02/23/2011 1:55PM

Gulfstream amends racing dates request, promises stall space for Calder shippers


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Officials from Gulfstream Park responded Wednesday to the escalating dispute with Calder Racecourse by amending their racing dates request – applying to open on Nov. 26, one week earlier than originally proposed – and creating extra stalls for horses who ship to race from Calder.

The moves comes one day after Calder management informed their horsemen that effective Saturday any horse leaving the Calder grounds to race would not be allowed to return without permission from racing secretary Mike Anifantis. The lone exception would be for horses racing in graded stakes, and even those horses would not be allowed to return to Calder until the day after they race.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Calder amended its restrictions to allow shipping for races at Tampa Bay Downs. A Calder official said horses going to Tampa will be granted permission to return.

Gulfstream officials told Calder horsemen Wednesday that they were taking every measure possible to accommodate trainers who wished to enter and race horses over the weekend. Gulfstream vice president of racing Tim Ritvo said the track would use the receiving barn and any other empty stall it could find on the grounds to house Calder runners who would not be permitted to return to their own stalls after racing at Gulfstream. He said the track was looking into constructing 200 to 300 temporary stalls in tenting, similar to the ones used by Hialeah Park at its Quarter Horse meets the past two seasons.

Ritvo said that after next Thursday’s Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale another 250 to 300 stalls would be available at the Palm Meadows training center. He said that any Calder horsemen wishing to relocate there at that time would be permitted to do so rent free for as long as the current restrictions remained in place.

“In the short term, nobody at Calder should be afraid to run their horses at Gulfstream,” Ritvo said at Wednesday’s weekly horsemen’s meeting. “We will do everything we can to accommodate them and make things as easy as possible for them to ship over and race their horses.”

Ritvo told the horsemen that Gulfstream had planned to announce a purse increase Sunday but that those plans would be put on hold until management sees “how the present situation plays out.”

The current Gulfstream meet opened Jan.  5 and will close April 24. Calder reopens the next day and has amended its original dates request to race year-round on a three-day-a-week basis through April 2012.

The competition between Gulfstream and Calder goes beyond racing dates and extends to their parent companies, MI Developments and Churchill Downs Inc., rivals in the racetrack and casino business.

“We never looked to steal anyone’s dates, just realign the racing dates in the best interests not only of our business but of the industry,” Ritvo said. “Negotiations had been ongoing between top officials from Churchill Downs and MID regarding racing dates when they threw this missile at us on Tuesday.”

Saturday’s 11-race program, which features three graded stakes, including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, was drawn at regular time Wednesday afternoon. A number of Calder trainers, including Eddie Plesa Jr., David Fawkes, Steve DiMauro, and Ron Spatz, entered horses in non-graded stakes races on the card.

“We’d certainly have had a few more horses under normal conditions and we’re still rolling the dice, because at this point we don’t know whether the ones who did enter will actually come or not,” racing secretary Dan Bork said. “Filling Saturday’s card was not the real issue, because along with the three graded stakes we also had three allowance races and a maiden special weight race fill, which do not typically draw many horses from Calder. But life is going to be brutal around here drawing entries the next few days, if the restrictions continue.”

Approximately 40 percent of weekday entries, and just under that percentage on weekend cards, are from Calder-based horses.

“The last thing we want to do is bow down or cancel a program, and that will be a last resort if this crisis continues,” Ritvo said. “But if we do have to cancel a card or run less races on weekdays, that purse money will be diverted to those programs and races we do run.”

Horsemen and Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association officials who attended Wednesday’s meeting at Gulfstream continued to voice their outrage at Calder’s decision to impose shipping restrictions with eight weeks remaining until the end of the Gulfstream meet.

“The horsemen are being used by Calder as a bludgeon, and we are taking the brunt of this,” Florida HBPA vice president Phil Combest said. “It’s just wrong.”

On Tuesday, Calder vice president and general manager John Marshall defended the company’s decision to impose restrictions on horses shipping out of Calder, pointing out that the track spends as much as $6 million annually to maintain its backstretch and training facilities.

“We have to take advantage of our competitive edge,” he said. “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.”