As Calder Casino & Race Course officials prepare for the racetrack’s 2012 season, they hope its early schedule will attract local horsemen, as well as some from northern states who might want to stay in warm southeast Florida for several weeks after Gulfstream Park ends its meet.
Gulfstream will finish its season April 8. Calder will open April 9 and host live racing until Nov. 30, with Gulfstream opening the next day for 2012-2013.
Calder is opening three weeks earlier than in previous years. Its biggest April races will be three turf stakes with purses of $100,000 or more.
April usually does not have heavy rain in southeast Florida. So Calder will probably schedule a large number of turf races and expects to keep them on that surface, said John Marshall, its vice president and general manager of racing.
But any current talk about the Miami area’s 2012 race schedule is getting less attention than the buzz about whether Hialeah Park will return to Thoroughbred racing in 2013—in a move that would have it racing head-to-head with Calder on seven weekends.
Hialeah chairman and owner John Brunetti has told The Blood-Horse it is “very possible” his track during April and May 2013 will have Thoroughbred races on 20 dates, as substitute races under its Quarter Horse license.
Florida horse tracks and other pari-mutuels select their dates, with approval that is usually automatic by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. For now, Calder officials are saying little about Hialeah except they are monitoring the review process that the Florida DPMW must complete by March 15.
But in a recent interview, Marshall provided details about why he is optimistic about his track’s 2012 meet.
“We feel that we have an April racing product that will get our meet off to a strong start,” he said. “We also feel that we have a good understanding with our horsemen.”
Calder already has 2012 agreements with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association on contracts for purses, simulcasting, and advance deposit wagering.
Calder also has gained a peaceful and generally cooperative arrangement with Gulfstream after resolving a bitter dispute over December 2011 race dates.
One example is that Gulfstream will keep its stables and the stables at its nearby Palm Meadows training center affiliate open until the end of April in order to accommodate Calder.
“We would like to see Calder build on the success of our meet,” said Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s president and general manager. “I think April can be a good month for Calder, and that would be good for Florida racing.”
Traditionally, late March and early April is the time frame for many big-name trainers to ship horses from Gulfstream and Palm Meadows to Kentucky, New York, and other northern states.
Many of Gulfstream’s April race cards have been filled mostly with horses vanned the eight miles from Calder. That is one reason many observers felt it was a sound policy to move April racing from a winding-down Gulfstream to Calder to try and build some attention while opening a meet.
Marshall is realistic about the number of trainers who might keep some horses in southeast Florida.
“We are not going to compete with Keeneland and Aqueduct, but in other cases we think we provide a good alternative,” he said. “You can’t always depend on the weather in April up north. Here, you know you can train, and race on the turf.”
Marshall hopes the weather will be attractive to some trainers from the Mid-Atlantic circuit, including New Jersey horsemen who are waiting for determinations on Monmouth Park and its annual late May opening.
Calder’s April schedule includes a return of the Calder Derby and the Calder Oaks, two turf stakes that it did not run in 2011.
Marshall hopes to attract fields of local horses and out-of-town horses with enough quality to get both stakes on paths toward regaining the graded status they had until several years ago.
The $150,000 Calder Derby for 3-year-olds will be April 14, and the $100,000 Calder Oaks for 3-year-old fillies will be April 28.
Calder will hold the $125,000 Miami Mile (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds and up April 21.
In an effort to generate more interest from horsemen and fans for some of its overnight stakes, Calder will have an early-meet Calder Starter Series that might be called a claiming championship.
The four-race series is for 4-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of $20,000 or less in 2011 or 2012. It is open to both males and females.
Each race carries a $50,000 purse (including $5,000 in Florida Owners’ Awards). The series offers a $5,000 bonus to the trainer of the horse that accumulates the most points after the fourth race of the series.
Points are allocated to the top six finishers of each race. A horse and its trainer could win the series without winning a race.
Dates for the Calder Starter Series are April 14 (seven furlongs, dirt), April 28 (mile on turf), May 12 (one mile and 70 yards, dirt), and May 26 (1 1/16 miles, turf). Nominations close March 26.
“They talked with us about several ways to do something early in the meet,” said trainer Phil Combest, the president of the Florida HBPA. “If it attracts interest and is successful, they could have a separate division for fillies and mares next year.”
Added Marshall: “If our Starter Series is the success we expect, we might do it again later this year with an open division and one for the fillies and mares and continue with that next year.”