Churchill Downs Inc. Hopes to End Racing at Calder

Horsemen note that such a move would cost some $10 million in purse money.

Florida industry groups have lined up to oppose a plan by Churchill Downs Inc. to end Thoroughbred racing at its Calder property, a move that could cost horsemen about $10 million a year in purses generated by slot machines at Calder Casino.

In February, CDI was awarded a pari-mutuel jai alai license from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. With that approval, CDI currently holds pari-mutuel licenses for both jai alai and Thoroughbred racing at Calder, but the latter will expire in 2020.

In documents submitted to the DPMW, CDI said it wishes to switch from racing to jai alai, a move that would reduce its expenses associated with statutory purse fund requirements. On July 31, Calder submitted an email to the DPMW requesting a declaratory statement from the regulator about whether the switch would jeopardize its casino license.

Under state law, the casinos at Gulfstream Park and Calder both pay into a single Thoroughbred purse fund, a commitment of 10% of their slot machine revenues. Even though Gulfstream owner The Stronach Group has taken over racing operations at the former Calder Race Course property—now run as Gulfstream Park West—the Calder casino generates revenues for purses and breeder awards all year. The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association estimates revenue from the Calder casino committed to the purse fund will reach $9 million-$10 million this year.

The Florida HBPA has filed motions with the DPMW opposing CDI’s plans to change the Calder pari-mutuel license from Thoroughbred racing to jai alai. Late Aug. 23 in a joint release, Gulfstream Park, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company each expressed opposition to CDI ending racing in favor of jai alai.

The Florida FTBOA noted that voters approved casino gaming at Calder with the understanding that it would support Thoroughbred racing. It said that support has allowed CDI to successfully operate slot machines at its Calder property since 2010.

“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,” the FTBOA noted.

Calder officials believe that under the language of the state law, a move from racing to jai alai should be allowed. Under the company’s interpretation, it’s not a high bar to clear for such a switch. It said the law only requires the property be located in Miami-Dade County, existed at the time added gaming was adopted, and conducted live racing in the calendar years 2002-03—all standards Calder meets. If the DPMW agrees with the company’s assessment, Calder plans to offer summer jai alai and discontinue Thoroughbred operations.

The Florida HBPA noted that following the 2004 state-wide vote that allowed slot machines at Calder and six other pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the legislature recognized the “importance of protecting and promoting Florida’s Thoroughbred racing industry against the possibility that Calder and Gulfstream Park, the state’s two Thoroughbred tracks eligible for slot machine gaming, would abandon their Thoroughbred racing activities and instead offer patrons slot machine gaming only.”

In a filing with the DPMW, the Florida HBPA noted that in 2004 it committed $1 million to Calder to help campaign for the approval of slot machine gaming at tracks. It also outlined the far greater interest in Thoroughbred racing, as opposed to jai alai.

“The division knew, or should have known, that the substantial interests of FHBPA and its members would be or would likely be adversely affected,” the FHBPA argued.

In the release, Florida industry groups said if Calder is allowed to abandon Thoroughbred racing, the negative impact will be significant.

“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,” OBS officials said, before referencing the elimination of the grandstand and barns on the Calder property. “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 reopen its card room 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.”

Decoupling is a proposal being debated that, if adopted, would allow operators to cease pari-mutuel wagering but retain their casino license.

In terms of casino operations, Gulfstream noted that if Calder eliminates its commitments to racing, that reduction in expenses will provide its casino a competitive advantage in the South Florida area. It also said Thoroughbred racing and breeding in the state would be hurt.

“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,” Gulfstream officials said. “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.”

On Aug. 24, a CDI spokesperson declined to comment on the Florida industry release.

Calder began advertising a part-time position on the company website and on LinkedIn for a jai alai player manager/trainer Aug. 6 and a position Aug. 9 for a cesta and pelota maker. A cesta is the basket a jai alai player wears on his or her hand to throw and catch the ball, and the pelota is the ball.

Since 2014, The Stronach Group has run the racing operations at Calder, which races as Gulfstream Park West. According to the DPMW, in fiscal year 2016-17, Gulfstream Park West offered 37 race dates and 346 races, with total purses of $7,593,910.

