05/01/2013 4:25PM

Calder, horsemen fail to reach contract agreement


Calder Race Course and the group representing Florida’s horsemen failed Wednesday to reach agreement on a new contract or an extension of an existing contract by a self-imposed deadline, leading to an immediate 20 percent cut in purses and the blackout of the track’s races at out-of-state sites.

Both sides say the major hang-up in the talks is a demand from horsemen that Calder-based trainers be allowed to enter their horses in races at Calder’s crosstown rival, Gulfstream Park, without ramifications. Officials of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association insisted that the right to “open access” be granted in perpetuity, both sides said, while general manager John Marshall said Calder was not willing to discuss the issue without limitations.

Calder was scheduled to return to live racing Thursday. With the lack of a contract, purses will be cut 20 percent, as per a condition in a short-term extension of an existing contract that was agreed to just prior to the current meet starting April 4.

The issue of being able to enter races at Gulfstream has become pressing this year because both Calder and Gulfstream plan to race year round beginning July 1. Under the plans, Calder will run three days a week, while Gulfstream will run two days a week.

Owned by Churchill Downs Inc., Calder has a longstanding policy that denies any horse access to the grounds if it runs in a race at a competing track. Gulfstream, which is owned by the billionaire horse owner Frank Stronach, currently says it will not enforce any restrictions on horsemen based at Gulfstream who enter horses at Calder.

“We’re stuck in the middle of this dates war,” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the FHBPA. “We have to make sure that we’re not used as pawns by either one of the tracks.”

Marshall, the Calder general manager, said the track was seeking another short-term extension so that it could continue talks with Gulfstream over a possible compromise regarding the upcoming dates war. Granting a right “in perpetuity” that would contradict Churchill’s overall policy for its tracks was a bridge too far, Marshall said, especially when those talks with Gulfstream have not yet concluded.

“Given some unencumbered room, we could continue to make headway on our major concern, which is the dates overlap,” Marshall said.

Both Stirling and Marshall said that incoming simulcasts of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby were not discussed during the negotiations. However, the Kentucky HBPA has occasionally shown solidarity with other horsemen’s affiliates who do not have contracts with their racetracks by withdrawing their approval to send signals from Kentucky to the affected state.

Officials for the KHBPA did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday afternoon.