Gulfstream Park will open its 2011 racing meet Jan. 5 with a new Sunday date for the Florida Derby (gr. I), other changes in its stakes schedule, and new multi-race bets highlighted by a 10-cent only Pick 6.
The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track’s opening-day feature is the $100,000 Old Hat Stakes (gr. III), at six furlongs on dirt for 3-year-old fillies. It is one of 33 graded stakes during a Gulfstream meet that will have racing Wednesdays through Sundays until April 24. First post time will be 12:55 p.m. Eastern each day.
But Gulfstream also is opening its season with some short-term and longer-term questions it needs to settle with other parties in the southeast Florida racing industry.
Gulfstream has signed all necessary 2011 purse, simulcast, and advance deposit wagering contracts with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association through Feb. 28. Those contracts are generally signed for a full calendar year.
Frank Stronach, chairman of Gulfstream and of its parent MI Developments, is scheduled to be at Gulfstream during the week beginning Jan. 3. Sam Gordon, president of the Florida HPBA, said he expects the meetings with Stronach could within several weeks lead to the signing of full-year contracts.
Tim Ritvo, MID vice president of East Coast racing operations, said Dec. 21 that Stronach wants to continue talks with the Florida HBPA on “ways to improve racing” before signing full 2011 contracts. Ritvo said possible changes in racing dates probably will be among the topics.
On Dec. 31, Gulfstream submitted a preliminary filing to Florida racing regulators in which it said it wants to start its next season earlier and race from Dec. 2, 2011, through April 8, 2012. In a move that sets up a possible battle with Calder Casino & Race Course over racing dates, Gulfstream has told the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering it plans to hold racing in December 2011.
For more than a decade, Calder has exclusively run the December dates in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla., market.
Gulfstream officials declined to comment on the filing with the Florida DPMW, and officials of MI Developments could not be reached for comment Jan. 1. Sources familiar with the filing said Gulfstream did include the December 2011 dates. The Florida DPMW was closed Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
John Marshall, Calder’s vice president and general manager of racing, said he could not confirm reports that Gulfstream had filed for December 2011 dates.
Marshall said Calder has submitted a preliminary filing in which it plans to race from April 25, 2011, through Jan. 4, 2012. He said Calder, a subsidiary of Churchill Downs Inc., “intends to run our traditional dates,” even if that means it would run head-to-head with Gulfstream in late 2011.
Calder, in Miami Gardens, is eight miles due west of Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach.
Since deregulation in 2002, Florida Thoroughbred tracks have selected their racing dates rather than the previous process of state regulators allocating dates.
Gulfstream, Calder, and Tampa Bay Downs have until Jan. 4, 2011, to submit preliminary date filings for the 12 months beginning July 1, 2011. They have until Feb. 28, 2011, to submit final 2011-12 date filings to the Florida DPMW.
“We suspected that Gulfstream might (file for December 2011 dates),” Marshall said. “But Gulfstream and its parent did not talk with us or with Churchill Downs Inc. prior to any filings. We feel that what they are doing is another example of their irrational and sometimes reckless behavior.”
Stronach has said numerous times that he would like to expand the racing schedule of Gulfstream and some other MID tracks. On Dec. 22, Ritvo told The Blood-Horse: “There is a possibility that Mr. Stronach would consider racing late in a year, if it is determined that it would be in the best interests of Gulfstream and South Florida racing.”
December has traditionally been a month in which Calder has had some of its richest stakes, with fields including horses that have been shipped south for winter racing. It also has been a month in which Calder has raced five days a week—with allowance and claiming races for Florida-based owners and trainers.
“We have maintained a schedule that we feel has been in the best interest of racing and horsemen,” Marshall said.
Amid the disputes, Gulfstream will have what Steve Calabro, the track’s president and general manager, said is “a top racing product at a track where we are customer-friendly and trying to give racing fans what they want.”
Calabro, who until last May was Gulfstream’s vice president for gaming and its casino, said the new pick 6 and a series of low takeout rates are a big part of the overall plan.
