As Gulfstream Park and Calder racetrack get closer to their South Florida showdown, the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has given the green light for Gulfstream to run one day, June 25, allowing the Stronach Group track the right to benefit from simulcast wagering year-round.
In recent years, Calder owned simulcast rights from the time the Gulfstream Park winter-spring meet closed in April until Gulfstream reopened in December. According to statute, any wagering outlet in Florida wanting to simulcast Thoroughbred racing had to purchase the signal through the track operating a live meeting, which meant Calder benefited financially from the Triple Crown races, Breeders' Cup, and premier summer meetings at Saratoga, Del Mar and Monmouth Park.
This year, by operating one day in late June and technically continuing their winter-spring meets (near the end of Florida's fiscal year ending June 30), both Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs can bypass Calder, importing signals directly from out-of-state host tracks and re-selling them to other Florida pari-mutuel outlets, including dog tracks and jai-alai frontons.
Calder has challenged the move, filing an appeal with the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
In the meantime, in addition to preparing for the eight-race program on June 25, Gulfstream is getting ready to go head-to-head against Calder each weekend, beginning in July. The meeting will start with a special Monday program on July 1 that Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo hopes will attract some top jockeys, including Kentucky Derby-winning rider Joel Rosario, to raise money for the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund.
“We intend to run,” said Ritvo. “Our goal is to eventually have a very legitimate summer meeting. We are still constantly available to negotiate with Churchill Downs. We reached out to them to say, ‘What can we do in the best interests of Florida racing and the horsemen?' It's not just about (simulcasting) and being a host. Now we have to maintain our stable area year-round.”
Ritvo estimated the early portion of the meeting beginning in July will have daily overnight purses of $200,000-$250,000, plus some stakes.
“We are ready to go,” Ritvo said. The renovation to the dirt track is almost completed, he said, referencing a new drainage system and sandier composition to the surface that will be needed during the rainy summer season. “It will be one of the fastest-drying tracks in racing,” he added. A gate crew, many of them who previously worked at Calder, have been hired by Gulfstream Park, Ritvo said.
Three hundred new horses have arrived at Gulfstream Park since the main portion of the winter-spring meet ended, Ritvo said. “I'm not concerned about the horse population,” he said. “I am concerned with some of the people at Calder who want to help, and if Calder goes with a no-ship policy (meaning anyone who stables at Calder and races at Gulfstream will not be allowed back in the Calder stable area), we want to have spots available for them.”
Ritvo also said he is “100% certain” Gulfstream Park will have a contract with the HBPA, something Calder does not currently have. “We are trying to work with all parties involved,” he said. “We already have a long-term agreement with the horsemen for slots for both of our licenses (Gulfstream has a second pari-mutuel license that it could use to add slot machines to its facility). “Our corporate initiatives are to grow revenue, not just to cut up existing revenue. We think racing can be viable on its own and we can grow the revenue. We've proven that for three years in a row.”
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