Horsemen, Calder Sign Deal, But Momentum on Gulfstream’s Side

by | 07.26.2013 | 4:54pm
Equipment of Manny Tortora,top trainer at Calder, as he departs for Gulfstream

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.

  • harry

    The party is over at Calder race course. There will be no more horse racing at Calder when their season is over in 2013. Just the casino Churchill Downs will unload Calder race course for sure in 2014. Congrats to Frank Stronach for closing his competition and in 2014 Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs will control Florida racing. Now maybe Hialeah will come into focus but who knows. Frank Stronach and Churchill Downs can be so proud of putting hundreds of Calder employees in unemployment line.!!!! Great job!!!!

    • Swaps

      and for all those who think that jumping on the Stronach bandwagon when Hollywood Park “supposedly” closes are in for a rude awakening. The way things are now with David “Nero” Israel and the CHRB Frank’s going to have a problem with his Santa Anita Opening Day Dec. 26. Stay tuned…

    • brussellky

      The employees at Calder are the last thing that Frank Stronach should be concerned with. That will be all on Churchill.

  • greg

    Frank Stronach does what is best for Frank Stronach and NOBODY else matters in any capacity! He said he would send horses to Santa Anita to support his track, well he sent 16-20 horses spread out to 4-5 trainers, well I know all the trainers and each one said to me in separate conversations that these horses can NOT win in So Cal and may not be good enough to win at Gulfstream, but the perception was he sent ~20 horses. I would not trust him or anyone else with his last name as far as I can spit. Ask the shareholders of Magna in Canada which he tried to declare a special 1 x stock dividend of ~$300mm of which near 75% went to HIM, good guy.

  • Jay Stone

    Stronach is the only advocate the horsemen have left. He takes care of retired racehorses, maintains suitable living conditions for backstretch help, and maintains his facilities. He pays out decent purses and most horsemen are happy to deal with his management. The pendulum in this industry has swung from CDI to Magna for obvious reasons.

    • seabiscuit

      Right. Tell that to the horsemen at Bay Meadows and Great Lakes Downs, racetracks shuttered under Stronach’s rule, or Lone Star Park, one of several that he put on life support. He also screwed the pooch with his Maryland tracks by not filing for a gaming license, and I seem to remember a problem with outside seating in the rebuilt Gulfstream and several do-overs (and breakdowns) with the Santa Anita track surface renovations.

      I don’t think Florida represents any major pendulum swing, because for whatever reason, CDI has seemed to always have a contentious relationship with the horsemen’s group in that state and that’s being juxtaposed and magnified right now against GP’s short-term incentives. CDI has fared slightly better with AP, and much better with FG and CD horsemen. More important, they’ve managed the business in a manner that has kept their facilities open for business.

      • Jay Stone

        Open for business is the only positive phrase you could use to describe the total deterioration of both the frontside and backside of Calder. Under the control of CDI what was once a major force in racing has ended up in the sad state it is now in.

        • seabiscuit

          CDI acquired CRC in 1999 and reinvested in the facility and took good care of it for most of its first decade of ownership. Sometime after the departure of Meeker and Ken Dunn, the new management at CDI took their eye off the ball. It’s not just the facility they’ve neglected — apparently they’ve lost some great staff in the process.

          Having said all that, CRC is the exception to the rule in the CDI stable, not the norm. It’s sad, because Calder used to be viewed as the little engine that could, a second tier track running more dates than any other CDI property and churning a profit in a difficult environment.

          It appears the environment got so difficult that CDI in more recent years decided to cut corners on racing. Difference in leadership, I guess. Previous management said racing wouldn’t take a backseat to a casino, and current management — at least with Calder — does the opposite.

          By no means is this last statement a defense, but that particular area today has three racetracks operating within a few miles of each other (not to mention slots-loaded dog tracks, jai lai frontons and a large NA casino). If that environment existed in 1999, there is no way CDI would have bought Calder. As it stands, today the bean counters are winning the argument of how the company should address the current environment.