Last year, Gulfstream bucked the national trend of declining handle. Its daily all-sources handle grew 5%, from $6.6 million in 2009 to $7 million in 2010. “We expect that our handle will grow again this season,” Calabro said.
He expects the quality of fields will remain strong, partly from an increase in average daily overnight purses from $219,000 to $255,000. Calabro cited three reasons for the increase: continued growth in slot machine revenue, of which portions go to race purses; last year’s reduction in the state tax on slots revenue; and late 2010 growth in simulcast revenue.
From 2005 through 2009, Gulfstream ran the Florida Derby five weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Last year, Gulfstream shifted its marquee race for 3-year-olds to six weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby.
Until last October, Ritvo was a Florida-based trainer. He said he agrees with some trainers who believe five weeks was a better progression for horses that would not have a race between the Gulfstream and Churchill Downs races. So, Gulfstream moved the 2011 Florida Derby to five weekends before the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
It placed the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby on Sunday, April 3, to highlight what Calabro said will be Gulfstream’s version of a Derby-Oaks weekend. Gulfstream has renamed the 1 1/8-mile Bonnie Miss for 3-year-old fillies the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) and placed it on Saturday, April 2. That weekend, Gulfstream also will have the Rampart (gr. III) at 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up on Saturday, and three graded stakes for males on Sunday.
Gulfstream has raised the Florida Derby purse from $750,000 to $1 million, and raised purses on several other stakes for 3-year-olds. The one-mile Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 30 and the 1 1/8-mile Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) Feb. 26 are again the preps for the Florida Derby.
“I think it is a good progression,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “Right now, I think the change of the Florida Derby to five weeks out could be good. But you won’t know until then (early April) about what you need to do with each horse.”
McPeek’s barn at Gulfstream has Rogue Romance, the third-place finisher in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill.
Uncle Mo , the winner of that race, is among other top 3-year-olds stabled at Gulfstream or at the MID-owned Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Gulfstream’s biggest race for older horses, the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles, will be Feb. 5. Gulfstream will have three Sunshine Millions races Jan. 29. Those races are: the $500,000 Classic; $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf; and $200,000 Sunshine Million Filly and Mare Sprint.
MID-owned Santa Anita Park also will have three Sunshine Millions races Jan. 29. The annual Sunshine Millions program is restricted to Florida-breds and California-breds.
Gulfstream has abandoned its traditional $2 minimum Pick 6 for a 10-cent only Pick 6 on each day’s last six races. The takeout will be 20%.
In a jackpot-like bet, Gulfstream will award a full pick 6 payout only if there is just one winning ticket. Otherwise, 60% will be distributed among tickets with six winners, and 40% will go into a carryover. Even if one bettor has multiple winning tickets--and the only winning tickets--only 60% will be paid.
“We did this to keep syndicates from dominating it,” Calabro said. “It will be a fun bet, and will be exciting when a jackpot grows.”
On days when nobody hit’s the Pick 6, Gulfstream will distribute 60% of the pool to tickets with five winners and carry over 40%.
Gulfstream also is adding a pick 5 on the last five races, with a minimum 50-cent bet and a 15% takeout. It also will add a pick 4 on the first four races with a minimum 50-cent bet. It will retain its pick 4 on the last four races, with a 50-cent minimum, and its rolling doubles and pick 3s with $1 minimums.
The pick 6 bets and all other bets less than $1 can be made only at automated terminals. “We have added 50 terminals, giving us 180,” Calabro said. “We will add more if needed.”
Gulfstream also has 123 live teller stations.
“Our old pick 6 did not attract huge pools, so we are trying something different,” Calabro said. “A lot of our players here and a lot of simulcast bettors wanted a pick 5 and an early pick 4.”
Gulfstream’s takeouts are: pick 5--15%; win, place, and show--17%; exacta, daily double, pick 3, pick 4, and pick 6--20%; trifecta and superfecta—26%.