Horsemen, Horseplayers Suffer in South Florida Battle

by | 07.09.2013 | 2:16pm

There is an old Kenyan expression that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. If Churchill Downs and the Stronach Group – owners of two South Florida tracks currently waging war with one another – are the elephants, then horsemen and horseplayers are the grass.

By going head-to-head with one another each weekend, Calder race course and Gulfstream Park are putting pressure on horse owners and trainers to pick sides in a fight they didn't start, and horseplayers are getting an inferior product in an increasingly marginalized gambling endeavor.

“All Calder did is apply for its regular dates. Gulfstream Park is the one who made the application to run on Calder, and they're doing it,” said John Marshall, the vice president and general manager for Churchill Downs-owned Calder. “We felt it was in the best interests of the industry in South Florida to have a consistent circuit for horsemen and bettors.”

Tim Ritvo, president of the Stronach Group's Gulfstream Park, sees it differently. “This is not about putting another company out of business,” Ritvo said, “but doing what we believe is best for Florida racing. We've seen a deterioration in the product during the summer, and think there's a day when trainers like Dale Romans, Todd Pletcher, and Kiaran McLaughlin will keep a string of horses in Florida all year.”

The two sides were close to a deal in June, but negotiations blew up before Florida's July 1 fiscal year began and tracks were required to run the dates they submitted. Ritvo blames Marshall for submarining a deal with horsemen. Marshall said Ritvo and Gulfstream made a series of promises to horsemen it hasn't kept.

“There's been a little bit of hard feelings,” admitted Ritvo.

“Trainers are trying to find out who to trust,” said Marshall. “Some would say, ‘Calder has told us things we didn't to hear and sometimes told us things we did want to hear. But the one thing is they didn't lie to us.' What we've done is starting to overrule the inconsistency, lies and dishonesty on Gulfstream Park's part to horsemen.”

Marshall said trainers were told Gulfstream would pay workers' compensation and that year-round horsemen who moved from Calder to Gulfstream would be guaranteed stalls there in winter. That now isn't true, he said.

“Their claim to open access has now waned,” Marshall added. “Trainers have gotten pressure from the Gulfstream Park racing office that if you're stabled at Gulfstream Park you have to race at Gulfstream Park and nowhere else.”

Not true, said Ritvo, despite a stall application that reads, in part: “Any owner or trainer may enter a horse stabled on Gulfstream Park premises at another track only with the prior written consent of Gulfstream Park. By way of example, circumstances where such consent may be granted by Gulfstream Park include the following: a) no race is available for the horse or the race fails to fill; b) the horse is being shipped to run in a stakes event; or c) the owner or trainer has more than two horses eligible for the same race.”

“We are 100% open access,” said Ritvo, adding that the stall application language was picked up by mistake from the application used last winter.

Paulick Report received complaints that Gulfstream's racing office has put pressure on trainers not to race at Calder if they want to keep their stalls.

“If anybody in my racing office tells them that, they can come to me and I'll straighten it out,” said Ritvo. “I'm the boss. The only thing that would be looked at down the line is if a guy has 10 stalls here and starts one horse with us this summer and instead runs at Calder. He's going to be in trouble getting stalls in the winter.” Ritvo admitted Gulfstream Park's fields have been short (99 horses in 16 races over the July 6-7 weekend, an average of 6.2 per race). We just had another 150 horses settled in here the last couple of days,” Ritvo said. “People have been afraid of what to do. Our commitment is long term.”

Marshall pointed out good fields sizes for the nine-race programs on July 12 and 13 (86 entered Friday, 72 Saturday), though his horse population has declined by one-third in the last week, from 1,570 on June 30 to 1,046 today.

Marshall said Calder has a “restricted access, not closed access” policy for horses that stable at Calder and race at Gulfstream. ”We take each request on a case-by- case basis.” Marshall said Calder is reviewing its policy to consider allowing a horse to race once at Gulfstream, thereby making the owner eligible to claim horses at Gulfstream.

Gulfstream nearly doubled Calder's handle last Sunday ($2.1 million to $1.2 million, each with eight-race cards) after Calder's 11-race Summit of Speed program on Saturday handled $4 million to Gulfstream's $2.1 million (for eight races).

“Handle as a scorecard is the wrong metric,” said Marshall. “There is brand disparity. Gulfstream handles more money when it runs, because it has the brand recognition to do so. What I'd be concerned about on the Gulfstream side is how badly am I degrading the brand when I get to the winter racing season.”

Marshall added that he's felt a “bias” against Calder in these uncharted waters of head-to-head competition.

