Florida Racing Dates: Is It Really About Live Racing?

by | 03.01.2013 | 7:31am
Racing at Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park says it's all about live racing. Calder says it's all about live racing. But I'm beginning to wonder: Is the dates conflict that will have the two South Florida Thoroughbred tracks running head to head beginning in July really about live racing?

Thursday was the deadline for Florida's pari-mutuel facilities to submit to the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering the racing dates they intend to run for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1. There is no regulation of racing dates in Florida.

For the first time, Gulfstream Park will operate live racing year-round, with Saturday-Sunday programs beginning July 6 and running through Dec. 1. The Stronach Group-owned track and casino will then go to a Wednesday-Sunday schedule through April 6, 2014, after which it will revert to weekends through the end of June. Calder, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., will switch to a Friday through Sunday schedule beginning in July and keep that format through June 2014.

Or so they say. No one seems to think there will be enough horses or fan interest to support two live race meetings in the same town. The last time it happened, when Hialeah Park and Calder went head to head in 1989, Hialeah Park was pummeled into submission after horsemen chose to stay at Calder (and Hialeah's John Brunetti instituted a ludicrously high takeout on wagers).

And don't forget Tampa Bay Downs over on the Gulf Coast side of Florida. For the first time, Tampa has applied to run on July 1, 2013, close until December, run its traditional meeting through Kentucky Derby weekend, then reopen for one day of racing on June 30, 2014.

Why would Tampa Bay run July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014?

In a word, simulcasting.

Somewhere, in the convoluted Chapter 550 of Florida statutes covering pari-mutuel wagering is language stating that pari-mutuel facilities wishing to import Thoroughbred simulcasts have to buy the signal from the track currently offering live racing. The selling track gets two-thirds of the net revenue, with the simulcast facility getting one-third.

Calder, while never having the prime winter live racing dates when tourists flock to South Florida, has enjoyed the bulk of revenue from the best simulcast dates of summer and fall, including meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar, along with the Triple Crown events and Breeders' Cup days.

Berube thinks his gambit means Tampa Bay qualifies to be a simulcast “seller” throughout the year. Gulfstream Park thinks its year-round dates schedule means it can be a seller, too, as does Calder.

The net effect will be price competition, with the sellers offering incentives to Florida dog tracks and jai-alai frontons to buy the signal from them.

John Marshall, the general manager and vice president for racing at Calder, said he will move to block both tracks from cutting into his track's dominating position on summer simulcasting.

But let's get back to live racing, which is what this really all about, right?

Timothy Ritvo, Gulfstream Park's general manager, says Gulfstream will need between 600 to 800 horses to sustain live racing on weekends. They'll have to be stabled at Gulfstream, since Calder officials have already said they will not allow horses stabled there to return to their stalls if they run at the summer Gulfstream meeting. Marshall said Calder has given stalls to 1,750 horses for its spring meeting opening April 6 after receiving applications for more than, 2,200.

Between the time the Gulfstream Park meeting closes and the beginning of its year-round run in July, Ritvo said the Stronach Group will invest nearly $1 million on a new drainage system to be installed between the main dirt track and turf course to prepare for the tropical rainfall of summer. “It will be similar to Calder's,” said Ritvo, a former trainer who has been based in South Florida for more than 20 years. “We're also changing the main track from loam to a sand-based surface,” he said.

Ritvo also said Gulfstream is trying to implement a workers' compensation program to encourage trainers to stay at the track year-round, including the winter months when many northern stables flock to Florida. In addition, he said, Gulfstream is buying a new rail system, allowing the turf course rails to be moved in or out quickly.

As for purses, Ritvo said, “We're hoping to be at least as good as Calder, or better. $200,000 a day to start. Our ultimate goal is four days a week racing in the summer at $300,000 a day. Those are very feasible numbers.”

Calder will start out its meeting at about $180,000 a day in overnights, Marshall said.

