Dust Clears After First Battle in South Florida Racing War
It only made sense that the first day of head-to-head South Florida racing competition between Gulfstream Park and Calder began on Saturday with each track’s opening race being run at the same time.
Race one at Calder went off at 12:51 p.m. Opening race 12 miles to the east at Gulfstream went at 12:52.
When the dust cleared on the initial skirmish in this bizarre survival of the fittest war, the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Calder could claim victory. But Calder’s opening salvo was its best: the Summit of Speed program of six stakes races – four of them graded, including the G1 Princess Rooney Handicap – was a tremendous 11-race program that attracted 98 runners.
Gulfstream Park, a Stronach Group-owned track, understood that it was overmatched in quality on Saturday. Its eight-race program mustered just 49 horses going in five claiming events, two maiden claimers, one allowance, and one maiden event.
Calder handled nearly double the amount wagered on Gulfstream Park. According to calculations using Equibase charts, total handle for the 11-race Calder card was $4,019,105, about $365,000 per race. That’s down about 11% from the amount handled at the 2012 Summit of Speed program when Gulfstream was not operating.
Gulfstream Park handled $2,154,211 on Saturday, according to track officials, an average of about $269,000 per race.
Sunday will prove to be more of an equal match. Calder has 61 horses entered, including a handful of also-eligibles, in eight races. Gulfstream’s eight races attracted 57 horses, with several also-eligibles.
One longtime Calder trainer who started nine horses in Saturday’s Summit of Speed program is moving his entire stable across town to Gulfstream. Martin Wolfson, who won the Princess Rooney with Starship Truffles, told Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch he was heading out Sunday. “I’m going to get out of here as soon as I can,” said Wolfson. “At one minute after midnight I’m gone, just like (NFL team owner Bob Irsay) did with the Colts.”
The two tracks are racing head-to-head under Florida’s deregulation laws that permit tracks to name their own racing dates. Calder has traditionally operated during the late spring, summer and fall, while Gulfstream has had the preferred winter and early spring dates.
Gulfstream Park said it intended to operate year-round in hopes of improving South Florida’s racing program.
Negotiations went on between the two tracks for months in an effort to reach a compromise, but talks fell through as the July 1 date for Florida’s fiscal approached.