10/01/2012 1:21PM

Calder: Local trainers fear stall fees will drive horses out of Florida

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MIAMI – The polarization of Florida horsemen and track management at Calder widened last week with the announcement that trainers will be charged a daily fee of $10 per stall beginning the day after the current meeting closes on Nov. 30 and continuing through the opening of the 2013 meet next April.

The decision to charge stall rent was the second new fee imposed on local horsemen this year. In July, Calder implemented a $5 daily charge for the dormitory rooms used to house backstretch workers. Those rooms had been rent free prior to this summer.

Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., has traditionally kept its barn area open for training at no cost to horsemen during the winter months. But John Marshall, Vice President and General Manger of Racing at Calder, said a recent look at the track’s 2013 business plan and proposed budget uncovered the need to offset rising costs associated with operating the facility, which first opened in May of 1971.

“We’ve considered charging for stalls during the off season for the past few years but never felt the economic pressure to act upon it until now,” said Marshall. “We also don’t understand why there is an expectation from people in the industry that we should provide free stabling and free training when we’re not running live. The industry standard at most tracks is that when the track is not running live racing, they’ll either close or operate as a training center for a fee.”

Marshall said the decision to charge $10 per stall was based on both what Calder’s total costs would be to keep the stable area open for training during the winter along with the costs of stabling at surrounding training centers. Other local training centers, all of which charge stall rent, include Palm Meadows, Palm Beach Downs and Payson Park.

“Our other alternative would be to close the barn area altogether four weeks after the current meet ends, which we can do by contract, and re-open it six weeks prior to the 2013 season,” said Marshall. “If there is an acceptance of the fee and demand for us to remain open, we will. If people start defying the fee, we’ll have no alternative but to close for training during the winter. ”

Horsemen were outraged at the news of the stall fee, many fearing the charges could force them out of business, and the timing of the announcement, which came shortly after the deadline passed for filing stall applications for the 2012-2013 Gulfstream Park meet that opens Dec. 1.

“The bigger outfits might be able to pass these costs on to their owners, but the little guys can’t do that nor can they afford to absorb the cost themselves,” said Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, who has seven horses stabled at Calder. “This will have a major impact on racing’s future here because if trainers decide to leave Calder and ship out of the area, they won’t be coming back. And I’ve already talked to three trainers who said they can’t afford to pay the fee and can’t go anywhere either. They’ll just have to get out of the game. Me included.”

Bill White, who has been racing at Calder since 1986, stables 30 horses at the track, and has won 16 local training titles, sees the stall rent as a problem for the horse racing industry as a whole in Florida.

“If there is any profit at all in a trainer’s per diem, this fee would eat that up so you just have to pass it on to the owners, and if you think they’re going to absorb the costs, that’s not going to happen,” said White. “An owner simply has to make a call to another trainer somewhere else, line up a van, and in 72 hours this isn’t his concern any more. And once these horses leave, they won’t be coming back. I’m not as concerned about what will happen this winter as I am re-generating my barn for when Calder re-opens next spring.”

Fast forward to April, White said, and suddenly both the horsemen and Calder have a new problem.

“You have to remember we’re opening almost a month earlier here now so we can’t count on the 2-year-olds to be ready to fill the races,” said White. “By charging this fee, they’ll be aggravating the problem with older horses that already existed and in my opinion would end up trying to open the meet with 500 empty stalls. And in the long run that will cost Churchill Downs (Inc.) money because of their inability to put on good racing.”

Marshall said he has already planned for that potential problem.

“There’s definitely a risk that we’ll lose some of our horses next year,” said Marshall. “But we’ve come up with measures to counter that risk including starting out next year’s meet at a higher purse level to hopefully motivate some of the northern based trainers at Gulfstream Park to stay around the area longer or even leave a second or third string with us on a permanent basis.”

White said he fears longer range effects of a stall fee.

“This whole issue will have an impact throughout the state because of the lifeline with the 2-year-olds between Calder and Ocala,” said White. “As the viability of racing at Calder continues to contract, farms in Ocala dependent on this place will begin to dry out and suddenly the fallout from all this goes well beyond just Calder and Churchill Downs.”

Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
Yet more fine work by the incompetent "leaders" of the FHBPA, to once again be steamrolled by the likes of Darth Vader, John Marshall. Calder has turned into a cesspool under his stewardship, and the geniuses Kent Stirling and Barry Rose, the "representatives" of the horsemen just sit idly by and let hit happen while they spend all their time and resources worrying about barrel racing in Tallahassee instead of what is going on in their own backyard.....The truth is out FHBPA, you clowns are a bunch of bumbling idiots who have failed at your only mission.....to protect your horsemen. Churchill management is sitting back and laughing at you.
Anna Purcell More than 1 year ago
Cmon, enough with the threats "of leaving" and "getting outta the game". Anywhere (decent, obviously) you go, you pay stall fee, so consider yourselves lucky that you rode that gravy train for as long as you did. Seriously, I can see how it makes sense during the meet, providing you fill their races.. but when theyre not racing, why should they? That free Tampa shuttle must have spoiled the gyps!
Raymond Tucker More than 1 year ago
Your obviously not someone who has ever paid training bills!
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
Oh yeaa Two way gravy train. BW stated the obvious, thats why they havent payed stall rent. The sharpies at CD will shoot themselves in the foot again.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
A majority of these horses don't run at Tampa or Gulfstream. The $300 a month would be best spent sending them to farms for rest and rehab. So, if your going to run and use Calder as a training center then pay up. Otherwise send em to farms and save the day rate and give the horse a chance to recover mentally n physically.
russell More than 1 year ago
Calder has gotten a raw deal. They are 10 miles away from Gulfstream which has slots but they don't. I know its in a different county. But they will continue to lose dates and eventually die if something doesn't change. I don't think its unreasonable to charge $10 a day. They have to pay people to maintain the track. If anything this might help Tampa attract more horses.
Victor Racing More than 1 year ago
Hey Russell, Calder has slots and grossed $75,000,000 last fiscal period. They flourished with racing for years and now they should give something back. Their backside is disguisting and infested with rats. They do nothing to maintain it. Should people have to pay for that?
Alberta Ed More than 1 year ago
Chad Mc Irory Take a reading comprehension course, Chad. Plus, what the hell does this have to do with some Dark Plan of Gulfstreams' you allude to? It is business and in no way ends up in court over Calders' decision to charge people for using their facilities. Would you let freeloaders stay for free on your property and then foot their bills for water and lights? NO. Get informed and know what the heck you are even talking about before you engage your brain to make meaningless comments. It is about being financially fiscally sound. Why let these leaches live for free at Calder? They would pay to stay on any other person's training track or at any racetrack during dark months. Calder was carried them long enough.
Ange More than 1 year ago
If you didn't keep your horses at Calder, you'd be boarding them somewhere else and probably be charged more than $10/day. I don't blame the track for charging when there is no live racing to help offset the costs. Get over it boy-ohs, or take your horses elsewhere...
Alberta Ed More than 1 year ago
These same trainers that are complaining the fee will put them out of business never reduced their day rate to their owners when they got free stalls, now did they? NO. What a bunch of free loading whiners! Use Gulfstream, Palm Meadows, OBS or any other training facility and you pay daily stall rates. Cheap bastards is all they are. Bunch of freeloaders sticking the fee to their owners and then belly aching when they have to pay it, like they should. Where do they think the fuel comes from to groom the track, keep the power on and keep the wells working for watering and bathing their horses? Cheap, cheap, cheap. Classless scum of the industry we do not need. Move on to another State, no one needs you.
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
"These same trainers that are complaining the fee will put them out of business never reduced their day rate to their owners when they got free stalls, now did they" LOL you said that like they once where paying stall rent and then they didnt have too. They have never paid because South Fla has a difficult location . I know the race tracks would break that symbiotic relationship ( if they could) . They will just have to keep dreaming.
Victor Racing More than 1 year ago
Alberta, most trainers have lowed their rates or given deals to people. Calder has lowered their purses to an embarrassing amount. They just don't want racing anymore because they make too much with the slots. Remember, these trainers were promised so much to help push and campaign for slots and now they are getting stabbed in the back. Just like the dogs tracks in SOuth Florida. They wanted everyones help and promised big purses and now are petitioning the state to get rid of dog racing. ANd thats what Calder is trying to do. Its all about greed and its a shame. Horse racing use to be the sport of kings in Florida.
Kingo Gondo More than 1 year ago
CDI doesn't give a damn about Calder as a racetrack. They are just going through the motions.
thomas j More than 1 year ago
Why should Calder provide free housing for the horses when Calder isn't in operation? If other tracks are charging the horsemen for stall space when that track isn't running, why shouldn't Calder horsemen be charged. If that's the norm within the industry, why should Calder's horsemen be exempt. It sounds like Calder let this go on for too long. If you can't afford to be in the business, then get out. When I'm not working, I still have to pay my rent or I'm out.
Raymond Tucker More than 1 year ago
Because these same horsemen are the ones who fill races when management can't produce a 6 horse field for an open 5k claimer 1 week after opening day! After these owners and trainers disappear, just what elbows will they be tugging to help fill their races? Get ready to see a lot of 4 horse N1X op-16K claiming races!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
$10 per stall - per season? - per month? - per week? - Probably per day with little doubt. And don't forget their fees for tack rooms if they haven't been beaten back on that. This plays right into Gulfstreams' plan for extending their season. It looks like Churchill Inc will end up in court here too.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Its says daily fee.
Ange More than 1 year ago
Did you even read the article?