Marshall, who termed Gulfstream's move to race year-round “reckless,” said Calder has not wavered on its commitment to live racing, despite rumors that the track was willing to give up its race dates in exchange for a deal on simulcasting revenue and a guarantee it could continue to operate its casino.

“That's not true,” he said about the rumors that began circulating last summer. “That's what (the Stronach Group) wants people to believe.”

Marshall said Gulfstream's insistence on racing year-round was more about bringing people to the shops and restaurants in the Village at Gulfstream Park bordering the racetrack and casino.

“Obviously, there are benefits to us with the Village, the restaurants and everything else,” said Ritvo. “Two thousand people on a Saturday afternoon will help those businesses.”

But Ritvo said the move was about strengthening Florida's racing and breeding program.

“It would be much easier for me to run six months and take six months off,” he said. “It's going to be a lot of work and a big investment. We think Florida racing is going in the wrong direction and all the work we do for four or five months gets lost. We think we can save the industry by running year-round.

“My heart is like Frank (Stronach)'s heart. We are into racing. If we continue to see deterioriation in summer racing it will be harder and harder to fill winter cards as people find other places to race. We think by not running we would be more disruptive than we would by running.”

  • Guest

    Interesting  info re:splitting the simo monies.
    But is it really about that or is it Frank’s “heart”, which is similar to Nikita Kruschev’s – Мы вас похороним!-we will bury you?All I can say is 5 minutes after Frank is gone, his empire of dirt will be dismantled, his phony henchman fired, and his dream of horse world domination laid to rest.  And for many horsemen, that day cannot come soon enough.

  • Tinky

    Excellent article, Ray. And this: 

    “We think by not running we would be more disruptive than we would by running.”is priceless.

  • Live racing in Florida in the summer is crazy. I guess they’ve been doing it, but good grief it’s too hot!  Here will be something else to give racing a black eye, now horses will be dropping from heat exhaustion. 

    I don’t have enough knowledge to post any other comment, but geeze, it’s stinking hot in the summer, just last week here in central Florida, the heat and humidity made me want to stay inside all day.

    • It’s not that bad… no worse then philly…. we just get started earlier…

      • Gregg645

        Heat is absolutely not a problem in South Florida in the summertime when was last time you seen races canceled Due to heat in South Florida

  • Stanley inman

    We are told
    Competition between tracks
    is horrible;
    insiders smell
    “End of world”
    And Horsemen
    Carry track’s swill
    For them

    • Stanley inman

      Heart of capitalism &
      Racetracks hate
      Why, you ask?
      They have to raise purses
      to compete for limited labor supply (horses)
      Running head-to-head racemeets
      Historically powerful weapon to
      Destroy local competitor.
      Miami can’t support two tracks.
      Deep pockets predict winner
      Horsemen solidarity could determine who
      Goes to winner circle.

  • BobC

    What Ritvo should have said is “Our ultimate goal is four days a week racing in the summer–after we eliminate Calder”.  Greedstream Park won’t he happy until they are the last track standing in South Florida.  My question is “What is Kent Stirling and the Florida HBPA’s position on this upheaval?”.  Do they think Greedstream Park’s attitude toward them will be any different once GP is the only track left standing?  My guess is that Greedtream’s “my way or the highway attitude” will extend to the FHBPA just like it has done to Calder and Hialeah.

    • Rockhead365

      Im a horsemen and i know that Barry Rose and Kent stirling is all about them selves and lining there pockets kiss ass over paid assholes who know very little about whats good for us horsemen.If we as horsemen could only stand together as one and tell these people we r not going to run until they meet us half way about some things we would get there attention. Im all for standing up for what is right and what is fair but we can not stand untied which is sad. We to make a stand and make changes including stirling price tag of being head of HBPA he does nothing for but makes veryone believe he does and thats just ne horsemens oppion.

  • Eastcoast Cowboy

    Best thing that could happen for the horsemen.

    • BobC

      So if GP is the only track left in South Florida and they dictate their terms to the FHBPA, THAT’S the best thing that could happen for the horsemen?

