Jim Lisa Photos

Horsemen 'Disappointed' at Calder Purse Cuts

The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said on Oct. 5 that it is "extremely disappointed" by Calder Race Course’s Oct. 3 announcement that it will cut overnight purses 15% beginning on Oct. 8.

In that announcement, Calder said it was responding to economic trends in the industry and heavy rains in southeast Florida that have adversely impacted its handle. Calder said it moved 33 of 40 turf races to dirt during September, but did not release handle for the month.

On Oct. 5, Kent Stirling, the Florida HBPA’s executive director, said he feels Calder and its parent Churchill Downs Inc. "jumped the gun" in making a decision to cut purses.

Stirling said Calder is projecting a $1.3 million overpayment in its purse account for its season that ends next Jan. 2. But he added that FHBPA expects Calder might start reducing that figure because "we are out of the worst of the rainy season."

"We are disappointed that we had to make this decision, but we feel it was a responsible one given the circumstances," Calder vice president and general manager of racing operations John Marshall said on Oct. 5. "We hope these cuts will be temporary and that circumstances will permit us to restore them later this year."

Marshall and Stirling both said Calder has taken several steps to avoid a purse cut, including a Sept. 5 decision to not hold races on six Mondays beginning Oct. 19.

Marshall said that at a regular weekly meeting on Oct. 2, Calder management "made it known" to the Florida HBPA that a purse cut could be pending.

Stirling said members of the Florida HPBA racing committee met with Calder management on the morning of Oct. 3, hoping to avoid a purse cut.

"It was abrupt and we did not know it was coming when they put out the announcement on Saturday afternoon," Stirling said.

"On Saturday morning, we pointed out that we were having one of our best weekends for weather and handle in the last three months," he said.

Calder held turf races each day from Oct. 1 to Oct. 4. Calder’s all-sources handle for 12 races, with no stakes, on Oct. 3 was $3.2 million, according to Equibase Co.

In early August, Marshall said Calder was attempting to hold average daily overnight purses to the $160,000 range. On Oct. 2, a Friday with no stakes, Calder had $138,500 in purses for a ten-race card.

Stirling said FHBPA asked Calder not to cut purses, with a goal of having any overpayment paid prior to the track’s 2010 meet that will open in late April.

By then, he said Calder could see a late 2009 improvement in handle, adding that the track also will have revenue from a poker room it will open on Oct. 23 and from a casino, with slot machines, that it plans to open next January.

"We had a very positive weekend, but four good days alone is not a sufficient measure of a trend," Marshall said. "We are fortunate to have our poker room and casino on the way. But we feel it would be irresponsible to borrow from that future amid the current economic downturn."