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Florida Weathers Hurricane, Gulfstream to Race Sept. 16

No injuries to horses or horsemen reported at tracks, training facilities, or farms.

released a collective sigh of relief Sept. 11, as initial reports suggested the industry had dodged a bullet.

While some communications were hampered by phone and power outages, representatives of horsemen’s groups, tracks, and training centers from South Florida to Ocala Monday morning said there were no initial reports of human or equine injuries because of the storm.

Barns, track surfaces, and frontside facilities all held up well at tracks and training centers. Some barns at Gulfstream Park saw shingle damage, but the facility and track surfaces were in good enough shape that the track plans to resume training Sept. 12, simulcasting Sept. 13, and racing Sept. 16.

Roof damage to barns was reported at Tampa Bay Downs, which currently is not racing; and the Palm Meadows training center had tree damage. Barns at Gulfstream Park West also held up well, sustaining minor gutter damage. There were also downed trees.

Training will resume Tuesday morning at Gulfstream Park West and Palm Meadows.

Trainer Kathleen O’Connell stayed with her horses in a Gulfstream Park West barn through the storm. She said the height of the storm lasted a long time, from early Sunday morning through the entire day.

“The winds were horrific, and they were still bad until 1 a.m. Monday morning,” O’Connell said. “I have a big ice machine here and at the height of the storm the winds moved it about eight inches. There are big oak trees down, but all in all, it weathered it pretty good.”

O’Connell said she was confident the barns at Gulfstream Park West were safe, and she wanted to be close to her horses.

“Structurally it’s a very safe building. I weathered Hurricane Andrew here, actually. It seemed to be the best choice: a concrete barn with a flat roof,” O’Connell said. “I wanted to stay here too because my help was in the dorms, which is pretty far away. Most of the time it was too dangerous for anyone to come out and try to help out with giving the horses water and hay. So it was my choice, and I figured it was the safest and best thing to do.”

With Hurricane Irma approaching the area, Gulfstream cancelled its race dates from Sept. 7-10. The track had tentatively looked at racing Sept. 13, but all racing will be cancelled until Sept. 16. Challenges the region faces in terms of power outages and clean-up factored into the decision.

Several Gulfstream officials, including track president Tim Ritvo, weathered the storm at the track. Assessing the property Monday morning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, P.J. Campo, Gulfstream’s general manager and vice president of racing, said Gulfstream fared “very well” during the pounding South Florida took the past two days.

“First of all, people and horses are always our first priorities, and everyone is safe,” Campo said. “The horses are all well, and those who work on the backstretch and live in our dormitories are all safe. Over the past two years, we have taken precautions to help our facility by installing a flood retaining wall and pump stations, and they worked. The stables were not flooded.

“Except for some minor damage to roof shingles on our older barns, we’re ready to go. We are waiting until Saturday to resume racing because we have to wait for outside resources and utilities in the South Florida area like power, gas, and clean-up, to catch up.”

Bob Jeffries, president of the Tampa Bay Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the Tampa Bay Downs backstretch saw damaged roofs that didn’t appear to be major. The track property also had a number of downed trees. As Tampa Bay is dark, no horses were at the track.

Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association CEO Lonny Powell said Monday morning that he’d heard of no injured horses or horsemen but did add that the Ocala area faced communications issues with phones being out.

“It looks like it could have been a lot worse,” Powell said. “It looks like the biggest things we’re facing are a power outage and gas shortage. Downed trees also have been a big issue here.”

O’Connell also feels like Florida dodged a bullet. She was amazed by the size of the storm.

“It could have been so much worse. It was just so big in terms of the area affected,” O’Connell said. “I had friends of mine evacuate Naples for a house I have in the Tampa area and they ended up in the storm’s path there, too. There was no getting away from it.”

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750 Horses Evacuated from Gulfstream, Others Stay Put

By Bill Finley

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Florida coast, Gulfstream officials have ordered the evacuation of the barns they felt were most vulnerable to damage from the storm. According to Bill Badgett Jr., a member of the upper management team at the track, about 750 horses have already left the track. Trainers were given the option of either sending them to Ocala or to Palm Meadows.

The barns that were evacuated were the ones closest to the backstretch entrance on Hallandale Beach Boulevard. Not only are they the oldest barns on the Gulfstream backstretch but they are in a lower-lying area than other barns are more prone to flooding.

