Dust Clears After First Battle in South Florida Racing War

by | 07.07.2013 | 8:45am

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.

  • chispy

    I wish the same thing would happen in Chicago.

  • Randyp

    Gulfstream must be overpaying purses nearly $200,000 a day(including the bribe of $1,000 per starter)….money that would normally be used for winter meet purses…….. who will win …who will win

    • CJP

      Where do you get your figures? Purses for the GP races have been rather small while handle has been surprisingly good. Can’t see how they would have a 200k overpay. Not even close.

  • HunterD

    Calder has a casino, a higher handle, and until now a monopoly on simulcast in Florida. Yet the purses are possibly the worst in North America.

    • sally blue

      Check out St Louis, Boston and other various venues, Not what they should be, but far from the worst purses in North America.

      • CJP

        No casino at Fairmount or Suffolk. Sally, are you a paid CDI sympathizer? Calder is the only track in the country where purses went down AFTER a casino went in. Time for the CDI slime to get crushed. Bye bye Calder!

  • Hoops and Horses

    Gulfstream should win this war overall. They actually did very well yesterday considering Calder across town had its biggest card of the year, the Summit of Speed. Today (Sunday) should be a much more true test as will next weekend and so forth.

  • swaps55

    I can see the possibility of a trainer in Colorado shipping his cheap horses from Arapaho Park to Gulfstream, to fill the program and where they could earn over a thousand bucks a start appearance fee for five races or so until they are ruled off for not being competitive. Put in five starts over six weeks and make some hay money. A trainer at Arapaho Park whom I knew years ago won a race over the weekend with a horse that had run a week earlier, finishing fifth I think a week earlier. So horses can race more often and with shorter race holidays if they are slow and sound enough. and get decent talent fees.

  • Mimi Hunter

    This feud sounds like little kids in a sandbox, except there’s a lot more at stake.

  • swaps55

    I double checked. the lowest purse money paid to a Gulfstream starter for finishing out of the top five was around $1,100 Saturday. At Calder a horse with a poor finish would earn as low as a hundred bucks, plus a few. .

  • Sue M. Chapman

    Because Calder has The Casino to generate money, management severely cut the maintenance staff in the barn area. There was rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms. Calder then followed suit with the Churchill Downs policy of charging $100 monthly room rent to the backstretch employees, which they could ill afford.
    Not only does Gulfstream Not charge room rent, Stronach also pays at least 1/2 of the trainers’ Workman’s Compensation insurance. This is a huge nut off the backs of horsemen.
    The main track at Gulfstream has an improved drainage system, which alleviated the effect of this summer’s record setting rainfall. I’m told it is very kind surface on which to train.
    Stronach has opened Palm Meadows Training Center to horsemen presently lacking stalls at Gulfstream. Yes, shipping time is more than the 8 miles from Calder to Gulfstream, but both the track and living conditions are superior.
    There are no limitations or restrictions on where an owner’s horses can ship to race and return to their home base at Gulfstream.
    With the defeat of the Barrel Racing parimutual wagering proposal, it is puzzling how Churchill Downs, Inc., plans to operate a casino, should thoroughbred racing end at Calder.
    Finally, Stronach has not only offered owners and trainers discounts along with better stable area conditions, but has made work available to Calder staff who chose to relocate.
    Yes, the fields are disgracefully small in Florida. They are equally both short and lacking in quality in most racing jurisdictions, making gambling an unattractive investment, as Bill Finley recently wrote. Why? Because breeders repeat their mistakes, which continues to pollute the gene pool, pin-hookers do whatever they can to sell sales horses, which severely compromises the careers of most thoroughbreds, and trainers can no longer overcome these issues without anabolic steroids and pulmonary stimulation.

    • Sally Blue

      Sue, Gulfstream has not paid a dime for Workmans Comp at this point. Nobody wants to drive 50 miles to Palm Meadows everyday. And if you think that open access is available to Gulfstream’s stable area, check Jeff Noe’s call log the day both entered on Thursday for today. Nobody wins here.

      • CJP

        Nobody wants to drive 50 miles everyday? Would you rather be held hostage in a rat infested dump with just three days of racing to choose from for sh_t purses? Sounds to me like you’re on the Calder payroll Sally. But nice try.

        • Jeffrey

          Sounds to me like CJP is on Stronach’s payroll.

          Your criticism of others would carry weight if it were supported by some sort of fact rather than talking points from Frank’s minions.

          This is not to say that CDI is part of the solution, but it’s a stretch to say that Frank has been part of the solution in any of the jurisdictions that he has been involved.

          Good grief, what a stooge.

      • Sue M. Chapman

        Sally, I will follow up about the workman’s comp. You will have to provide me with Jeff Noe’s call log. Regarding the 50 mile drive; Part of working at the racetrack requires inconvenient moves. Palm Meadows is a much healthier place than Calder for everyone.

      • Sue M. Chapman

        Sally, as promised – Gulfstream has chosen to pay the trainers $500/start per horse (uncoupled only) in lieu of the Workman’s Compensation originally posted, for horses Stabled at Gulfstream. I’ll assume that includes Palm Meadows.

  • Mark

    Deregulation for the win! Except that it insures everyone, especially the workers further down the chain, usually loses in the end.

    But, if there will be a “winner” in this “war”, the old man can spend his money indefinitely, CDI will eventually have to answer to the stockholders.

    I think we’re also likely to see horses coming in from farms off 2-3 year layoffs/retirements to GP to collect the appearance money and that’s also a lose-lose proposition over the long run.