“The FHBPA (Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association) is admittedly aligned with Gulfstream in this effort,” he said. “I believe the racing purists want Gulfstream to be right, because of the spending and the things they do to try and help racing, versus making economically sound decisions and operating just like a business. There's a clear public and media bias toward Gulfstream Park.” Ritvo says there's a reason. “We have a better long-term plan.”

There are no current discussions taking place, at least on the local level. “We are still willing to work with Churchill,” said Ritvo.

“We've indicated a few times before that the door is open at the corporate level if the Stronach Group is interested in making proposals or continuing discussions,” said Marshall.

And so the fight between the elephants goes on and the grass continues to be trampled.

  • Don Reed

    As an Outsider (Proudly; cannot be bribed with Press Releases), why should I care?

    May I add (?) that Ritvo is a disgrace to the human race. No one should be born so that he (or she) ends up as a lackey to a tyrant.

    • Lisa wintermote

      You obviously don’t know Tim Ritvo. Mr. Ritvo is the furthest thing from a yes man you will ever find! He’s been a jockey, a trainer, and now President of Gulfstream. He cares about people as well as racing. Character attacks have no place in this discussion and you should be ashamed of yourself. Please stick to the issues at hand and leave the character assassinations to the politicians.

      • Terri Z

        Thank you Lisa. You are 100% correct. Tim Ritvo is a first class act and is doing a great job.

    • Terri Z

      During the winter months, Don, Gulfstream has a trackside breakfast on Saturdays where you can meet all of the track officials. I suggest that you come down to Gulfstream and talk to Tim Ritvo before you put him down. The President of Calder has no experience with horse racing; whereas Tim Ritvo has had everything to do with horseracing. The backside of Calder is a disgrace; they pick up the feces once a week. The trainers are fed up with their shoddy treatment by CDI. There are more than two sides to a story. And, incidentally, Tim Ritvo was a trainer at Calder, so he is acutely aware of how the horsemen feel about CDI’s Calder.

      • Don Reed

        Terri, as well as Lisa, it s good of you both to respond.

        First, I should quickly state that I have nothing against Tim as a person, or as a trainer, or in any other conceivable walk of life.

        What I object to is anyone signing his name to the ridiculous press releases that have been issued by Gulfstream Park, the site of a real estate atrocity that was created by someone who, in my opinion, is fatal for racing.

        He tore down a beautiful race track that could have been renovated for about 50% of the cost (or less) of what was spent on what now looks like the Taj Mahal of the trashy reality show, The Absolutely Crazy New Jersey/Chicago/Los Angeles Housewives (or whatever the title is in the show’s current re-re-reincarnation).

        It (the track) is – as it exists today – an appalling monument to narcissism. I suggest, to keep the forward momentum going, that we name a Fall 2013 GP race after Eliot Spitzer.

        Back to the GP press releases. They are shameless, fawning & revolting
        statements of egotism, designed to puff up The Legend of Frank Stronach.

        Go to the Toronto Stock Exchange & mention the name. Stand back. Watch the reaction.

        That anyone is forced to sign his/her name to them as an executive reporting to the Potemkin Village Czar is a tragedy.

        Nothing good can come of this.

        Aside from all this, it is appreciated that you came to the defense of someone who, in your opinion, has earned your good will & respect.

        • Jay Stone

          Everyone loved the old Gulfstream. The problem was into today’s world it was antiquity that couldn’t function anymore. Most of the space was wasted and non functional. It was replaced by a facility that meets attendance requirements 90 per cent of the time. What press releases have to with a shopping center actually confuses me. The village one man’s idea and he put up his money. I’m sure the original concept will be tweaked until it is more successful

        • Terri Z

          I understand how you feel about the track and the lack of seating. Florida has the perfect climate for the Breeders Cup in November, but alas, has no track with enough capacity to seat enough fans.
          However, I would much prefer a track with a shopping center than a track that is destroyed to create a shopping center and condos. Hollywood Park could have followed Gulfstream’s model instead of being sold off and shut down.

  • Tinky


    Huh. Really? Who could possibly have anticipated such an undesirable result?

  • Richard C

    CDI and Stronach will continue this battle to whatever end game it brings….and the winner then gets to slap around railbirds, horsemen and backstretch employees with the typical weird moaning about severe – and unexpected – “changes” in the industry that will now force cutbacks…unless severe givebacks are tossed onto the table, early and often.

    • Karen

      Sounds familiar.

