Coady Photography

Calder Begins Tropical Meet; Purses May Rise

Overnight purses at Florida track may be increased for first time this year.

Calder Casino & Race Course will open its annual Tropical Meet on Sept. 1, and over its 65 race days will have six graded stakes and 15 other stakes with purses of $100,000 or higher.

The Tropical meet will have a three-day opening weekend, with a Labor Day card Monday Sept. 3. The opening day feature is the $75,000 Darn That Alarm Stakes, at 1 1/16 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds and up. 

As the track makes the annual transition from its Calder meet, ended Aug. 31, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent  and Protective Association is hoping that the track will soon raise overnight purses for the first time this year.

Those purses averaged $165,000 daily during the 85-day Calder meet that began April 9.

"They told us this morning (Aug. 31) that they are considering a slight increase," said Phil Combest, president of the Florida HBPA.

Calder ended 2011 with average daily overnight purses of $182,750.

Calder has what it calls a conservative purse management policy based on projections over a full year and has not raised purses this year even though its all-sources handle reportedly is similar to 2011. 

Like other tracks owned by Churchill Downs, Inc., Calder does not release attendance or wagering numbers, except for major race days or to meet regulatory requirements. Periodic reviews of Equibase charts indicate Calder’s average daily handle is in the $1.8 million to $2 million range.

Calder has an underpayment of about $1 million in its purse account, John Marshall, the track’s vice president and general manager for racing, recently told The Blood-Horse.

But based on an upcoming change from four-day to  a five-day race week, Calder expects the purse account will "be at about even" at the end of the Tropical Meet, Marshall said.

Calder will add Wednesdays on Sept. 12 and have a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule for the remainder of its season until Nov.  30. Gulfstream Park will open its 2011-2012 meet Dec. 1.

Calder’s contract with the Florida HPBA requires it to have at least 150 racing dates per year, making it necessary to have some five-day weeks even though Wednesdays are usually not strong for handle.

The  Tropical Meet’s multi-stakes Saturdays are the Festival of the Sun, with the final legs  in the Florida Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-olds, on Oct. 13, and the Florida Million on Nov. 10. The Florida Million has eight stakes, all for Florida-breds and all with purses of at least $100,000 per event. 

The Tropical Meet’s graded stakes are:
Oct. 13−$100,000 Spend A Buck Handicap (gr. III), 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds and up.
Nov. 22−$100,000  My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT), 1 1/8 miles, fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up.
Nov. 24−$100.000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III), 1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds and up.
Nov. 24−$150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr.IIT),  1 1/2 miles, 3-year-olds and up.
Nov. 30−$100,000 La  Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIIT), 1 1/2 miles, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up.
Nov. 30−$100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT),  1 1/8 miles,  3-year-olds and up.

Handle And Purses

The lack of a purse increase at Calder this year "is frustrating,"  especially for some horsemen with smaller stables, said David A. Ludwig, an owner who has raced about a dozen horses at Calder and Gulfstream over the last four years.

Ludwig said he understands why Calder is conservative in managing its purse account over the course of eight months. But he said any purse increase earlier this year would have helped horsemen pay for the rising costs of operations.

The costs of hay, supplies, and veterinary services have been rising, and some smaller stables "have to hit the board in almost every race to just break even," at Calder, said Ludwig, a teacher  and administrator at a university in the Miami area.

"It can be confusing on why they have not raised purses yet," Combest said. "They amortize projections for the year, and we think they are too conservative."

He added: "We would have liked an increase sooner. Any increase would be good for morale."

Calder began its 2011 season in April with average daily overnight purses of $170,000.  In June, it raised that average to $182,750 and kept it there through the end of the year.

At the end of last year, Marshall said that Calder’s all-sources handle was 3.5% higher in 2011 than in 2010.  He did not provide exact numbers.

Combest said that data Calder provides to the FHBPA shows the track’s all-sources handle is not down from 2011. 

He said Calder’s live handle is lower, part of a national trend, but simulcast wagering on Calder races is higher than in 2011. He did not have readily available exact numbers.

In addition to money from handle, Calder funds its overnight purses with designated portions of  revenues from the slot machines in its casino and from its poker room.

First post time at the Miami Gardens, Fla., track will be 12:30 p.m. each day for the Tropical Meet that extends through Nov. 30.