Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park

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Gulfstream Plans Later Start on Some Fridays

Twilight racing later in the meet among issues track wants to take up with horsemen.

Gulfstream Park is considering a 3 p.m. first post time for the last six Fridays of its 2011 racing season, according to the track’s president and general manager.

The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track will  hold its meet from Jan. 5 to April 24, with regular first post of 12:55 p.m. The later first posts would be on Fridays after the start of daylight savings time, from March 18 to April 22.

Gulfstream could start some races as late as 6:55 p.m. on those Fridays, Steve Calabro, Gulfstream's president and general manager, said Dec. 21. A Florida law prohibits Thoroughbred tracks to have races after 7 p.m. Gulfstream is hoping that the Florida legislature will change that law during its 2011 session that will run from March 8 to May 7.

Those “twilight racing” cards and possible expansion of Gulfstream racing dates are among issues that Gulfstream expects to bring up early in 2011 when it resumes contract talks with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said  Calabro and Tim Ritvo, vice president of East Coast racing operations for Gulfstream’s parent MI Developments.

In mid-December, Gulfstream and the Florida HPBA signed 2011 contracts--but only through Feb. 28--on race purses, simulcasts  and advance deposit wagering. Gulfstream and the Florida HPBA always have contracts for a full calendar year to include financial and operational matters that extend beyond the close of the live race meet.

But Frank Stronach, chairman of Gulfstream and of MID, wanted contracts only through the end of the 2011 meet. On Dec. 16, officials of Gulfstream and Florida HPBA President Sam Gordon said Stronach wanted  to meet with the horsemen’s group early in 2011 on “brainstorming on ways to improve the sport of racing” before agreeing to longer contracts.

That led to the unusual agreement to sign the partial-meet contract and continue discussions.

On Dec. 21, Calabro and Ritvo said that issues Stronach hopes to discuss with the horsemen include: twilight racing, night racing, racing dates, takeouts, advertising, sponsorships and types of betting.

Stronach and the horsemen have talked about 2011 twilight racing but not about some of the other issues, according to the two Gulfstream officials and to Gordon.

Gulfstream does not need Florida HPBA approval to start race cards at 3 p.m.

“But we will get the horsemen’s approval and work them on the details,” Ritvo said.

Gulfstream does not have lights around its track.

“We are studying the times when the sun sets, to determine how late we could start races,” Calabro said.

“Frank has mentioned twilight racing for 2011,” Gordon said. “I am amenable to talking about it. I expect that most of the horsemen would not object to a later start on some Fridays.”

In separate interviews, Calabro and Gordon said they are confident that in early 2011 the two parties will agree to full-year 2011 contracts.

Racing Dates

Among the topics on Stronach’s discussion list, racing dates could prove to be the most contentious.

Since 2002, Gulfstream has held racing from early January through late April and Calder Casino & Race Course has held racing the remainder of the year. Calder, in Miami Gardens, Fla., is eight miles west of Gulfstream.

When asked if Gulfstream might consider expanding its season to include December and perhaps late November, Ritvo said: “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.”

He added: “It is my personal view that having December racing at Gulfstream Park would be in the best interests of horsemen and of racing.”

Ritvo and Calabro declined to comment on Calder, other than noting that partly for financial reasons it has canceled at least one stakes race in each of the last three Decembers during its Tropical at Calder meet.

A Calder official had no comment.

But Gulfstream’s views on racing dates raise the specter of a possible “dates war” that some South Florida racing officials have been expecting.

Since a 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 March 31, 2011 to submit final 2011-2012 date filings to the Florida DPMW.

In January 2009, Gulfstream, in its preliminary filing, said it planned to start a 2009-2010 race meet on Nov. 26, 2009. That month, Calder filed for dates that included the last five weeks of 2009.

In March 2009, Gulfstream changed its filing to a Jan. 4, 2010 start. Bill Murphy, then Gulfstream’s president, said Gulfstream and Calder had talked about a possible swap of some traditional dates. He said Gulfstream decided not to run in late 2009 partly because Magna Entertainment, MID’s predecessor as Gulfstream owner, was operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,

In April 2010, a bankruptcy court approved a transfer of Gulfstream and several other tracks to MID, which was controlling shareholder of now-defunct Magna Entertainment.

Stronach, for Magna Entertainment and later for MID, has said numerous times that he would like to add race dates at his tracks--most notably Gulfstream and Santa Anita Park.

“If there is a dates war, we will not be part of it,” Gordon said. “At the end last time, we helped mediate it.”

If the Florida legislature permits night racing starting on July 1, 2011, there is a prospect that Gulfstream would install lights for racing late next year.

Gordon said Stronach has indicated that if the Florida law changes Gulfstream would not plan to hold any races after 8 p.m.

New Gulfstream Wagers

Calabro and Ritvo are in the first seasons of their positions at Gulfstream.

Calabro had been Gulfstream’s vice president for gaming since 2007, with responsibility for its casino and poker room. He previously held management positions at casinos for Harrah’s and for Trump International.

Ritvo had been a trainer in Florida and at northeastern tracks and was on the Florida HPBA’s board of directors. He also held management positions at Suffolk Downs, one of several tracks where he began his racing career as a jockey.

Ritvo said he and Calabro have "come up with some new wagers that bettors have asked for and will provide some new opportunities for the small bettors.”

On Dec. 16, Gulfstream announced several new bets for 2011.

It will have a Pick 6, on which the bet will be only 10 cents. It will be on the last six races.

Each day, the entire Pick 6 pool will be paid out only if there is one winning ticket. If there are multiple winning tickets, the winners will share in the 60% of the pool that is paid out. The remaining 40% of the pool will be carried over.

Calabro said that set-up will prevent so-called syndicates from playing multiple tickets that likely would produce daily winners.

Gulfstream previously had a Pick 6 with the standard $2 minimum. But the bet never became as popular as at major tracks in New York and California.

“A lot of bettors told us that instead of that $2 Pick 6, they would like a Pick 5 with a smaller minimum,” Ritvo said.

Thus, Gulfstream for 2011 will have a Pick 5 on the last five races with a 50-cent minimum bet.

Gulfstream also will add a Pick 4 on its second through fifth races and retain a Pick 4 on its last four races. The minimum bet is 50 cents on each.