Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park

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Gulfstream, Calder Have No Deal on Dates

Final requests for dates for fiscal year 2014-15 are due by Feb. 28.

Unless serious talks resume soon and quickly produce a settlement, Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino & Race Course appear to be headed toward another 12 months of bitter head-to-head weekend racing.

That holds the prospect of more low pari-mutuel handle numbers and financial problems for Calder and heavier spending by Gulfstream on purses and incentives for horsemen during its non-winter racing months. It also would produce more confusion and disruption for horsemen and fans in South Florida.

Unfriendly neighbors Calder and Gulfstream have less than two weeks until a Feb. 28 deadline to tell the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering the dates they plan to race during the 12 months beginning July 1. After Feb. 28 it would be difficult to gain approval to alter those dates.

The two tracks and their parent companies remain in contact on the issue, Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said Feb. 16.

"The door is open, and we still hope we can reach an agreement," he said, but he declined to provide details of possible offers that would result in Calder changing its schedule to avoid head-to-head racing.

Calder will not comment on racing dates or other issues in its dispute with Gulfstream, a Calder official said Feb. 15.

As of Feb. 14 neither Gulfstream nor Calder had amended its preliminary filing, submitted in early January.

Under Florida's "pick your own dates" system, each track's plan includes racing every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from July 2014 through June 2015. They have been racing head-to-head on Saturdays and Sundays since last July, with Fridays added in December.

Among horsemen there is a widespread view and concern that Calder and Gulfstream will not be able to reach an agreement by Feb. 28.

"We know that they are still talking, but we are not optimistic that they will settle things before the deadline," said Phil Combest, an owner/trainer who is president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "They have been close to a deal several times."

"Nobody expected (head-to-head racing) would last this long," said Bill White, a Calder-based trainer and member of the Florida HBPA board of directors. "I don't see any settlement soon, but in the long run they will have to reach an agreement."

The Stronach Group owns Gulfstream while Churchill Downs Inc. owns Calder.

Last month The Stronach Group reportedly offered CDI about $100 million to buy Calderwith the deal covering its casino and racing operations. Last June the parties reportedly were close to an agreement for Gulfstream to lease Calder's racing operations, including its stable area, and transfer some of Calder's dates to Gulfstream.

As negotiations start and stop, Calder's revenue has dropped from $22.6 million in the third quarter of 2012 to $8.6 million for same period in 2013, according to Securities and Exchange Commission reports filed by CDI. The company has said the decline is due to head-to-head racing with Gulfstream and more competition with Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs to be a host track for interstate simulcasts.

CDI is scheduled to release its 2013 annual report to the SEC during the week of Feb. 24.

Gulfstream, located in Hallandale Beach, said it in its preliminary filing it plans to have racing Wednesdays through Sundays in January, February, and March in 2015 and Thursdays through Sundays during the remaining nine months.

Changing scheduled race dates after Feb. 28 would require Calder or Gulfstream to obtain approvals from the other as well as from the six other pari-mutuel outlets in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market and from the Florida DPMW. Or the Florida DPMW alone could approve a schedule change if it determines it would have a positive economic impact on the two tracks and lead to an increase in state tax payments.

Despite its problems competing with Gulfstream, Calder has several reasons for not reducing its racing schedule. Under state rules and laws, it must race at least 80 days a year to keep its slot-machine casino, and by racing three days year-round, it can be a year-round host in Florida's lucrative inter-state simulcast business.

A Florida host track pays Thoroughbred tracks outside of Florida to take signals and sells them to other Florida pari-mutuel facilities.