Gulfstream amends racing dates request,


By Mike Welsch

 

HALLANDALE
BEACH, Fla. – Officials from Gulfstream Park responded Wednesday to the
escalating dispute with Calder Racecourse by amending their racing dates request
– applying to open on Nov. 26, one week earlier than originally proposed – and
creating extra stalls for horses who ship to race from
Calder.

 

The moves comes one day after Calder
management informed their horsemen that effective Saturday any horse leaving the
Calder grounds to race would not be allowed to return without permission from
racing secretary Mike Anifantis. The lone exception would be for horses racing
in graded stakes, and even those horses would not be allowed to return to Calder
until the day after they race.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Calder amended
its restrictions to allow shipping for races at Tampa Bay Downs. A Calder
official said horses going to Tampa will be granted permission to
return.

Gulfstream officials told Calder horsemen
Wednesday that they were taking every measure possible to accommodate trainers
who wished to enter and race horses over the weekend. Gulfstream vice president
of racing Tim Ritvo said the track would use the receiving barn and any other
empty stall it could find on the grounds to house Calder runners who would not
be permitted to return to their own stalls after racing at Gulfstream. He said
the track was looking into constructing 200 to 300 temporary stalls in tenting,
similar to the ones used by Hialeah Park at its Quarter Horse meets the past two
seasons.

Ritvo said that after next Thursday’s
Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale another 250 to 300 stalls would be available at the
Palm Meadows training center. He said that any Calder horsemen wishing to
relocate there at that time would be permitted to do so rent free for as long as
the current restrictions remained in place.

“In the short term, nobody at Calder
should be afraid to run their horses at Gulfstream,” Ritvo said at Wednesday’s
weekly horsemen’s meeting. “We will do everything we can to accommodate them and
make things as easy as possible for them to ship over and race their
horses.”

Ritvo told the horsemen that Gulfstream
had planned to announce a purse increase Sunday but that those plans would be
put on hold until management sees “how the present situation plays
out.”

The current Gulfstream meet opened Jan. 5
and will close April 24. Calder reopens the next day and has amended its
original dates request to race year-round on a three-day-a-week basis through
April 2012.

The competition between Gulfstream and
Calder goes beyond racing dates and extends to their parent companies, MI
Developments and Churchill Downs Inc., rivals in the racetrack and casino
business.

“We never looked to steal anyone’s dates,
just realign the racing dates in the best interests not only of our business but
of the industry,” Ritvo said. “Negotiations had been ongoing between top
officials from Churchill Downs and MID regarding racing dates when they threw
this missile at us on Tuesday.”

Saturday’s 11-race program, which
features three graded stakes, including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, was drawn
at regular time Wednesday afternoon. A number of Calder trainers, including
Eddie Plesa Jr., David Fawkes, Steve DiMauro, and Ron Spatz, entered horses in
non-graded stakes races on the card.

“We’d certainly have had a few more
horses under normal conditions and we’re still rolling the dice, because at this
point we don’t know whether the ones who did enter will actually come or not,”
racing secretary Dan Bork said. “Filling Saturday’s card was not the real issue,
because along with the three graded stakes we also had three allowance races and
a maiden special weight race fill, which do not typically draw many horses from
Calder. But life is going to be brutal around here drawing entries the next few
days, if the restrictions continue.”

Approximately 40 percent of weekday
entries, and just under that percentage on weekend cards, are from Calder-based
horses.

“The last thing we want to do is bow down
or cancel a program, and that will be a last resort if this crisis continues,”
Ritvo said. “But if we do have to cancel a card or run less races on weekdays,
that purse money will be diverted to those programs and races we do
run.”

Horsemen and Florida Horsemen’s
Benevolent and Protective Association officials who attended Wednesday’s meeting
at Gulfstream continued to voice their outrage at Calder’s decision to impose
shipping restrictions with eight weeks remaining until the end of the Gulfstream
meet.

“The horsemen are being used by Calder as
a bludgeon, and we are taking the brunt of this,” Florida HBPA vice president
Phil Combest said. “It’s just wrong.”

On Tuesday, Calder vice president and
general manager John Marshall defended the company’s decision to impose
restrictions on horses shipping out of Calder, pointing out that the track
spends as much as $6 million annually to maintain its backstretch and training
facilities.

“We have to take advantage of our
competitive edge,” he said. “This restriction might force Calder horses to miss
one start, compared to the ability to have them fresh and rested to race at
Calder week after week during our upcoming meeting.”

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