For the past 20 years, Calder has been the only Miami-area track to race in December.

For the past 20 years, Calder has been the only Miami-area track to race in December.

Jim Lisa Photos

Bloodbath Looming on Florida Racing Dates?

An overlap of racing dates in South Florida could trigger a bloodbath.

The biggest issue at Calder Casino & Race Course Jan. 4, closing day of its 2010-11 meet, was a fast-brewing and potentially bitter dispute with Gulfstream Park over southeast Florida’s attractive December racing dates.

In an e-mail the afternoon of Jan. 4, Mike Rogers, a top official of Gulfstream’s parent MI Developments, told The Blood-Horse: “I would like to reserve comment until after we meet with Calder. We are planning to meet with Calder in the next couple of days.”

Rogers is MID’s vice president for racing and gaming and its point man and spokesman on the racing dates issue.

Later Jan. 4, John Marshall, Calder’s vice president and general manager for racing, said Calder and parent Churchill Downs Inc. have not been contacted by Gulfstream or MID.

The widely-anticipated dispute over dates became a reality Dec. 31 when Gulfstream told Florida racing regulators it plans to hold racing almost the entire month of December 2011, beginning Dec. 2. For the past 20 years, Calder has been the only Miami-area track to race in December.

In its preliminary 2011-12 filing with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Calder listed the entire month of 2011 in its planned schedule. Marshall said Calder will not relinquish the December dates to Gulfstream, and is prepared to run head-to-head against its neighboring track.

“They talk about a free marketplace and open competition,” Marshall said. “They will have it.”

The tracks are located about eight miles apart. Since 2002, Florida Thoroughbred tracks have selected their racing dates; previously, the dates were allocated by state regulators.

The tracks have until Feb. 28 to send the Florida DPMW their final filings for the 12 months between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. Gulfstream’s preliminary filing is for Dec. 2, 2011, through April 8, 2012. Calder’s preliminary filing is for April 25, 2011, through Jan. 4, 2012.

“(Gulfstream’s filing for December dates) is just the first salvo,” said Sam Gordon, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.  “We hope the two tracks will sit down and resolve this. Nobody wants them to race head-to-head.”

Gordon said the Florida HPBA is not taking sides in the dispute.

The prospect of Calder and Gulfstream running head-to-head for a month is a dilemma for South Florida horsemen, as well as for the numerous mutuel clerks and other employees who work at both tracks. Calder’s stable area is open-year round, and Gulfstream’s stables are open from early December through late April.

During a head-to-head month, trainers who van horses from one track to race at the other would naturally be concerned about reductions in their numbers of stalls.

There is another wild card: Hialeah Park could ask to run some Thoroughbred races during its Quarter Horse meet, which traditionally begins in early December.