Calder Casino & Race Course will reduce its number of stalls for 2-year-olds to about 150 this year, compared with about 500 in 2013 and other recent years.
Calder is making that change as it cuts back on its long-prominent 2-year-old program. The Miami Gardens, Fla., track is taking the step in response to this year's loss of the Florida Sire Stakes series, formerly the Florida Stallion Stakes series, to southeast Florida neighbor Gulfstream Park.
The sponsoring Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association Sept. 5, 2013 announced that the shift of the six-race juvenile series would begin in 2014. From July through October the series has three stakes for fillies and three stakes for males, all restricted to offspring of nominated Florida-based stallions.
"Without the Florida Sire Series, Calder will need to examine the plans for its 2-year-old program moving forward," Calder general manager of racing John Marshall said in September.
Calder has provided some details, telling trainers and owners that it is limiting stall space for 2-year-olds based on factors that include a trainer's recent history on numbers of starts per horse.
In a policy statement, Calder said: "Operating decisions pertaining to stabling and trading resources accommodating 2-year-olds will be based on the cost/benefit of enhancement dollars received and net revenues generated for Calder and horsemen's purses. Those trainers loyal to Calder's racing program will receive a more favorable 2-year-old stall allotment than those not contributing to Calder's racing program."
"A large portion of our revenue from 2-year-olds is being moved from us, so we believe that we need to reduce our expenses (for 2-year-olds)," Marshall said March 14. "It is an unfair expectation for a racetrack to occupy its stalls and dedicate resources to support 2-year-olds in training from January through July without the benefits of FTBOA purse allocations."
Within several weeks Calder will announce its plans for 2-year-old races, he said.
The only two 2-year-old stakes the track has scheduled thus far, both July 5 on the Summit of Speed program, are the JJ's Dream Stakes for fillies and the Frank Gomez Memorial Stakes for males. Both stakes are unrestricted and are scheduled to have $80,000 purses. Last year, those races had guaranteed $100,000 purses with both receiving $45,000 from an FTBOA fund for distribution to Florida-breds.
At Gulfstream, the Florida Sire Stakes will be part of a new program for 2-year-olds and it will have between 300 and 400 stalls for them, said P.J. Campo, vice president of racing operations for The Stronach Group, the parent company of Gulfstream. Some of those 2-year-olds will be stabled at Palm Meadows, the Stronach-owned training center in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Many of the stalls will be for trainers who last summer moved their stables the eight miles from Calder to Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Calder had 82 2-year-olds on-site as of late in the week of March 10, Marshall said. There were about 80 2-year-olds divided between Gulfstream and Palm Meadows, Campo said.
"Gulfstream has assured us that they will pick up the slack (from Calder)," said Lonny Powell, chief executive officer of the FTBOA.
In recent years, Gulfstream has ended its racing season during the first half of April. Thus, it has been several years since Gulfstream had 2-year-old racing.
Amid their highly publicized dispute, Gulfstream and Calder are scheduled to race head-to-head on weekends through June 2015. Campo said Gulfstream plans to have its first races for 2-year-olds in mid-April, starting with 4 1/2-furlong races.
"Calder is putting the horsemen in the middle of this again," said Phil Combest, an owner/trainer who is president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, "Gulfstream is letting 2-year-olds in as stalls becomes available. They will have more space in April."
In late March and early April Gulfstream's winter-meet trainers will move several hundred horses to northern tracks. The 2-year-olds that Gulfstream brings in will help replenish its horse population and prevent a drop in field sizes.
The head-to-head racing has already resulted in numerous races with fields of six horses at each track.
Over the March 14-16 weekend, Gulfstream had 31 races with an average field size of 8.3 horses. That is lower than most weekends at previous Gulfstream meets. Calder, in its first winter meet, averaged 6.7 starters per race for 24 races on the March 14-16 weekend.
Calder had been the site of the Florida Stallion Stakes since the series started in 1982. The three Saturdays with its races have traditionally been among Calder's strongest for pari-mutuel handle and national attention.
Marshall said Calder will continue to hold other 2-year-old stakes and maiden special weight races. The number of races and their purses will depend partly on how much supplemental money the Florida TBOA continues to provide it for those races, he said.
"It is unfortunate that Calder is doing this, acting like a bully and hurting people in our industry as they seek retribution against us," Powell said.
"We will continue to supplement the purses for some of Calder's races for 2-year-olds and some races for older horses," he said. "It will be difficult to do more with Calder unless they can start generating better handle. We base our funding for tracks based on handle they generate, and we can justify our support for Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs."
When announcing the move of the Stallion Stakes series, the FTBOA said it expected Gulfstream would do more than Calder has done in recent years to promote and market the series within the industry and to fans. The FTBOA also was concerned that Calder might continue to cut the purses for Stallion Stakes races.
The final two races in the series, held in October, are the In Reality division for males and the My Dear Girl division for fillies. Calder lowered those races' purses from $400,000 in 2009 to $365,000 in 2010 and $300,000 starting in 2011.
The flow of 2-year-olds being sent down from Ocala starts picking up in April and extends into early May, following major annual sales. Some trainers at Calder will then start feeling the impact of Calder's cap on 2-year-olds, said Calder-based trainer Bill White.
White had just one 2-year-old in his stable in mid-March. As the winner of 16 training titles at Calder, he undoubtedly will get sufficient stalls for 2-year-olds.
The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. selected sale of 2-year-olds in training March 11 set records for gross, average, and median price, indicating a healthy demand for juveniles. The median price was $137,500 on the 185 horses sold. The median was $125,000 last year, when 198 horses were sold.
OBS will hold its annual spring sale of 2-year-olds in training April 21-24.