  • Roger

    As a racing customer I choose to give my business to Gulfstream because I detest Churchill CEO Evans and his arrogant corporate stance regarding his racing properties. Evans is a gaming executive not a racing executive despite what “spin” he may use.
    I stopped betting Churchill after he sold HPark to BM Land company and the only time I choose to bet any of his races are 2 days out of the year. KY Oaks and KY Derby days.
    What encourages me to bet Gulfstream over CA Racing ;
    1).lower takeout rates
    2).generally more entries especially from Dec thru April
    3).in FLA the track isn’t controlled by an owner/horsemen Group like the TOC
    in CA.
    I’m disappointed in Frank Stronach for not challenging the TOC and take the battle to Sacramento to initiate new laws to reduce the TOC’s power over the CA racetrack owner.
    First off, Golden Gate Fields in Northern California should always have LOWER takeout rates
    to stay afloat and generate new business but with short fields and exceedingly high takeout rates…’s a “quicksand” slow death.CA racetrack owners should always have the power to set whatever TAKEOUT RATES they feel is in their best interests…..not the TOC.

  • Tommy

    The hosts on the Horse Racing Radio Network were talking last Saturday morning about the possibility that the Florida Derby could lose its Ky Derby status as a points race because of this battle between the tracks. What do Marshall and Ritvo have to say about that?

    • Tinky

      Even Churchill Downs is not that stupid. This year’s Derby winner came out of the race, and several placed horses competed in it in 2012 and 2011.

      Won’t happen.

      • Tommy

        Stupidity wasn’t the reason they excluded Hawthorne’s race. This is about bullying and the bottom line. There is far more money at stake in FL than there was in IL between Hawthorne and Arlington. CDI management is on record saying they wanted to be “our own graded stakes committee.”

        • Tinky

          Sorry, but something as fundamental as what you suggest won’t be allowed by the industry. It would be be such outrageous overreach – and with the most sacred of all races – that they would never dare to try.

          The Hawthorne situation was outrageous, but in no way comparable.

          • Tommy

            This is very similar to the Hawthorne situation only much more heated. The industry has no say in this matter and that was proven in Illinois. Calder and Gulfstream are scheduled to go head-to-head next spring. Calder can move its Calder Derby to the same day as the Florida Derby and make that the points race. For that matter, CDI can strip all of the Gulf preps from the points system. There was outrage over the Hawthorne matter and it will be greater if this is done, but CDI ansswers only to its shareholders. It’s quite absurd to think this isn’t under consideration by CDI at this point.

          • Tinky

            It doesn’t matter what is “under consideration” behind closed doors at CDI, it won’t happen.

            If you’d care to make a substantial wager on whether or not the Florida Derby will remain a bona fide Derby prep in 2014, please do let me know.

          • Tommy

            I expect a resolution, which means that the Florida Derby will remain a points race. But I’d bet anything that this has been brought up in discussions. We’ll only know if Ray or someone poses the question to all parties.

          • Tinky

            Glad we got to the bottom of the “possibility”: there is none.

            CDI can discuss opening a casino on Mars, but it doesn’t mean that there is a chance of it happening.

          • Don Reed

            On the other hand, you can interest the CDI management in just about anything, if it’s presented in a manner that will cater to their grandiosity.

            Just slip in, “Mars,” in the final sentence of the last paragraph of the 160-page proposal.

            Gets ’em every time. Just like the Springfield Monorail.

    • Hoops and Horses

      I definitely could see CDI doing that. They have shareholders to worry about above all else, which some people seem to have forgotten. The shareholders who are aware of this likely would demand CDI do that unless Stronach agreed to back down and stop running at GP during the summer.

      Would not surprise me one bit if CDI yanked the points from races at ALL of the Magna tracks (including Santa Anita, which to some might be looked at as poetic justice for what Magna did in kicking out Oak Tree from their traditional fall dates), forcing California trainers to head east for Derby preps..

      • Steve r

        Good way to destroy the derby.

        Go CDI

        • Hoops and Horses

          It is, but sometimes, people do stupid things they regret (or will regret) later (as we have seen in New England recently among other places).

    • Keith Harris

      never happen…

  • Bocephus

    5 years from now people will have forgotten that Calder ever existed. It’s on life support and Stronach is about to unplug the machine.

    • ezbreeze

      I thinks it’s Flori-duh!

    • Keith Harris

      yup!!! bye bye calder!!! it will just be some more projects over in miami gardens….

  • CJP

    Mr Marshall, the word bias implies a prejudice. Please understand there is no pre-judging going on. Calder is in fact a s-hole and Calder management has treated horsemen, media, and fans like second class citizens for years. Understand that, and you’ll understand why all of this happening.

  • Karen

    What is this really about? Why did the racing commission grant dates to Gulfstream over the top of Calder?

    • RayPaulick


      There is no “racing commission” in Florida that determines racing dates. Tracks may run whatever dates they choose. The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering rubber-stamps whatever dates the tracks apply for. Deregulation exists by Florida law.

