04/07/2009 12:00AM

Calder purse negotiations break down


MIAMI - Negotiations broke down Tuesday between officials of the Florida Division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and representatives from track owner Churchill Downs Inc. regarding a purse contract for the 2009-10 Calder meet, according to officials of the horsemen's group and Churchill. The Calder meet opens on April 24.

Without a signed purse contract, the horsemen said they will block Calder from sending its simulcast signal throughout the country - as was the case during the majority of the 2008-09 Calder meet following a similar contract dispute. Churchill Downs Inc. ended up slashing overnight purses drastically less than a week into the meet last year, as well as a portion of the stakes schedule, to offset the loss of simulcast handle.

According to the horsemen's president, Sam Gordon, his organization signed off on a tentative purse contract agreement with Calder officials on March 26. Gordon said he was informed by Churchill officials on Tuesday that several points of that agreement were being eliminated. The main point of contention is the amount each side will contribute to breeder awards.

John Marshall, Churchill Downs Inc.'s vice president and general manager of racing at Calder, said the agreement Gordon referred to was a verbal agreement and nonbinding.

"It was clear on the document that this was a tentative agreement pending necessary approval," said Marshall, "and that upon a further, in-depth review several items seemed unjustifiable to Churchill Downs Inc. in light of the current economy and the effects of last year's situation at Calder."

Gordon said the agreement reached with Marshall, Calder chief financial officer Jason Stoess, and racing secretary Mike Anifantis should be honored.

"How can there be any more meaningful negotiations after we already negotiated with the key people at Calder and it has become apparent that they do not have the necessary authority to make any agreements with us," said Gordon.

Marshall said he was hopeful negotiations between the two parties could resume in time to reach a settlement prior to the opening of the meet later this month.

"We have made great, great strides in the relationship between Calder and the horsemen over the past several months and it would be a shame to see it crumble now," said Marshall.