      • RayPaulick

        Yes, that’s great. Still in Florida

        • BobC

          Let me get this straight, Ray.  You think it’s a GOOD thing for the horsemen to knuckle under to racetrack management?  Do you also think that Florida racing will be better off when GP is the only Thoroughbred track left standing?

  • Keep it up Florida, we went through the cut throat horse business when full card simulcast started in the mid 90’s.  After the spring meet starts in KY and NY, I rarely bet on the races in my own states.  Who want to bet on cheap claimers with small fields? We already know the track will be sloppy 80% of the time during the summer.  I tell you what, Calder and Gulfstream Park can run each other into the ground.  No track in this state needs to run more than 180 days per year.  Anything else is just for pure greed! 

  • James Staples

    “AND THE HEAT GOE$ ON & ON”…BABY!!!…ty Ray…

  • ASL

    If Calder was really about live horse racing, why does it accept such run-down conditions for the horses stabled on its grounds?  Calder’s words don’t match its actions.  If it really was about live horse racing, it would make capital improvements to benefit the horsemen/women and horses stationed on its backside. 

  • Jgeills

    “John Marshall, the general manager and vice president for racing at Calder, said he will move to block both tracks from cutting into his track’s dominating position on summer simulcasting”  Good Luck.  For years they have been stron handing all of the tracks in the summer with heavy handed collections, raising United Tote hop fees, everything they could do to the detriment to the rest of the state.  Those tracks that were under their thumbs, cant wait to never have to do business with them again.   Calder (CDSN) barn area is almost falling down.  The casino is all they want, the facts show us that.

  • I’d gladly stable at GP!!!  Calder doesn’t need horses… they can have rat races!!!  Start making some little saddle cloths!

  • Tipton

    If the CRC horsemen could do something that threatens the existence of the casino at Calder, THAT might wake up CDI/Calder management.

  • horse

    Hialeah, are you listening?

  • Carlsonannalee

    yaaawn it never ends in florida nobody in their right mind will bet on horrible wet track races with four and five horse fields

  • salthebarber

    Ray, thanks for explaining this. Is it possible that with the new drug regulations in NY that more horses will be stabled there this summer?

    • RayPaulick

      Unlikely. However, I would expect Florida will not align itself with New York and other Midatlantic/northeast states on medication rules. Florida permits a corticosteroid on race-day and prohibits the test lab for using most sophisticated methods for certain therapeutics. 

  • BobC

    Uncaring, unimaginative and downright lazy racetrack management raised the white flag years ago.  Instead of trying to attract new fans to the game and grow their live audience they chose to become vultures and try to grab a bigger share of the diminishing wagering dollar.  Gulfstream is just one of the circling vultures trying to devour what is left.  Keeneland and Oaklawn are two exceptions that come to mind.  Both of the those tracks are all about the horse and both still attract a large live audience.  Granted Oaklawn has “Instant Racing” and Keeneland is located in the middle of horse country, but those tracks offer incentives and provide competitive racing programs to bring out the crowds.  Do other tracks want to follow the example of Keeneland and Oaklawn?  Nah, it’s easier to pick off what is left on the carcass.

    • Guest

       Don’t ever mention Keeneland.  If they didn’t get their money from the horse sales they would be Ellis Park.

      • BobC

        I like Ellis Park a lot.  I try to make there at least once or twice every season.  Additionally, Ron Geary is great guy.  He mingles with his fans and gets their input.  You don’t see many in racetrack management doing that.  But, you can’t compare Ellis Park’s attendance with Keeneland.  I was at Keeneland last April when Wise Dan won the Ben Ali and the place was packed in spite of the cold and rainy weather.

  • Bob

    Ray, I recall Calder running live one January the week leading up to a Super Bowl game back in the 1978-80 range.  The game itself might have been held at the Orange Bowl. 
    Perhaps the influence Doug Donn had at the time led to Gulfstream getting the prime dates thereafter?

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