      • Hoops and Horses

        Exactly Ray:

        Go back to 1989 and when Hialeah intended to run a 1989-’90 season where they would have been head-to-head with BOTH Calder and Gulfstream. The thinking some had was Hialeah would win out, but it turned out not to be even close with Calder pounding Hialeah into submission (Hialeah on some days didn’t even handle $100,000 for an ENTIRE program). Hialeah was done after a month.

        Calder is now dealing with what Hialeah was dealing with 24 years ago.

        • Karen

          I believe in free markets. Calder, if accounts are factual, will improve or lose. Gulfstream needs Calder for the same purpose, or it has nothing preventing it from lying, leading horsemen on, and breaking promises. Hope it works for both in the long run!

  • Nucky Thompson

    Gino Stevens will sort it out as soon as he gets back from his hairdresser appointment..he’s only been gone a week.

    • Jay Stone

      You mean Henry Kissinger when he settles the Arab Israeli conflict.

      • Don Reed

        Update: The “ongoing peace process” now only applies to the CDI-Stronach Calder-Gulfstream Six Day War.

        (As per Janet – “The System is working perfectly” Nepolitano.)

        • Jay Stone

          The Arab Israeli conflict has been going on for 60 some years. The peace negotiations between the two have been going on for decades. I think this conflict will e d much sooner Especially with Gene Stevens Kissinger involved.

  • David

    For once Florida has it right. It won’t look the same on the other side but one huge problem in
    this business is regulation. I for one I am not buying the horsemen/players as victims thing; if both parties want to put-up purse $$s and run dates (and times!) head to head, let ‘em have at it and see who’s left standing. Actually it makes more sense than the train wreck going on in California to the extent the market will decide the final tally, not suits who know not what they speak.

  • Anne

    I am currently stabled at Calder, and not the least of my issues with Gulfstream Park is their ability to handle the heavy rains and tropical storms that Calder has been able to handle throughout the years. From what I understand, they already had to evacuate some horses when they had some heavy rains. Calder is also a far safer racetrack to train and race on. I raced at Gulfstream this past winter, and ended up with injuries that Ive never had at Calder. You can see the disparity of times right now between Calder and Gulfstream. Im just going to sit back and wait and see for now.

    • Keith Harris

      tracks been re-done and is handiling the rain fine, even with a little flooding still in the lower barns sometimes, the track is fine….and thats all in the past, this a new era at gulfstream, ive seen the changes, good luck when calder goes under…

      • ZippyChippy

        Gulfstream’s track may have been replaced, but it’s still the same backside that isn’t built to withstand torrential rain. It’s only a matter of time until the backside is flooded, and god help those horses if they have to be evacuated because of a hurricane. Either way, it’s just a matter of time.

  • Jay Stone

    The idiots making personal attacks on the corporate execs serve no purpose. They don’t even use their own names. In an open marketplace, which Florida has become, the strongest of the two will survive. Stronach doesn’t care how many millions he loses while CDI is a public company that has to make money. The outcome of that battle is a foregone conclusion. The difference in the way customers are treated at both tracks is night and day. gulfstream wins that battle hands down. Also ask the backstretch workers who now inhabit the Gulf dorms which accommodations they prefer? The worst part is that some loyal and competent Calder workers are now going through Hell.

    • Tinky

      Oh, that it were so simple. How have customers fared in other industries that “consolidated” through this form of Monopoly? How’s your airline service? How do you like your cable bills? How about your wireless phone bills? Oh, and how did the big (i.e.TBTF) bank and investment house consolidation go?

      I certainly agree that Stronach will win this battle, but my faith in there being a positive long-term outcome doesn’t match yours.

    • Jeff Hickey

      This is coming from a guy who’s on the payroll of Frank Calabrese, who is basically a shareholder (if there was such a thing) at GP. What Calabrese says at Gulfstream GOES.

      Completely biased opinion.

    • Keith Harris

      exactly Jay, everyone knows where the better product is, and where everyone wants to be, its a no brainer, calder shouldnt have tightened the screws down on the backside last year trying to save a few dollars (making grooms pay for dorms, trying to charge the horsemen stall rent, etc..) the cards at gulfstream will eventually be some of the best racing around the country and calder will be no more…after this next winter meet, the backside will remain full along with palm meadows and gulfstream will simply dominate south florida racing, only an idiot wouldnt be able to see what is about to take place here,gulfstream is going to be the place to be, and what a great life it will be!!!

