Gulfstream Expands Lead in Handle
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park had all-sources handle six times greater than Calder Casino & Race Course during the Dec. 6-8 weekend, which was a long-awaited showdown in Florida's heated racing competition.

Gulfstream's total for 30 races over the three days was approximately $18.7 million, according to a review of Equibase charts. Calder's three-day total for 25 races was approximately $2.8 million.

Breakdowns of live, ITW and ISW wagering were not readily available.

It was the first weekend in which the two Miami-area tracks raced head-to-head on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday.

Gulfstream had been dark on Fridays during the head-to-head competition that began last July 6. From July through November, it held its first summer/fall race meetwithout the big-name horses, jockeys and trainers it has each winter.

On head-to-head days during that period, Gulfstream had average daily all-sources handle of about $2.5 million and Calder had about $1.2 million.

Tampa Bay Downs joined the weekend competition Dec. 6-7, making it the first time all three Florida Thoroughbred tracks have raced on the same day. Tampa Bay, in Oldsmar, Fla., was dark Dec. 8. It will add Sundays to its schedule Dec. 15.

Gulfstream is in Hallandale Beach, about eight miles east of Calder in Miami Gardens. Both tracks are about a four-hour drive from Tampa Bay Downs.

The Dec. 6-8 weekend was a first test on whether there would be enough horses and enough betting interest, live and off-site, for nine Florida race cards over three days.

The early answer was "yes" for all three on major stakes days. Overall, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay numbers were similar to early December 2012.

But Calder could face some challenges, considering the data for Friday, Dec. 6. According to Equibase charts, all-sources handle numbers that day were: Gulfstream$4,529,443; Tampa Bay$2,728,877; Calder$470,190.

On Dec. 7 Gulfstream had the Claiming Crown with eight stakes races and Calder had three grade III stakes. That day was Tampa Bay's opening Saturday, which always has strong local and national interest. The 10-race card had two $100,000 stakes. Gulfstream's all-sources handle that day was $4,080,724.

On Dec. 1, 2012, Gulfstream had its opening day and held the Claiming Crown for the first time. It had all-sources handle of $12,216,459 for 19 races.

All-sources numbers for the day were: Gulfstream$8,831,567; Calder$1,444,067; Tampa Bay$3,488,412.

Dry weather enabled all three tracks to have turf racing each day. Average field sizes for the weekend were: Gulfstream 10; Tampa Bay9.2; Calder7.6. Gulfstream's average was boosted by the 11.5 starters per race it had for 10 races on Claiming Crown day.

Tampa Bay general manager Peter Berube said he is pleased with the track's early handle numbers "especially considering the new landscape with three (Florida) tracks."

Tampa Bay's Dec. 7 all-sources handle was just less than 1% lower than its $4,167,125 on Dec. 1, 2012—its first Saturday which also was opening day for its meet and a day with Gulfstream as its only Florida competitor.

"Our numbers are about where we hoped they would be this weekend," Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said Dec. 8. "We were optimistic coming off the momentum of our summer meet. But we couldn't be sure because it was the first weekend with all three tracks."

Gulfstream plans to race at least three days per week, including Saturdays and Sundays, during its 2014 summer/fall meet, Ritvo said.

Gulfstream and Calder are racing head-to-head after they could not resolve a dispute over race dates.

Officials of Calder's parent Churchill Downs Inc. and of Gulfstream's parent Stronach Group are continuing to talk about a possible resolution to the overlapping dates. In that case, Calder probably would reduce or eliminate its number of weekend dates in return for cash or other incentives.

But Ritvo and John Marshall, Calder vice president and general manager of racing, previously said they are not optimistic about prospects of a settlement.

Calder during the week of Dec. 9 will announce its stakes schedule for the first three months of 2014.

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