“The good thing was there was so much notice in advance, we are able to jump on this thing before it got too bad,” Badgett said. “We started preparations a couple of days ago and we’ve gotten the horses out. On top of everything else, we’ve been dealing with a shortage of horse vans. But everybody has been working diligently to help one another out.”

Badgett said about 500 horses will remain on the Gulfstream backstretch through the impending storm. They will all be housed in the newer barns or tents that serve as barns. In addition, the nearly 450 horses stabled at Gulfstream Park West are, for the most part, remaining there, Badgett said.

“The tents are hurricane safe up to 175 mile-per-hour winds,” Badgett said. “At Gulfstream West, it looks like that’s actually going to be a pretty good place to be because and they won’t get the big hit from the ocean side. As for our newer barns, anything built down here after 1992 or 1993 has to be up to standards when it comes to hurricanes, and that’s the case with all of those barns. The dormitories are also hurricane proof. For a lot of the workers, these guys are actually safer here than going up the road north where there’s really nowhere to go.”

The horse vans have had to make their way through the snarling conditions on the Florida highways as people are fleeing the area. It is about 42 miles from Gulfstream to Palm Meadows. A one-way trip, Badgett said, took the vans about 6 ½ hours to complete on Thursday.

Trainer Stanley Gold told the TDN that he had sent his entire stable to Arindel Farm in Ocala. Arindel is one of his major clients. Trainer David Fawkes said he left 30 horses at Gulfstream and sent 10 to Ocala, and in many cases left the decision up to his owners.

“Some are leaving and others are going to stay,” Fawkes said. “A lot of people who I train for said the storm is going to hit the Ocala area, too, so they don’t see how much there is to gain by leaving. You could put a lot of time and effort into leaving and wind up in the same situation. We’ve been though this before, with Hurricane Wilma, and nothing happened to the horses. It was a huge storm but all the horses were fine. For the horses that stay here, we’ll do everything we can for them and hope for the best.”

Irma is a Category 5 storm that was causing devastation in the Carribean at press time. It is expected to hit the Florida coast with full force on Sunday. The area encompassing the Gulfstream facility is under a state-ordered mandatory evacuation order, but Badgett said that there are no expectations that anyone who stays behind will face criminal charges.

“A lot of people aren’t leaving,” he said. “I drive through the neighborhoods and the hurricane shutters are up, the sand bags are up. A lot of people are going to ride the storm out.”

That includes many backstretch workers who will have to be on hand at Gulfstream to care for the horses that are remaining there.

“Obviously, our greatest concern is for the workers, the people, the horses,” he said. “They come first. Everybody is in pretty good shape as far as that goes. The backside kitchen will stay open as much as they possibly can, so the guys living in the dorms taking care of the horses have food.”

Badgett added that he was optimistic that Irma would not cause any major damage to the facility or to the track surfaces.

Gulfstream has canceled live racing through Sunday and said they were hoping to re-open on Wed., Sept. 13.

 

http://www.thoroughbreddailynews.com/750-horses-evacuated-from-gulfstream-others-stay-put/#.WbLqvtedP5k.email

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Gulfstream Cancels Live Racing as Hurricane Irma Looms

Gulfstream Park has cancelled live racing Sept. 7-Sept. 10 because of the unexpected path of Hurricane Irma, which the National Hurricane Center is calling “an extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm.

With winds in excess of 180 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma is likely to impact South Florida as early as this weekend. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a statewide emergency, and on the evening of Sept. 5, President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico because of Irma. Local officials placed the Florida Keys under mandatory evacuation orders Sept. 6, and Miami-Dade county could end up issuing similar orders.

Gulfstream Park is located in Hallandale Beach, Fla., in Broward County, about 18 miles north of Miami.

Gulfstream will be open this Thursday and Friday for simulcast wagering, and officials will monitor the storm throughout the weekend. Racing is tentatively scheduled to resume Sept. 13, which was a scheduled makeup day.

Gulfstream’s casino will be open through Friday evening.

“Obviously, our first priority is the safety of our patrons and our equine athletes,” said P.J. Campo, general manager of Gulfstream Park and vice president of racing for The Stronach Group. “Horsemen are being given the option to keep their horses at Gulfstream, Gulfstream Park West, or move to our training facility at Palm Meadows in Palm Beach.”

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