Calder Casino & Race Course will begin its 40th anniversary season April 25, with changes that include adding a Pick 5 on its last five races.
Calder’s Pick 5 will have a 50-cent minimum bet. It will have a 12% takeout that Calder officials say is the lowest on that bet at any U.S. Thoroughbred track.
“We were looking at ways to offer low denomination bets, and we believe that our Pick 5 with its low takeout will be attractive and provide an additional reason to look at and bet on Calder,” said John Marshall, the track’s vice president and general manager.
For 2011, Calder will also reduce its minimum trifecta bet from $1 to 50 cents.
In another major change, the Miami Gardens, Fla., track will end its season on Dec. 2. Calder has traditionally opened in late April and run until early the following January.
Calder changed its schedule for 2011, and likely for succeeding years, following a bitter dates dispute with neighboring Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The schedule change is being called a “date swap” by many industry officials, although the two tracks are not using that term and are not saying if Calder received any financial incentives.
Gulfstream will begin its next season on Dec. 3 and run through April 8, 2012. Calder will open its 2012 season the following day and run through a date in late 2012 that has not yet been determined.
“We are looking at 2011 as a transitional year,” Marshall said. “We are already making plans for our expanded April schedule in 2012.”
That could include moving several stakes that usually are run later in Calder’s season. The second half of December has traditionally been one of Calder’s biggest periods for graded stakes. For 2011, Calder has moved five graded stakes to days between Nov. 24 and Dec. 2.
Calder will have 146 racing days in 2011. It will hold its 101-day Calder Meet from April 25 to Sept. 30 and its 45-dayTropical Meet from Oct. 1 to Dec. 2. It will have racing Thursdays through Sundays until July 17, and then begin a five-day Thursday through Monday schedule. First post time will be 12:30 p.m. ET each day.
Purses and Wager Menu
Calder will open 2011 with a purse account underpayment that was about $2.5 million as of April 10, Marshall said.
That includes early 2011 money designated for race purses from the slot machines at Calder’s casino and simulcasting revenues from Gulfstream’s signal. Marshall said Calder’s average daily overnight purses will be $172,000 for its first Condition Book through May 15.
“We are starting out conservatively,” Marshall said. “We will review our handle during the early weeks of the meet. We do not want to have a purse cut. We would hope to at some point have an increase.”
Last year, Calder began its meet with average daily overnight purses of $164,000. It increased that average to $182,000 during June. But following declines in handle, it later reduced that average to $164,000 and a meet-ending $150,000.
Sam Gordon, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said that based on the underpayment he feels that Calder’s starting purses should be higher than $172,000.
“At a meeting last Friday (April 15), we told them if you want to attract more bettors and better horses you should start the meet with higher purses,” Gordon said.
Eddie Plesa Jr., who has won three Calder training titles, said: “I can understand why they are starting conservatively, if they feel that they will be able to raise purses later. A purse cut can scare some owners into shipping horses out of a track, and scare some trainers.”
Calder is a subsidiary of Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), which has a policy of not releasing all-sources handle numbers for its tracks.
In its report for 2010 to the Securities and Exchange Commission, CDI said that Calder’s total handle fell from $672 million in 2009 to $600 million in 2010. That was an 11% decline.
CDI has told The Blood-Horse that its measurement of Calder total handle is a combination of live on-track; export; import; proxy when Calder is host (wagering at other Florida sites on out-of-state races); and Gulfstream wagering on Tampa Bay Downs when Calder is host. CDI’s reports to the SEC do not provide a breakdown of those components.
Calder’s 2010 handle decline occurred during a year when all-sources handle at U.S. Thoroughbred tracks fell 7.3%, according to data compiled by Equibase.
Calder is not publicly projecting any 2011 handle numbers, but Marshall said he expects the Pick 5 will help handle in several ways.
“It will be a popular bet, and create a crescendo for the last five races of our card,” he said.
The Pick 5 will be followed by a Pick 4, with a 50-cent minimum. The day’s last five races will include rolling Pick 3s, that start on the first race with a $1 minimum, and a late Double with a $1 minimum.
Calder’s Pick 5 pool will be apportioned with a Jackpot Carryover, or Major Pool, and a Minor Pool. Thus, if no one correctly selects the five official winners, 75% of the pool will carry over to the next race day and 25% of the pool will be distributed to those who selected the first place finisher in the second greatest number of Pick 5 races. That creates the possibility of large carryovers.
Marshall said Calder consulted with the Horseplayers Association of America in developing its Pick 5.
He also noted that Gulfstream’s new Pick 5 has proven popular, adding that he hopes bettors who follow southeast Florida racing live and off-site will retain that interest when racing moves to Calder.
Gulfstream’s Pick 5 has a 50 cent minimum and a 15% takeout. In late March, Gulfstream officials told The Blood-Horse that the bet has exceeded expectations, with no indications that it is taking money from other exotic bets. Through March 23, Gulfstream had averaged $136,000 on its Pick 5 through 58 days.
Calder will have 11 graded stakes, starting with the $125,000 Miami Mile (gr. IIIT) on April 30. It will have four graded stakes on its Summit of Speed with four graded stakes on July 9.
Other highlights will be the Festival of the Sun on Oct. 15 and the Florida Million, with eight stakes for Florida-breds, on Nov. 12.
The Festival of the Sun will include the two final races in the Florida Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-olds—the In Reality and the My Dear Girl.
“The 2-year-old program is a main reason for trainers and owners to be at Calder,” Plesa said.
Marshall said Calder will continue to emphasize its 2-year-old program in its marketing and other promotions. He noted that three possible starters in the May 7 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) began their careers at Calder—Mucho Macho Man, Decisive Moment, and Watch Me Go.