Calder, Gulfstream Fail to Resolve Date Fight

Calder, Gulfstream Fail to Resolve Date Fight
Photo: Coady Photography

Following a breakdown in negotiations Feb, 28, Calder Casino & Race Course and Gulfstream Park are scheduled to race head-to-head each weekend during the year beginning July 1, 2013.

The two Miami-area tracks had hoped to find a way to prevent an overlap.

But Calder's Feb. 28 final dates filing with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering shows it racing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the 12 months, with no other race days scheduled.

Gulfstream did not amend its original filing, either, with racing scheduled every Saturday and Sunday during the 12 months. Gulfstream will add Fridays in December and add Wednesdays and Thursdays from January through early April 2014.

Florida tracks pick their dates with approval that is almost automatic from the DPMW.

Under Florida laws, Calder and Gulfstream can cancel scheduled race dates only in the case of a natural disaster or with approval of the five other pari-mutuels within their 50-mile radius.

Though the two tracks were negotiating, Gulfstream issued a statement on the afternoon of Feb. 28.

"It is with regret that Gulfstream Park was unable to agree on a racing calendar with Calder that we believe would have been in the best interests of the Florida Thoroughbred community," the statement said. "Gulfstream Park has already invested more than $750 million into its facilities in Florida and intends to expend significant additional amounts to ensure that it is one of the world's premier Thoroughbred racetracks and destination centers.

"Gulfstream Park's primary focus is Thoroughbred racing, and we believe by offering year-round racing that this will substantially build revenue for the Florida Thoroughbred industry. We look forward to working with all participants and continuing to make Florida one of the premier racing states in the world."

Officials previously confirmed reports that Gulfstream has offered Calder financial incentives, including changes in divisions of some simulcast revenue and helping pay for Calder's backstretch expenses, in return for Calder relinquishing some racing days.

"I understand that they continued talking (Feb. 27) but I don't know the details," said Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "The idea of racing head-to-head is crazy and nobody will benefit, and all the horsemen hope they will avoid it. The future of Florida racing is at stake."

Gulfstream, owned by privately held The Stronach Group, is the aggressor in Florida's latest dates wars and is determined to carry out a significant schedule expansion and begin what it calls "year-round racing."

Calder, owned by publicly traded Churchill Downs Inc., is apparently determined to not reduce its schedule or is unwilling to relinquish any dates without what it considers fair compensation from Gulfstream.

Under their latest plans filed with the Florida DPMW, there would be no overlap on weekdays.

Gulfstream's plan shows it continuing its December-through-early April schedule, with weekends laden with graded stakes that attract large national pari-mutuel handle, while adding the other 35 weekends. Calder's plan shows it keeping its early April-through-November schedule–with just over 150 days.

One factor in any agreement to shift dates is that a state law requires Calder to have at least 80 racing days a year to keep the license for the casino it opened in 2010. Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, is eight miles due east of Calder in Miami Gardens.

Gulfstream in late December sent the Florida DPMW a dates plan that includes year-round weekend racing–including weekends when Calder traditionally has racing. Calder on Feb. 22 amended its filing, adding the Saturdays and Sundays during Gulfstream's meet.

Just prior to Feb. 27 Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo and Calder vice president and general manager of racing John Marshall each said his track would like to avoid head-to-head racing. Both mentioned reasons for their current plans, which would result in some head-to-head racing.

Ritvo said Gulfstream wants more racing days because it is highly profitable during its racing season but loses money during the rest of the year when it needs to still maintain a building that includes simulcasting and a casino. In addition, he said year-round weekend racing would result in many fans also dining and shopping at the adjacent The Village at Gulfstream Park mall owned by The Stronach Group.

Gulfstream also wants more race days for revenue to help pay for an expansion, tentatively priced at $700 million, for which it plans to begin construction this year. The project would include an increase of seating to more than 50,000, with a goal of being eligible for hosting the Breeders' Cup, two hotels, and a casino building.

Marshall said Calder believes schedule changes Gulfstream offered were "too complex to be worked out in a short period." He said Calder has determined it would be best for itself and Florida racing to retain its schedule.

"We have already compromised once to avoid a dates conflict, and now they want more," Marshall said.

In 2011, Calder in effect traded the month of December to Gulfstream in return for 15 days in mid-April.

Officials of Kentucky-based CDI have said several times during the past year that the company's expansion will probably be in gaming other than live racing. That has led to a widespread view among southeast Florida horsemen that CDI might want to reduce Calder's racing schedule under economic circumstances it considers favorable.

Operational issues would include the availability of enough horses, even though Gulfstream is preparing to expand its stable area, and whether there would be sufficient wagering interest for either track during the summer.

Amid the Gulfstream-Calder dispute, there is speculation on whether Hialeah Park might return to Thoroughbred racing for the first time since 2001. Under its Quarter Horse license, Hialeah can have Thoroughbred races for up to 50% of its schedule each year.

The track's owner and chairman, John Brunetti, has said several times that he does not plan to race Thoroughbreds head-to-head against Gulfstream or Calder.

Hialeah's filing with the Florida DPMW shows it holding its next Quarter Horse meet Dec. 13 through Feb.17, 2014. The 40 racing days would be exclusively for Quarter Horses, Brunetti said,

Gulfstream will end its 2012-13 meet April 5. Calder will have racing from April 6-June 30, 2013.

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