          • Jay Stone

            Most of these points are valid. I believe there are still capable people involved with running Calder. The so called bean counters are the problem. They have run every facet of the operation into the ground. There can be no excuse for not promoting The Florida Stallion Stakes. The last five years, what was once a great idea, has withered away to short fields and weak competition. Let’s see how the series fares next year at Gulfstream

  • Francis Bush

    Churchill Downs has finally yielded to a little pressure. Must be short of a miracle. Now, if they could give wagering fans a few decent races at Calder without 3 or 4 horses each racing at 4/5 to 2/1 in the same race they might attract a few more wagers. Both tracks offer little at this time. Gulfstream is okay during the winter for wagering, but not better than Calder now. Sorry management on both sides.

  • rpres43

    Manny T. ‘s stuff by the dumpster(a picture is worth a thousand words) is sad. CDI has taken what was once a very well maintained facility, and let it totally deteriorate, both front and backside. Same can be said for their pathetic purse structure and racing product. Sad to see CRC going by the wayside, but the sooner the CDI parasite is extinguished, the better for all !

  • LongTimeEconomist

    Where are the comparative handle numbers that are alluded to in the article?

    • Jay Stone

      Approximately 3 and 1 half to one in Gulf favor. Gulf is a brand and that says it all

      • LongTimeEconomist

        I saw that, but ratios don’t mean a lot when handle is low. I’m looking for the daily averages on track and off.

        • CJP

          Gulfstream handled approximately 5.4 million this past weekend whereas Calder did about 2.1 million.

  • ZippyChippy

    If Gulfstream’s ultimate goal was more handle, more horses, and more attendance, then it is clear that they would win that battle. But those are not Gulfstream’s ultimate goal. Gulfstream’s ultimate goal is to shut down Calder and eliminate their main rival in the simulcasting and casino gaming market. As long as Calder is able to put together eight races a day, three days a week, keeps their casino license and collects simulcast revenue, then Calder wins. “Momentum” is just a side-story here. The real story is Calder’s survival, since this is what it is all about. If Calder survives, it wins.

    • seabiscuit

      This is correct. CRC doesn’t have to win head-to-head, it simply has to race the minimum amount of dates to keep a license in order to keep the casino open. As it stands, GP’s dates grab has created too many dates where there isn’t enough supply (horses) or demand (customers). If their end game was to put CRC out of business, it isn’t going to work as long as the casino is kicking out $70 million annually.

      And as some scribe mentioned in another racing publication, CDI can escalate this battle if it wants. GP’s lifeblood races are the Derby preps, which would now seem vulnerable as Kentucky Derby qualifiers. CDI could easily bump a GP prep or two off the list, and maybe even create its own prep at Calder to run on the same date as the FoY, Holy Bull or Florida Derby.

      • Hoops and Horses

        Or if Churchill really wanted, CD could make its Fair Grounds preps worth quadruple any other Derby prep so essentially finishing well in those races gets you a Derby berth.

        • brussellky

          If they do that or remove points from the Gulfstream races, The Stronach Group should immediately petition the American Graded Stakes Committee to revoke the Graded status of the Kentucky Derby because it will fit the definition of a restricted race.

          • seabiscuit

            And CDI would say who cares and work with NYRA and/or other tracks to create the U.S. Graded Stakes Committee while they also work on a substitute event for the Breeders’ Cup to represent racing interests east of Santa Anita. At the root of this whole problem is divergent business interest in a rare, deregulated (Florida) environment. While I’m all for competition and free enterprise, that model doesn’t work currently in racing where there is neither enough supply (horses) or demand (fans, bettors) for the amount of racing offered.

            If this thing does escalate, the peace treaty will hopefully be forged by some sort of national racing office that can cut out so much of the crap (dates bullying, bureaucratic morass, non-uniformity of regulations, and otherwise) that ails racing today.

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