  • Robb

    Frank Stronach and Gulfstream Park are going to ruin their own business while working so hard to shut down Calder and keep Hialeah in the dark.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    If what all are saying is true and you get these horses who really are unfit to race but going in to get an appearance fee…then I wonder if we will see a spike in breakdowns and injuries to horses like in NY when the slots money ballooned purses and the horses were the losers. I hope it will not happen, but if one can make a couple thousand for showing up…which is probably more than an ITM finish at a Bush track…then they better be watching this very closely

    • Sue M. Chapman

      As posted today right here: Horsemen STABLED at Gulfstream will receive $500/start to offset costs. Do you really think the examining vets would allow lame, or horses in poor condition to start?

  • Ferris

    Marty Wolfson is one of the best trainers around, and one of the scuzziest humans on Earth. One of the slimiest people in racing. Total flea. Guessing Calder is as happy he’s leaving as he is.

  • Jimmy Winters

    Best thing for anyone within 200 miles of South Florida…force a fresh piece of manure into the mouths of both Jon Marshall and Tim Ritvo, then Krazy glue their lips shut. Only way to stop the rumors, double talk, and flat out lying to everyone (especially the horsemen).

  • Tommyg

    $105,000 on track handle for Gulfstream……….purse account getting crushed…..means lower purses this winter……hope the mall is crowded!

    • CJP

      Do you have any idea how a purse account is grown? Apparently not.

  • Kris

    I feel badly for the folks that earn their living either working for these two tracks or on the backside, but that is where my sympathy ends. Stronach has spent a lot of money in this sport, but has a habit of spending it poorly. The folks at CDI, on the other hand, are simply a bunch of carpet-bagging bullies.

  • Jay Stone

    The thousand dollar owner incentive is only for a short time. The idea that horses will be shipped from thousand of miles is insane because the incentive wouldn’t cover vanning. Today is a truer test because with similar cards Gulf had double the handle. The interesting statistic was where Crc handled a similar ammount as previously Gulf handled around 2 million that hadn’t existed before. Could the Gulf brand have created new customers both live and in simulcast land?

    • CJP

      CRC handled the same pathetic number they would have had GP not been running. GP grew the local market and did something good for Florida racing….which is more the can be said for anything Calder has done since CDI took over.

  • CJP

    Dust cleared and game over. 2.1 million for horrible GP card compared to 975k for equally horrible Calder card. Hey CDI, take the hint and get the hell out of the business. You and you’re big headed minions have done enough to ruin Florida racing. Step aside scum and let something good happen for once. With Calder closed, GP would have done 3 million or more today. Again – better for the state and better for Florida horsemen. CRC slime, get the f out!

  • East Coast Cowboy

    And what did Sunday look like?

  • Chasman

    Look…The problem in Florida is with the tracks owners…Stronach my be among the best on the breeding side….But, as a track owner he is totally and absolutely CLUELESS! He stinks…His idea is from out of mars on how to do things…He completely leveled Gulfstream and rebulit so badly from a racing fan stand point that he has to make re-changes….And if Stronach gets his way with racing in Flordia it will be worst and not better….Running 3-days a week – Friday, Saturday, Sunday(as he wants) is not going to provide enough races to be able to run horses on a consistent basis…
    Churchill on the other hand is flat out cheap and will only own tracks excluding Churchill Downs, that have slot machines or otther gambling forms, since that is all this company cares about….Chuchill and Stronach need both tracks in Florida for the sake of the sport and work together by balancing out the racing schedule so both get a 50/50 split of dates and run at least 4-days a week(5 days at GP)…If all dates go to GP, that dirt surface and turf course will take a beating and the race days will be 2 or 3 at best instead of the much needed 4-5 days with mostly 8 to 9 races a day…..
    Working together everybody wins: the sport, fans, horsemen and track employees….Otherwise to quote the late Don Meredith, ‘Turn out the lights, the party is over’…

  • Anton Chigurh

    I love racing but it will never again be more than a niche sport due to the lack of unity among track owners and the various state hbpas not to mention the alphabet soup of useless, powerless organizations who’s main function seems to be to provide fat expense accounts for their administrators and employees. I mean you BC, NTRA, NYRA, TOBA and all the rest. We need one set of rules for the whole game with one organization as the ruling body.

  • Jay Stone

    This whole issue of 1000 to run a horse is being way overblown. The same bad horses that ran up the track in slow races at Calder performed the same task at Gulfstream. There were no catastrophic breakdowns of horses just thrown in races so owners could collect an easy thousand. I don’t believe any gulfstream trainers were intimidated by Gulf officials to run at Gulfstream for more money. They are basically free to enter where they pleased. The only happening of any significance is that a couple of million dollars appeared out of Nowhere To be bet on Cheap races. That is significant in that it may be new money or people that Just wanted to bet on the Gulfstream brand. It will be Interesting to see if that trend continues.

    • brussellky

      Good points on both issues. Monmouth was offering $1,500 a starter 3 years ago. It did attract once a week entries by a couple of hopelessly slow horses but there was no rash of breakdowns. The $2MM that appeared out of the nowhere IS the most significant development. I think part of it was the Gulfstream brand and part of it was serious bettors who prefer betting on tracks that consistently favor certain running styles. Calder generally being a very fair surface is great for the owners but bad for serious betters. Lastly, Calder’s handle has been permanently reduced by them being unable to send out their signal a few years ago during a dispute with their horsemen. Bettors changed products and never returned. Their Pick 3 pools are so small, anyone that puts more than $10 into them is a complete idiot. The same can be said for putting more than $30 into their Pick 4’s (particularly the early one). The late Pick 4 at Gulfstream Sunday handled $27K and the late Pick 4 at Calder $6,400. Even a medium sized bettor has no choice where to bet under these circumstances.

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