02/25/2011 4:29PM

Churchill-MI Developments talks fail to resolve Florida dates dispute

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Frank Stronach, the CEO of MI Developments, and his counterpart at Churchill Downs Inc., Bill Carstanjen, met in Kentucky on Friday but failed to resolve the dates dispute that could put Gulfstream Park, owned by MI Developments, and Churchill-owned Calder Race Course into year-round head-to-head competition beginning in July.

Gulfstream’s vice president of racing, Tim Ritvo, said Friday that Stronach spoke to him after the unscuccessful meeting and told him to move forward with plans to run a year-round racing schedule.

“Frank said to move forward with the construction of the new barns and everything else necessary to reopen here in July,” said Ritvo.

Calder opens on April 25 and is tentatively scheduled to run four days a week through the end of 2011.

The current Gulfstream meeting opened on Jan. 5 and continues until April 24. When Gulfstream reopens on July 1, the current plan is to race two days a week into the fall.

The deadline to apply for racing dates with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering for the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012, is Monday at midnight.

“Frank said he’s glad there is the opportunity for free enterprise in south Florida racing, and he’s happy that horsemen will now have another choice at where to stable and where to run here year-round,” said Ritvo.

Both Austin Miller, president of Calder, and John Marshall, vice president and general manager of racing at Calder, said they had “no reaction” at this time to Gulfstream’s plan to race year-round.

Gulfstream informed Calder horsemen, in a letter sent out on Friday morning, that the track would initially be open for racing on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer unless the horse population could accommodate more dates, in which case additional dates would be added to the schedule. It also said that if horsemen stabled at Gulfstream saw a race that fits their needs at any other track, including Calder, they would be welcome to ship, race, and return.

The letter further added that Ted Malloy, Stronach’s track-surface expert, has been called in to assess what measures would be necessary to make the Gulfstream racetrack more conducive for a summer climate.
Calder officials told its horsemen earlier this week that beginning Saturday, any horse stabled on the grounds who ships out to race at Gulfstream would not be permitted to return to his stall. The lone exceptions would be horses who shipped to Gulfstream to compete in graded stakes races.

Kent Stirling, associate director of the Florida division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said his organization was suggesting to its members that they should disregard that order and race their horses at Gulfstream.

“You cannot deny someone their livelihood, that’s restraint of trade,” said Sterling. “Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we’ll ultimately be able to get these horses back into Calder."

Wednesday’s nine-race program at Gulfstream closed at its regular time early Friday afternoon and contained entries from more than 30 horses stabled at Calder. Gulfstream management said they would find room in its barn area and even build up to 300 temporary stalls to house any horse shipping over from Calder to compete during the current crisis.

“We are expecting some of these horsemen might have second thoughts and not run,” said Ritvo. “But ultimately, if this continues, I don’t think we’ll have enough stalls for all the Calder horsemen who’ll want to ship over here.
One Calder-based trainer who is outraged by both parties is Henry Collazo.

“There isn’t any party in this dispute who is in the right,” said Collazo. “The fact of the matter is that Calder is our home, we’re there all summer long for the good or the bad, and jumping ship would be self-serving and only self-serving for a month or two. Logistically if you run a horse over there [Gulfstream] and have to stay, it just doesn’t make sense. How many times can you run, once or twice, before the end of the meet?”

Collazo said it is the horsemen, not the two tracks, who should have the upper hand in this dispute.

“Calder is in the wrong, Gulfstream is in the wrong, and the biggest wrong in all of this is that the horsemen are not closing their ranks and coming together at this time,” said Collazo. “We’ve got the biggest bargaining chip on the table – the horses. Unfortunately, during the summer, we’ve got no where to go and no where to turn and have to swallow what they feed us. Here we have two giants using us as pawns fighting over the bigger pieces of the pie, and in the end the horsemen are still only going to wind up getting crumbs unless we take a united stand.”