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Calder Hoping for Smooth Tropical Meet

The opening and closing will be several weeks earlier than in previous years.

Calder Casino & Race Course will open its Tropical meet Oct. 1 and will have racing Thursdays through Mondays until Dec. 2. That opening and closing will be several weeks earlier than in previous years, as part of schedule changes by Calder and Gulfstream Park.

Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, Fla., had traditionally raced from early January through late April, while Calder, in nearby Miami Gardens, raced the remaining months of the calendar.

Following their resolution of a bitter dispute over the December dates, the two tracks Feb, 28 chose revised schedules for 2011-12. Gulfstream will open its next season Dec. 3 and race through April 8, 2012, with Calder opening its meet the following day.

In late September, Calder vice president and general manager John Marshall and Gulfstream president and general manager Tim Ritvo each their tracks expect to run similar dates in 2012-13.

“We have no formal agreement,” Marshall said. “But I do not expect there will be any dates conflict. We are looking forward to what will be a condensed Tropical meet, in what we think will be a new tradition, and we will have a strong stakes schedule."

The Tropical meet will be 45 days and will include two of Calder’s traditional multi-stakes Saturdays—the Festival of the Sun Oct. 15 and the Florida Million Nov. 12. The meet will have six graded stakes, with five during the period between Nov. 24-Dec. 2.

The Tropical meet follows the Calder meet that began April 25 and will conclude Sept. 30.  A major change will be the addition of Mondays starting Oct. 3. First post time will remain 12:30 p.m.

Questions about the upcoming meet include the possible impact that adding a fifth day each week might have on Calder’s field size and purse account, as well as the prospect of not running some of the planned Monday cards.

“We will run all the days,” Marshall said. “There is no risk at this point that we will cut any days, purses, or stakes.”

He noted that Gulfstream and its affiliate Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach will open their stable areas Oct. 19.

Marshall said Calder expects its final condition books will have numerous races that will be attractive to trainers who send horses to southeast Florida in advance of Gulfstream’s meet. Calder is about eight miles west of Gulfstream and about 35 miles south of Palm Meadows.

Through Sept. 18, Calder had an underpayment of $478,000 in its purse account, Marshall said. Calder intends to put all of that money into Tropical race purses and have a zero balance at the end of the Tropical meet, he said.

“We expect they will do what they are saying (on dates and purses),” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “They have been more conservative than we would have liked. They have been meeting the averages. Mike Anifantis (racing secretary) is doing a good job in writing races to help meet the overnight numbers.”

Money for Calder purses comes from designated percentages of handle and of revenue from slot machines and poker tables. Calder started the Calder meet with average daily overnight purses of $170,000. On June 2, it raised that average to $182,750.

Calder and other tracks owned by its parent Churchill Downs Inc. do not routinely release pari-mutuel handle numbers, and Calder has not released numbers this year.

A review of Equibase Co. charts for Calder’s 17 racing days from this Sept. 1 through Sept. 25 by The Blood-Horse showed the track’s average daily all-sources handle was approximately $1.9 million for that period. A breakdown of live handle and other components was not available. Calder handle numbers for other periods were not readily available.

Without providing numbers, Marshall said overall wagering on Calder races, including ontrack, has “met expectations” for the Calder meet.

The southeast Florida summer rainy season has been heavier than usual, thus causing an undetermined dollar impact on handle. Through Sept, 18, Calder ran 128 races on turf compared with 159 through the same period. Meanwhile, Marshall said a decline in Calder’s number of imported races is having an impact.

Through Sept, 18, Calder had imported 23,425 races. That was 4.3% lower than the 24,476 races it had imported through the same date in 2010.

“This is from a combination of some tracks having fewer race days and fewer races per card,” Marshall said.

Thus, he said, there have been declines in betting on imported signals at Calder and at Greyhound tracks and jai-alai frontons in Florida for which Calder is host for Thoroughbred signals.

Highlights of the Tropical meet will include:

Oct. 15 – Festival of the Sun, with the Spend a Buck Handicap (gr. III) and the final two legs in the Florida Stallion Stakes series. Those two races are the In Reality in the open division and the My Dear Girl in the fillies division.

Nov. 12 – Florida Million, with eight stakes restricted to Florida-breds and all with purses of $100,000 or more.

Nov. 24 -- My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT).  This will be Calder’s first Thanksgiving Day stakes in several years.

Nov. 26 – W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) and Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III).

Dec. 2 – La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIIT) and Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT).

Calder plans to release its 2012 stakes schedule before the end of this year, Marshall said.

“We will start with an attractive schedule of turf and dirt stakes in April,” he said. “One of our goals will be to give horsemen stabled at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows more reasons to run at Calder in April.”