A new era of South Florida Thoroughbred racing begins July 4 with Gulfstream Park and its parent The Stronach Group in control and feeling a new sense of independence.
Head-to-head weekend racing has become history, courtesy of Gulfstream's new leasing of racing operations from neighbor Calder Casino & Race Course. Gulfstream will have racing for 10 of the next 12 months and operate racing at Calder this October and November.
"Now we need to roll up our sleeves and prove we can do what we said we could do," Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said July 3 in reference to building a year-round racing program.
In an interview with The Blood-Horse he provided details of some of Gulfstream's plans.
* Gulfstream's lease does not include the seven-story grandstand building at Calder. So, Ritvo said, The Stronach Group will build a temporary facility for its personnel and fans for this October and November.
Gulfstream has an agreement with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering for stewards, placing judges, and other officials to work as usual in the Calder grandstand.
* The South Florida racing calendar might change at some point in the six-year agreement. Ritvo said one option would have racing at Calder for several weeks in December and several weeks in April. That would be sandwiched around Gulfstream's Champions meet-,which annually has many of the East's top horses and trainers.
* Without competition from Calder, Gulfstream expects to be profitable throughout its 12-month season.
Gulfstream does not disclose its revenues and profits or losses. But Ritvo has said that it lost money during many of its non-traditional months in 2013-14. He said those losses were less than in 2012-13, when the track did not have live racing revenues while staying open year-round for simulcasting and its casino.
Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, Fla., and Calder, in Miami Gardens, Fla., are just eight miles apart. They had been scheduled to race Fridays through Sundays this July, August and September.
Now Gulfstream will race unopposed Thursdays through Sundays during those months. Ritvo said that will result in larger fields and higher handle—resulting in higher purses.
Gulfstream will have 230 race days, counting those at Calder, starting July 1 through next June 30.
For the 170 days that are not part of its winter meet, Gulfstream expects average daily purses including stakes will be in the $220,000 to $250,000 range—usually with eight or nine races.
That would be comparable to Gulfstream's purse structure in 2013-14.
A big difference, Ritvo said, is that this year those purses will not be what he called "a slight overpayment" like last year in the summer and fall.
Gulfstream had that purse structure as part of its successful effort to recruit trainers to move their stables from Calder to Gulfstream.
For the next six years, Gulfstream will pay all expenses and receive all revenues for the racing at Calder.
During the past 12 months, Gulfstream consistently outpaced Calder by margins of 3-to-1 or higher in daily all-sources handle. A review of Equibase charts shows that during June Gulfstream had all-sources handle in the $2.5 million to $3.5 million range most days.
* Ritvo said Gulfstream "as soon as possible" plans to begin construction of a casino building just south of its main building. He said that will be another step in Gulfstream's growth as "an entertainment destination" with racing as the central part. Since 2006, Gulfstream has had two casino rooms in its building.
Ritvo declined to provide financial details of the agreement between The Stronach Group and Churchill Downs Inc., the parent company of Calder.
The agreement immediately ends the head-to-head weekend racing the tracks had waged since July 2013. The overlap ensued because Calder and expansion-minded Gulfstream were not able to resolve a racing dates dispute early in 2013.
The tracks reached their agreement late this May; following a lengthy review, the Florida DPMW approved it July 1.
CDI will continue to own Calder, including the racing operation and stables, and continue to operate Calder's casino. Finding a way to gain regulators' approval for that structure reportedly led to the delays in the review process.
Keeping the Calder casino was a priority for CDI, whose growth plan calls for expanding in non-racing areas of gaming.
"It was a long road and we are glad it has come to an end," Ritvo said of the negotiations that were on and off over 18 months. "It was almost like a championship fight. Through it, our chairman Mr. Frank Stronach, and all of us, always thought a deal would happen."
Ritvo said Florida's racing industry and fans will benefit from the deal "because we will continue to reinvest in racing, whereas Churchill Downs has chosen not to do so at Calder."
He added: "Churchill Downs is a well-run company with a good share price, and we wish them the best in their endeavors."
Gulfstream's July 4 card will have 10 races with first post at 1:25 p.m. EDT.