CDI, Florida Horsemen Still at Impasse

Florida HBPA remains deadlocked with Churchill Downs Inc., over contracts.

With two weeks left before Calder Race Course’s July 12 Summit of Speed, Churchill Downs Inc. and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association remain deadlocked in contract talks for the Miami Gardens, Fla., track.

The Summit, with four six-furlong graded stakes, is annually the biggest day at CDI-owned Calder.

All-sources handle for that card has been above $9 million four times in the last five years--including a Calder record $10.8 million in 2004. An assumed blended takeout of 21% left about $2.3 million for horsemen and tracks to divide that year.

But a 2008 handle anywhere close to those figures is unlikely, unless the Florida HPBA and CDI soon reach agreements on contracts for this year’s Calder purses and future slot machine revenues at a casino CDI is considering at Calder.

Amid a massive horsemen-ordered blackout of interstate simulating and advance deposit wagering (ADW), Calder’s average daily all-sources handle is down 72% for the first 37 days of its meet that began April 21, according to the Jockey Club Information Systems.

Through June 22, Calder’s average daily handle was $769,000. The average was $2.7 million through the same period in 2007.

Bruce Green, the Florida HBPA’s general counsel, and Kevin Flanery, CDI’s national vice president for public affairs, each said the Summit of Speed provides added incentive to reach agreements.

If the parties sign purse and slots contracts, the Florida HBPA would permit Calder to send its signal to tracks outside Florida. But the Florida HBPA has said it will not lift its ADW blackout until the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group, of which it is a member, signs a Calder ADW contract with CDI.

On June 10, Green told The Blood-Horse he felt the Florida HBPA and CDI had "made considerable progress" on purse and slots contracts and could sign agreements "in the very near future."

The sides exchanged several proposals over the next two weeks. But June 25 Green said he was less optimistic.

The Florida HBPA rejected CDI’s latest proposal June 23 and "we are waiting for them to respond," Green said.

"We are working hard to get a deal we thought we had," he said. "Unfortunately it is an elusive target."

Citing a confidentiality agreement with CDI, Green would not provide numbers on splits of on-track and simulcast handle or on revenue from slot machines Calder might install as early as 2009.

"We are in discussions with the Florida horsemen almost daily, and we hope to get it resolved as soon as possible," Flanery said. "The Summit of Speed is a special racing day, and we would love to have it available for fans around the country."

Green said the FHBPA "would like this resolved, so that fans in other states can see the Summit."

The four Summit graded stakes have a combined $1.3 million in purses. That total was listed at $1.6 million until May 9, when Calder announced it would cut purses for all of its stakes because of declining handle.

Calder cut purses from $500,000 to $400,000 for the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) for 3-year old and up fillies and mares, and for the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) for 3-year olds and up. It cut purses from $300,000 to $250,000 for the Carry Back Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year olds and for the Azalea Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year old fillies.

Calder also cut purses from $100,000 to $36,000 on July 12’s two ungraded stakes--the Frank Gomez Memorial for 2-year olds and the JJ’s Dream for 2-year old fillies.

Calder for this year has cut numerous stakes’ purses to $36,000 from $100,000 and $50,000, the minimum for sale catalogues’ black type designation for a stakes win or stakes-placed.

Milton Wolfson said he is among trainers and owners who feel Calder should have kept those purses at $50,000 or higher--and made larger cuts in Summit purses to meet any goals for cutting overall stakes purses.

Wolfson owns and trains Annabill, a 5-year old mare who won the $36,000 Sambacarioca at one mile and 70 yards June 22.

"She beat a stakes field, but this will not show up as black type," he said. "This will cost me down the road when we breed her or if we sell her, and this is costing other owners at Calder."

Even if Summit graded stakes purses were cut another $50,000, Wolfson feels many non-Florida trainers would send horses because there are relatively few other summertime graded stakes for sprinters.

"Milt is one of our best trainers, but I disagree with him on how purses should be changed for Summit Day," said Mike Cronin, Calder’s director of marketing.

Calder is trying to get the best fields possible for the Summit "and we can only cut those purses so much," he said.

Strong fields will help the four races keep their status and help the future goal of upgrades, Cronin said. The large handles on past Summit days have benefited all horsemen, he added.

Calder is making plans for national marketing of the Summit if blackouts are lifted. A settlement before the July 4-6 weekend would enable Calder to give bettors advance notice through simulcast outlets and Daily Racing Form ads, he said.

Nominations for Summit of Speed stakes close June 28.

Calder has said it expects IEAH Stable’s Benny the Bull will be among entrants in the Smile. Benny the Bull, trained by Rick Dutrow, won the True North Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park June 7 and the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes (UAE-I) in Dubai March 29.

Calder also expects Frankfurt Stables and Eugene Tenbrink’s Bonfante and Wind River Stable’ Black Seventeen for the Smile. Bonfante won and Black Seventeen was second in the ungraded Oakland Stakes at Golden Gate Fields June 14. Black Seventeen won the Carry Back on last year’s Summit card.