Horsemen, Calder Sign Deal, But Momentum on Gulfstream’s Side
It took a threat from horsemen to cut off the simulcasting signal, but the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Calder racetrack and casino have a signed purse contract for the remainder of 2013.
The FHBPA was encouraged by horse owner Carlo Vaccarezza – who briefly threatened to create a separate horseman's organization based at Gulfstream Park – to use the leverage of simulcast-rights approval as a stick in the negotiations with Calder that bogged down for months. The FHBPA set a deadline of July 25 before it said it would shut down the signals in to and out of Calder if a contract agreement were not reached. Horsemen were unhappy to be operating without a contract and wrote a letter to state officials that Calder's casino license should not be renewed because of the absence of a horsemen's contract.
“We ironed out the remaining details this week,” said FHBPA executive director Kent Stirling. “Our horsemen are pleased that South Florida racing will continue uninterrupted.”
“With Florida racing in its current state of turmoil, both sides agreed it was best to approach this from a short-term perspective,” FHBPA president Phil Combest explained.
Included in the language of the contract, according to FHBPA executive director Kent Stirling, are some rules regarding stabling at Calder and exceptions that will be granted to horsemen there who want to race at Gulfstream Park. The two South Florida tracks are going head-to-head against each other for the first time, after failing to reach an agreement on racing dates under the deregulation rules of Florida racing.
Calder-based horsemen won't lose their stalls for racing at Gulfstream if the horses do not fit the conditions of a race at Calder or if a Calder owner needs to start one runner at Gulfstream in order to be eligible to claim a horse there. Horses are also permitted to race in stakes at Gulfstream and return to the Calder stable area. However, there remain stabling restrictions not unlike those of some competitive tracks in the mid-Atlantic area.
In order to attract more horsemen to its Hallandale facility, Gulfstream Park president Tim Ritvo has adopted what he calls a “100% open access” policy.
The tide in the month-long battle is clearly turning in Gulfstream's favor, both in terms of handle and starters.
This weekend, Gulfstream has 85 entries Saturday and 86 Sunday (both nine-race cards), while Calder has 70 Saturday for nine races and 71 Sunday for eight races. The number of horses stabled at Calder has fallen to about 900, sources said, while Gulfstream Park has over 1,000.
Calder is scheduled to race year-round Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, while Gulfstream is racing Saturdays and Sundays until its winter meeting begins in December, when it goes to an expanded schedule up to five days per week.
Other than the first day of head-to-head competition, when Calder offered its stakes-rich Summit of Speed program, Gulfstream Park has easily out-handled Calder, both on-track and through simulcast wagering, by a ratio of 3-to-1 or more. That advantage is only expected to increase if Gulfstream continues to build up its average field size and Calder field sizes decline.
Meanwhile, the exodus of horsemen from Calder to Gulfstream continues. A photograph of some of trainer Emanual Tortora's tack boxes, signs and personal belongings, sitting next to a dumpster, was taken by a fellow horseman and sent to the Paulick Report with the following note: “This just struck me as so sad … the remains of the winningest trainer in Calder history – Manny Tortora – upon departure to Gulfstream Park.”
The move by Gulfstream Park to operate year-round not only cut into Calder's handle on its races, but Calder previously had exclusive rights to re-sell all simulcast imports throughout the state to dog tracks and jai-alai frontons. Those simulcasts included such prime events as the Triple Crown, the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings, and Breeders' Cup.
Both Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs sought a piece of that simulcast revenue, but sources told the Paulick Report the state's Division of Business Regulations has ruled against Tampa Bay Downs because it is not actually operating year-round. Tampa Bay conducted one day of racing July 1, first day of Florida's fiscal year, and intends to open its traditional dates in December, in hopes that the state would consider that a “year-round” meeting.