07/02/2004 12:00AM

Calder reacts to Magna

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MIAMI - The announcement that Gulfstream Park would seek to expand its racing season within the next two years was "the first volley across the bow" in a potential dates conflict with Calder Race Course, said Ken Dunn, Calder's president.

The expansion plans were described Wednesday night by Frank Stronach, chairman of Magna Entertainment Inc., which is renovating Gulfstream at a cost of $140 million.

Calder and Gulfstream are less than 10 miles apart and essentially share the same market and customer base. Since Hialeah Park closed in 2001, the two remaining Thoroughbred tracks have co-existed peacefully, with Gulfstream racing the prime winter dates, Jan. 3 through late April, and Calder taking the remainder of the calendar year. Legislation to deregulate racing dates passed in 2001, making it possible for Calder and Gulfstream to expand their schedules without government intervention.

"It's certainly their right as a business entity to attempt to change the environment and statutes and to conduct business as they see fit," Dunn said. "What I don't understand is that if somebody is investing $300 million in a business, as Magna is doing in the racing stage of their project, wouldn't it have made sense to have first reached out to the other stakeholders in all of this, such as the horsemen and Calder, to discuss their plans and put together something that might be good for all parties?"

Stronach said Wednesday that he would be willing to sit down with representatives from Calder and officials from Churchill Downs Inc., which purchased Calder in April 1999, to discuss his plans to expand Gulfstream's racing schedule beginning with the 2006 season. As of Friday, Magna had not made contact to initiate such a discussion, Dunn said.

Dunn said it's too soon to assess the effects of a possible dates conflict between the two tracks. But he does believe a prolonged conflict could prove disastrous for both parties.

"It's too early to speculate if Gulfstream's decision to expand their schedule would pose any threat to Calder, although it's something we will have to think long and hard about," said Dunn. "The legislature does allow us both to run as many days as we think are prudent, although I'm 100 percent convinced there are not enough horseplayers or horseflesh to sustain head-to-head competition over any length of time."