FTBOA: Churchill Using ‘Bait And Switch’ At Calder, May Halt Racing In Favor Of Jai Alai

by | 08.23.2018 | 6:46pm

The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association distributed the following statement to media late Thursday. Churchill Downs obtained a permit to host summer jai alai earlier this year, which may allow it to link the jai alai meet to its casino license, as opposed to a live racing meet.

On Aug. 23, the leading representatives of Florida's Thoroughbred industry — the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association (FTBOA), The Stronach Group's Gulfstream Park, and Ocala Breeders' Sales Company (OBS) — each filed pleadings with the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering opposing Churchill Downs' (CDI) recent attempt to turn away from its storied history of Thoroughbred racing and convert its Calder racetrack in Miami Gardens to a jai alai fronton.  By doing so, the Louisville-based public company hopes to halt Thoroughbred racing at the track and to avoid contributing a small portion of the revenue from its lucrative slot machine operations to Thoroughbred horsemen's purses and to breeders' awards.

The united opposition Churchill Downs faces on this issue is directly related to the significant economic harm that its actions would cause to the economic health of Florida's signature and globally acclaimed Thoroughbred racing, breeding and sales industries.

FTBOA – Since 2010, Churchill Downs has benefitted from slot machine operations at its Calder racetrack, premised upon the conduct of live Thoroughbred racing — in the minds of Florida voters, the Florida Legislature, and the people of Miami-Dade county who voted to approve slot machines at the Calder racetrack.  Now, Churchill Downs apparently sees the opportunity to pull a “bait-and-switch” in the interests of increasing its profits, with little regard for the economic harm its moves will cause to the faithful Florida trainers, owners, and breeders that have long supported its racing program, as well as the other Florida tracks and participants in Florida's Thoroughbred industry.  As Calder is only one of several remaining Churchill Downs racing properties, this fight in the name of protecting and promoting live racing will surely be closely watched by our brother and sister horsemen and breeders from Kentucky to Louisiana to Illinois to Pennsylvania and all corners of our national Thoroughbred industry.


OBS – It is extremely disappointing to watch Churchill Downs continue its effort to extricate itself from the racing business in Florida while adding millions more to its bottom line in slot revenue. In its press releases, Churchill Downs espouses its love for the horse industry, “Derby City Gaming will support Kentucky's equine industry through larger purses and greater incentives for breeders and owners. That's important because a stronger horse racing industry means a stronger Kentucky.” However, Calder's Florida mission is illustrated by its past performances which include bulldozing over half of the barn area, taking a wrecking ball to the grandstand, and supporting decoupling. Its latest attempt to exit racing via Jai Alai is a backdoor effort to continue operating slots and reopening its cardroom without horse racing. If Churchill gets its wish, the implications will stretch far beyond the Florida borders and ripple effects will be felt nationwide in the sales ring, on the racetrack, and in the breeding shed. 

GULFSTREAM PARK – Although the agreement with Calder / CDI has benefitted the industry in Florida, we are obviously worried about the unlevel playing field and advantage Calder would have, along with the loss of breeders' awards and purse money that has helped grow the industry. The ability just to change the use of a license after being granted slots under a different license would undermine all the growth we have achieved.

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