Calder Race Course announced its stakes schedule for the 2009 Calder Meet on March 20, a program that includes renewals of the Summit of Speed and Festival of the Sun, and the 28th runnings of the Florida Stallion Stakes series.
The 2009 Calder Meet stakes schedule features 28 stakes races worth a total of $4,125,000. Nine of the stakes carry graded status, including the $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) to be run on the Summit of Speed program July 11. Calder’s longtime cornerstone event, the Festival of the Sun, is scheduled for Oct. 17.
John Marshall, vice president and general manager of racing, said, “In light of recent cuts in stakes purses and race days across the country, Calder is proud to offer a stakes program of this caliber for horsemen to compete and fans to enjoy. We restructured this year’s stakes program to strengthen our overnight racing in order to provide consistent quality opportunities for horsemen and fans during these uneasy times”.
While some stakes race purses are slightly reduced from 2008 in order to fortify the overnight program, the prize money remains strong.
The schedule has also been endorsed by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association (FHBPA) and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (FTBOA), the latter of which contributes funding to seven of the Calder Meet’s stakes races.
“This stakes schedule is attractive to, both, local horsemen who compete here day in and day out, as well as those shipping in from racing centers around the country,” says FHBPA president Sam Gordon. “Calder did a good job adjusting the racing program to withstand today’s economic conditions.”
The Princess Rooney and the $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II), both run on the Summit of Speed card, continue to be a part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” program, with the winner of each race automatically qualifying for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I), respectively. The $25.5 million Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held Nov. 6-7 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park.
Calder’s Summit of Speed is now in its tenth year. In that short amount of time, four Summit veterans have gone on to win Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top sprinter (Orientate, Lost in the Fog, Maryfield (female sprinter) and Benny the Bull).
The Festival of the Sun, now in its 18th year, is Calder’s signature event and will be held on Oct. 17. Seven stakes races – including the rich finales of the Florida Stallion Stakes – command the attention on the racetrack, but complementary horse-related events and family-style entertainment abound as well, making the Festival of the Sun Calder’s best-attended day annually.
“Preview” days for both the Summit of Speed and Festival of the Sun are also on the schedule (June 13 and Sept. 26), while Calder’s “Juvenile Showcase,” dedicated to 2-year-old Thoroughbreds and the sport’s emerging stars, is slated for Aug. 29. The Juvenile Showcase features the middle legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes program.
Calder chose to announce the stakes schedule for its Calder meet and not for its 2009/2010 Tropical Meet, which will begin in late October, said Michele Blanco, the track’s director of publicity. That decision was not related to questions from some quarters on whether Gulfstream Park, rather than Calder, might race during some weeks in November and December this year, she said.
“We needed to get the Calder Meet stakes schedule out for our horsemen because we will open in late April,” Blanco said.
Calder has not announced its opening date, although it has two stakes scheduled for April 25 which is a Saturday.
Gulfstream is scheduled to end its live racing season on April 23. Calder traditionally opens its season one or two days after Gulfstream closes.
In January, Gulfstream told the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that it plans to lengthen its next racing season by five weeks. In its preliminary date filing, Gulfstream said it would hold races from Nov. 26, 2009 through April 18, 2010.
Racing dates are not regulated in Florida, and Thoroughbred tracks have until March 31, 2009 to tell the Florida DPMW when they will run between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010.
Calder’s first filing also included all of December 2009. December has traditionally been one its strongest months for handle--based on its heaviest schedule of graded stakes.
For several weeks, Gulfstream and Calder officials have been talking about racing dates. Observers expect the two tracks will leave the status quo intact, or work out an arrangement under which Gulfstream would begin racing in late November and Calder would begin its meet early in April.
“The sides are talking,” Blanco said. She added that Calder and its parent Churchill Downs Inc. have a policy of not commenting on negotiations.
Officials of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association “are talking with both tracks and doing all we can to help prevent a dates war,” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA.
Stirling said his group is hopeful that the tracks late this month will announce schedules under which they would not have any head-to-head racing in 2009-2010.