Calder Casino and Race Course

Calder Casino and Race Course

Coady Photography

Calder Backstretch Workers to Pay Dorm Rent

Track also intends to close down two barns; Florida HBPA says improvements needed.

Calder Casino & Race Course announced that beginning June 14 it will charge rent to grooms and hotwalkers who live in dorm rooms on its backside.

The track notified horsemen that on July 15 it will close two barns and dorms above them that it considers “unsuitable.” 

The closing and demolition of the barns would displace about 85 horses and 90 workers, according to the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Calder has begun looking for stall space and backside rooms for those horses and workers, Calder vice president and general manager John Marshall said in a statement released May 31 to horsemen and backside workers.

The backside workers, who are employed by trainers, will pay a fee of $2.50 per person per day for double rooms and $5 per day for a single room, management of the Miami Gardens. Fla., track said in a separate announcement it distributed to its employees.

The rents will be the first that Calder has charged to backside residents in its 41-year history.

“This arrangement is similar to many other tracks in the country,” Calder said in its announcement to employees. “Due to rising costs and declining pari-mutuel revenues, Calder is no longer able to provide the use of these rooms for free.”

Track officials were not available for further comment.

The Florida HBPA had asked Calder to cancel its plan to charge rent to backside workers. The Florida HBPA estimates that the rents would produce annual revenue of about $500,000 for Calder, which  is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

On May 28, Florida HBPA president Phil Combest said rents would be “a burden for these important workers who are struggling to get by financially.”

According to the Florida HBPA: “Generally, two workers live in one of Calder’s cinderblock dormitory rooms, which typically measure 8.5’ X 11.5’, have no running water, no cooking areas, and no private bathrooms.”

Calder said it will close and demolish Barns 75 and 79. The Florida HBPA did not have a readily available list of trainers who have horses in those barns.

Calder has about 1,800 stalls.

Kent Stirling, Florida HBPA executive director, said May 31 that Calder has more than enough empty stalls to accommodate trainers from the two barns.

“If they were doing more on capital improvements, this displacement of 85 people and disruption for trainers could have been avoided,” he said.

In recent years, numerous trainers have told The Blood-Horse that they feel that overall conditions have deteriorated on Calder’s backside. They have been hoping that Calder will speed up its barn renovation schedule, of about eight barns per year during months when racing is at Gulfstream Park.

Trainers have generally asked not to be identified, citing concerns that Calder could reduce their number of stalls.

In its announcement to employees, Calder noted that it is does not charge trainers for use of stalls and that it “spends $6.2 million annually to operate and maintain the stable area and is currently investing $2 million in backstretch improvements.”

Calder added that it is “about half-way” through a $200,000 project for restoration of the interiors of the rooms and restrooms in its backside dorms.

But the Florida HBPA continues to feel that Calder should be doing more to maintain its backside and racing plant, thus framing the latest issue in the ongoing economic disputes between the track and its horsemen.