  • ASL

    If Calder has a better long-term plan than Gulfstream, then it has a poor way of showing it. Calder’s facilities are terrible and it bullies horsemen. CDI needs to perform some serious capital improvements and stop alienating horsemen before its words will carry any weight.

  • lovesabq

    Horseplayers don’t suffer. We just spend our gaming/entertainment dollars elsewhere.

  • Debbie P

    Am interested that the two organizations which throw their weight around most and (in my humble opinion) seem to consider the good of the industry less than their own good, are now doing battle. No winners likely here.

  • battlerbill

    If they worked together, both could run mostly year round and survive but they can’t do things like go head to head on one of Calder’s biggest day. For example, Gulfstream could have run Tuesday – Wednesday this week (belmont is not running) and handled more than they did on Saturday and Sunday and not been in direct competition with Calder.

    • Don Reed

      “If they worked together…” is where you 1) Lost me… 2) We had a good laugh about all this.

      CDI and Stronach = The Lion and The Lamb coexisting. Dubious proposition.

      An aside: Tracks competing with Belmont/Saratoga for years gave their all – honestly, not just the usual Keystone Cops routine – funding racing on the BGP/SRC “off days.”

      For some reason, it never worked out.

      However, the wave of executives enamored of this idea have passed from the scene, which means that another generation of newbie-suits might try to resurrect the idea.

      Nothing is impossible.

  • Michael Dempsey

    There will not be any horseplayers suffering when Saratoga and Del Mar open shortly. Most of us will completely forget all about Gulfstream Park AND Calder.

    • Don Reed

      I wish I’d said that. Hats Off! To Michael Dempsey!

  • Jay Stone

    If there are two competing factions in this game and one is an advocate for racing and the other basically runs in the opposite direction by letting its facility fall into total disarray then what should the public be afraid of. Every move by these two titans seems to indicate in which direction each is headed.

  • We’ll have the Tropical at Calder at Gulfstream meet?

  • GENE

    There are issues with both companies, that being sais Magna really only cares about the almighty Dollar and nothing else. they have a scab mentality and with the leadership from Frank Stronach and the likes of Tim Rivto I wont bet any Magna tracks starting last week and if people really care they should do the same.

    • brussellky

      You not only have it backwards, you are literally the one poster to hold that opinion.

      • GENE

        have you ever run horses at a Magna track ? I have for over 8 years, and I wont be back.

        • brussellky

          Yes. Have you ever stabled one at Calder?

          • Don Reed

            This could blossom into a dual autobiography.

    • ZippyChippy

      Horsemen up in Maryland are STILL waiting for Magna to follow through on all of its promises. Want to see what racing looks like when Stronach has a monopoly, just look at what he has done for racing in Maryland. Is THAT what Florida is supposed to be looking forward to?

      • Jay Stone

        It seems to me that Stronach with the aid of slot money has rejuvenated Maryland racing. This spring they had large fields running for good purses. Their claiming horses from top to bottom were among the strongest in the country and speed figures Will support that.

      • Don Reed

        God Bless Zippy Chippy (the horse).

  • swaps55

    Just as in 2008 when the western financial world collapsed – and then needed massive bailouts – unregulated free markets end badly.

  • swaps55

    And for some reason when I go to the offtrack emporiums and even on track but off season venues here in Colorado I can’t recall betting Florida races much. Usually New York and southern Cal.

    • Rocket Scientist

      Must be becasue of the large fields at NYRA.

  • Mimi Hunter

    It certainly sounds like the grass is going to be worse than trampled. May even be stomped into the ground, and buried by the dust.

  • Steven

    Roger is right on on the takeout on California Exotics…Insanity

  • Rocket Scientitst

    Always look at the end game. Calder only wants the racing, if it is unopposed. They have always pulled a nice cash flow from Summer and fall racing. Gulfstream is cutting into that cash flow at an honest clip, while giving the horsemen nicer amenitites and higher purses. Gulfstream wants the foot traffic at its villages on the weekends, but with Calder running live, thier is a shortage of horses, thus creating small fields, and small pools. Gulf will continue to punish and cripple Calder until one of 2 things happens. One, calder runs its dates at Gulfstream, allowing them to keep their license, but get no revenues from racing. Two, the State Decouples the racing requirement from the casino license. . #2 is a tough sell in Florida, and you can bet Gulfstream will block it at all costs. CDSN will have to give up the ghost without State legislative changes, otherwise they will bleed red trying to run live.







  • Francis Bush

    I wagered few races at Calder this past Saturday. The fields were small and 2 or 3 horses were 8/5 or less in the same race. Such poor wagering choices makes one forget Calder. A similar program with the similar wagering choices happened at Gulfstream. Few fans want to participate with these kind of programs.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram