On-track Attendance Rises Slightly, Handle Down at Tropical Meet

Edited from track release

Calder Race Course concluded its 31st Tropical meet on Thursday, Jan. 2. The meet, which traditionally kicks off the winter racing season in south Florida, offered 53 days of Thoroughbred horse racing.

A record $2,800,000 in stakes purses was distributed during the meet, which featured longstanding turf fixtures such as the grade II W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante Handicaps, as well as five other graded stakes. The meet also marked the return of two highly successful racing promotions, Grand Slams I and II. In addition, Tropical at Calder and the Florida Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association unveiled "The Florida Million," a six-race showcase of top registered Florida-breds with purses totaling $1,000,000, surrounded by displays of the best goods and services from the Sunshine State.

Average daily on-track attendance for the 2002-03 Tropical at Calder meet was 5,090, representing a 0.7% increase over the previous year's average of 5,056. Average on-track attendance for "simulcast-only" days was up 13.9%, from 878 last season to 1,000 in 2002-03. There were twice as many simulcast-only days in 2002-03: 14 compared to seven in 2001-02. This was due to scheduling fewer six-day live racing weeks this season.

Total wagering, including all sources and all days, was $315,661,359, compared to $300,961,190 in 2001-02. The 2002-03 total included one additional day of live racing and seven additional simulcast-only days. Average daily on-track and total combined mutuel handle on Calder racing were down 6% and 2.1%, respectively, from the 2001-02 Tropical season, but average daily handle on full card simulcasting through the Calder network was up on both "live" race days as well as on "simulcast-only" days.

"We are pleased with the racing we presented this season and with the fact that we were slightly up in attendance," said Calder president Ken Dunn. "Last year's Tropical meet was outstanding, so to be able to mirror that attendance-wise is very encouraging. Our special racing promotions worked again in generating local and national interest, and it is a strategy that we will continue to use and build upon in the future."

The highest performing single day of the season in terms of on-track attendance, on-track handle, and combined mutuel handle was Dec. 28, Grand Slam II day. Four stakes --three of them graded--were contested that afternoon on a day that generated 13,080 in attendance, $1,148,140 in on-track handle, and $7,815,219 in combined mutuel handle.

The race for leading trainer of the Tropical meet ran down to the wire with Eddie Plesa Jr. and Luis Olivares finishing the season in a dead heat with 22 victories each. Both trainers had earned Tropical leading trainer titles in the past: Plesa in 1994-95 and Olivares in 1985-86.

Cornelio Velasquez earned his second consecutive Tropical leading jockey title and his fourth overall at the Calder facility. His 84 wins sets the all-time single season record for the Tropical meet, although it is important to note that the previous record of 81 set in 1996-97 by Eibar Coa was registered during a meet that had only 50 days.

Michael Sherman was a runaway leader among owners with 26 wins compared to second place finisher Kinsman Stable with eight.

Sweettrickydancer won two stakes during the season: the Hollywood Wildcat Stakes as a 2-year-old and the Tropical Park Oaks on New Year's Day, when she and all other Thoroughbred racehorses turned a year older.

Trust N Luck, who won the $400,000 In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes during the Calder meet, took the What A Pleasure Stakes during the Tropical season. In that event, he set the stakes record time, breaking the standard set by Unbridled back in 1989.

The first "derby" of the year in the country, the grade III Tropical Park Derby, was won on New Year's Day by Nothing to Lose. Jerry Bailey, who rode a total of four stakes winners during the Tropical season, guided the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt. Jockey Eibar Coa led all riders in terms of stakes winners at the meet with six.