02/22/2011 5:41PM

Calder to restrict horses shipping to other tracks


Officials from Calder Racecourse on Tuesday informed horsemen stabled at the track that beginning Saturday horses shipping out to race at any other jurisdiction would need written permission from racing secretary Mike Anifantis to return to their stalls. Anifantis said that no horse who left the grounds would be granted permission to return, with the exception of Calder-based horses who shipped out for graded stakes.

The restriction comes just six days prior to a Feb. 28 deadline for Calder and nearby Gulfstream to amend their requests for racing dates for 2011. Gulfstream opened Jan. 5 and runs through April 24. In a preliminary filing with the state, Gulfstream has applied to re-open on Dec 2 and run through April 8, 2012. The December dates have traditionally belonged to Calder. Calder responded by re-amending its original schedule to race year round on a three day a week basis beginning April 25 through April 2012.

Gulfstream Park officials declined to comment on Calder’s new policy as of late Tuesday afternoon. They did acknowledge that approximately 40 percent of weekday entries at Gulfstream and a slightly smaller percentage of weekend cards are from horses stabled at Calder.

The restriction infuriated the majority of owners and trainers who attended a horsemen’s meeting Tuesday at Calder to discuss the issue. Horsemen said that the restriction would prevent them from shipping horses to run locally and that they would in essence be held hostage for the next eight weeks.

According to Phil Combest, a member of the FHBPA’s board of directors, the majority of Calder-based horsemen he spoke with Tuesday said they intended to enter Wednesday for Saturday’s card at Gulfstream.

FHPBA officials said they currently have no signed purse agreement with Calder for the 2011 season and that a meeting had been scheduled a week from Friday to discuss a contract. In light of Tuesday’s announcement, there would now be no meeting.

“If they have this ban on shippers, we do not intend to have contract talks with Calder,” FHBPA president Sam Gordon said angrily.

Trainer Barry Rose, who chairs the contract committee, echoed Gordon’s sentiments.

“How can we negotiate with them in good faith after this,” Rose said. “In fact, I don’t know who’s even going to be left here by the time the meet opens, if these restrictions continue.”

FHBPA officials said they were considering exercising their right to prohibit Calder from taking Gulfstream Park’s simulcast signal. The horsemen also could block the Gulfstream signal from Churchill’s account wagering companies.

According to Combest, one owner said that he had eight horses stabled at Calder and would bring them back to the farm in Ocala if he couldn’t race them for the next two months.

“Since his trainer has only 10 to 12 horses, including those eight, that would essentially put him, his grooms, his hotwalkers, and everybody else associated with that barn out of work,” Combest said. “And under the circumstances, this would surely not be an isolated case.”

Calder vice president and general manager John Marshall, who informed the horsemen of the new restrictions Tuesday, and track president Austin Miller, defended the decision.

“Since Gulfstream amended their dates to race in December, a ripple effect was created, and we have been consistent in our stand to race year round beginning on April 25,” Marshall said. “And looking at our racing schedule, we feel the need to insure we’ll have a healthy and rested horse population to endure the long schedule.”

Marshall said Calder incurs substantial costs – as much as $6 million, to maintain its backstretch and training facilities – and that Gulfstream’s entry problems are not his worry.

“If they have an inventory issue, that’s their issue,” Marshall said. “We have to take advantage of our competitive edge. This restriction might force Calder horses to miss one start, compared to the ability to have them fresh and rested to race at Calder week after week during our upcoming meeting.”