12/15/2014 2:53PM

700 horses at Calder will need new home

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Horsemen in south Florida are scrambling for stall space in the wake of the realization that Churchill Downs Inc. plans to go forward with the development of a portion of the backside at Calder Race Course, displacing approximately 700 horses as of the start of the new year.

Officials for the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association plan to explore several options over the next week, including the rental of a large field on a private training center near Calder that could be used for the construction of temporary barns, according to Phil Combest, the president of the association. The field could accommodate as many as 400 horses, Combest estimated.

“That’s something that could hold us over for three or four months,” Combest said.

The need for stalls has arisen because of a plan by Churchill to develop a portion of the Calder property. Though Churchill reached a deal to lease the racing operations of Calder, now known as Gulfstream Park West, to the parent company of Gulfstream Park earlier this year, the lease only gave Gulfstream the right to use 430 of the track’s stalls past Dec. 31, according to officials.

Tim Ritvo, the general manager of Gulfstream, said Monday that officials for Gulfstream and its parent company, the Stronach Group, have met with officials at Calder and Churchill in the hopes of striking a deal to delay the development until the spring. Those talks did not bear fruit, Ritvo said.

Ritvo said Gulfstream is planning to finish construction on 150 new stalls on its own property by Feb. 15 and would use those facilities for horses displaced at Calder. He also said the track would seek to help horsemen find space elsewhere in Florida, even though Gulfstream’s backside is filled to capacity (1,300 stalls), as is the case at Palm Meadows, a nearby training center that the Stronach Group owns (1,324 stalls).

“We’re going to try to accommodate as many horses as possible,” said Ritvo. “We’re still open to the possibility of renting more stalls from Calder.”

Officials for Calder’s management did not respond to phone calls Monday.

According to horsemen’s officials, Calder began erecting a fence around the barns in the affected area Dec. 1, the first concrete step indicating that Churchill planned to go ahead with its plan to redevelop a portion of the property.

Combest and Ritvo said horsemen in the affected area had first been notified about the possibility of Churchill redeveloping the area six months ago, when the contract between Gulfstream and Churchill was signed. However, both also said that they believed a deal could be worked out in the meantime allowing trainers to stay in the stalls until Gulfstream wraps up its meet at the end of March.

“We wanted to get the deal done, so we didn’t fight for more stalls at the time,” Ritvo said, referring to the negotiations between Churchill and the Stronach Group on the Calder lease.

Under the lease, Churchill owns the land and the building, allowing the company to maintain its operation of a casino on the property. The lease gives the Stronach Group control of 430 stalls on the property for six more years, Ritvo said.