced trainers is that a growing number of their clients are moving horses to tracks outside of South Florida. And some of those trainers are worried they might be forced out of business.
CDI's Norris wrote in her email: "Before we can begin to apply for permits, a lot of work must be done with consultants, engineers, contractors, state agencies, and developers. This work is currently under way, and as soon as it is complete, we will be in a position to formally apply."
CDI has not announced any details for projects it is planning at Calder, though there are reports it is considering a transportation logistics center for trucks. Norris said the company isn't providing any details about plans at Calder because of Securities and Exchange Commission rules that prohibit release of forward-looking information.
Shellie Ransom-Jackson, director of the Miami Gardens Development Services and Code Compliance Department, said in an email: "Given the various agencies which must review the plans, there is no definitive timeframe for permit issuance."
In many municipalities, the process of applying for and being approved for permits can take several months. Thus, if Calder and CDI file for permits in February, they probably wouldn't be able to begin work until summer.
The word from Miami Gardens that there are no pending applications for permits at Calder wasn't a surprise to Phil Combest, a trainer and owner who is president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
"Calder and CDI are not telling us much, but we've been hearing from others that they don't have any permits or any plans to do anything for several months," Combest said. "They forced trainers out at a time when there are not many stalls available. This is another indication that they don't care about horse racing in Florida."
Many of the trainers who were forced to relocate operate small stables, and some were already facing financial challenges, Combest said.
Because of the lengthy permitting process, he and many others in Florida's racing community had hoped CDI would allow the horses to remain in Calder's stable area through the end of March. By then many seasonal trainers will have taken horses back to northern states, and stall space will become available at Gulfstream and at its affiliate Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.
But by clearing out Calder's stables at the start of this year, CDI stayed on schedule for phasing out its ties to racing at Calder. As part of a racing dates agreement Calder and CDI signed July 1, Calder leased its racing operation to Gulfstream and its parent company, The Stronach Group, through 2020.
Last year Gulfstream leased 430 stalls at Calder. Those stalls are located in a part of the Calder barn area that isn't subject to development plans. Horses stabled at Calder are important for Gulfstream throughout its 10 months of racing each year.
During Gulfstream's current meet, Calder-stabled horses are making up more than half the fields in many lower level claiming races. That includes horses now in permanent stalls and those in temporary stalls.
Several horsemen have heard rumors that CDI is considering conversion of its stable area into a transportation logistics center where trucks could pick up and deliver packages intended for airports and other locations in Florida.
"We heard they were planning a casino or a hotel, and now this," said Carlo Vaccarezza, a trainer and breeder whose stable is at Gulfstream. "You never know what to expect from these people at Churchill Downs. We know that they don't have anything planned right now. They are just causing more problems for the horsemen and for Gulfstream."
There are reports that soil and contamination issues could delay any approvals for development at Calder, which needs a demolition permit before it can tear down barns or other structures in the stable area. The Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management would need to conduct an asbestos survey prior to approval of any demolition.
Approval from Miami-Dade County or from the Florida government could be required for some projects. All of Calder's 220-acre property is zoned as agriculture, which is common for racetracks. A zoning change could be required for Calder to have certain types of commercial development.
Calder has not applied for a change in zoning status.
The latest dispute pitting CDI and Calder against Gulfstream and The Stronach Group is taking place amid what is supposed to be a truce between the two racing industry giants. The 2014 agreement ended the head-to-head weekend racing the two tracks held between July 2013 and last June.
The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering approved an arrangement under which the two tracks must hold a minimum of 40 race days per year at Calder. Gulfstream used the name Gulfstream Park West for the race meet it held at Calder last October and November.
CDI remains the owner of Calder and continues to operate the casino it opened there in 2010. CDI officials have said numerous times they expect the company's growth will be on the gaming side, not the horse racing side.