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Gulfstream Seeking More Dates

In a step some racing industry officials expected, Gulfstream Park has told Florida regulators that it plans to hold races during 2009’s last five weeks--a lucrative set of dates on which Calder Race Course has raced exclusively in South Florida for more than a decade.
In a filing over the Jan. 3-4 weekend with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Gulfstream said it plans to run from Nov. 26, 2009 through April 18, 2010.
Calder, in its filing with the Florida DPMW, said it plans to run throughout the last six months of 2009 through May 31, 2010. That includes the January to mid-April dates where Gulfstream has been running exclusively.
Under the filings, which Thoroughbred tracks can amend through this March 31, Gulfstream and Calder would race head-to-head from late November 2009 through late April 2010.
“I think they are both just maneuvering over dates, and this could be the first salvo,” said Sam Gordon, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
“I hope our corporate officers can talk and work something out,” said Bill Murphy, Gulfstream’s president and general manager. “I don’t think racing head-to-head is a good idea for anyone.”
Calder in Miami Gardens is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., and Gulfstream, eight miles away in Hallandale Beach, is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.
Calder spokeswoman Michele Blanco said, “Outside of saying that each year we evaluate what will be best for Calder racing, we are not commenting on our submission of dates or those of the other pari-mutuels at this time.”
Murphy said he has held “a casual conversation with one person at Calder/CDI about running the Tropical Meet here.”
The Tropical at Calder meet, from late October through early January, traditionally has some of the strongest stakes programs of Calder’s eight-month season.
Jan. 4 was the first deadline for submitting race date for Florida’s fiscal year that begins July 1, 2009. Once either track files its final plan by March 31, it will be required to race during the period it has designated.
Since 2002, Florida’s pari-mutuel racing dates have been de-regulated--meaning that any track can pick its racing dates.
Many Florida racing officials had expected Gulfstream to formally say it is ready to expand its racing seasons.
Gulfstream’s filing confirmed what Murphy said he has been telling some Florida horsemen for several months.
“Gulfstream feels it needs to run more dates, and now is the time to expand,” Murphy said. “Our (Magna) chairman, Frank Stronach, is committed to live racing. We have made a big investment here, and we are committed to running more.”
Murphy referred to the $171 million cost of the clubhouse/casino building that Gulfstream opened in 2006.
Magna and joint venture partner Forest City Enterprises plan to spend $1.2 billion to construct The Village at Gulfstream Park, a mixed-use project next the clubhouse/casino. The first phase, of 70 stores and restaurants, is scheduled to open in October 2008.
Gulfstream is making public its goal of adding race dates following Calder’s 2008 season that was marked by ownership-horsemen disputes and a 24% drop in racing revenues through September. That included Calder races not being available on most major advance deposit wagering services until late December.
Following a series of purse cuts and over-payment on purses, Calder canceled eight stakes--all with purses of $100,000 or more--during the period between Dec. 6 and Jan. 1.
That situation led to increased speculation that Gulfstream would prepare to seek the Thanksgiving to New Year’s dates, perhaps through a financial agreement with Calder.
The Florida DPMW’s list of date filings also shows that harness track Pompano Park in Pompano Beach, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, plans to hold a Quarter Horse meet between July 3 and Aug. 15, 2009.
Florida’s last Quarter Horse meet was at Pompano Park in 1991.
Pompano Park officials did not return calls. They previously told The Blood-Horse that Pompano Park planned to activate a Quarter Horse permit partly to obtain a second 12-hour permit for its poker room.
Pompano Park’s harness license gives it a 12-hour poker permit. In its application with the Florida DPMW, the track said it plans to hold harness races between Sept. 19, 2009 and May 8, 2010.