02/24/2011 5:30PM

Gulfstream to apply for year-round racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Gulfstream Park announced Thursday that it intends to apply for year-round racing, beginning July 1 and continuing through June 30, 2012.

The decision would put Gulfstream and nearby Calder Racecourse in competition year round and is the latest shot in a battle between Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Calder, and MI Developments, owner of Gulfstream. The feud escalated earlier this week when Calder put restrictions on its horsemen, essentially preventing them from running at Gulfstream during the remaining eight weeks of the current meeting.

Frank Stronach, chairman and CEO of MI Developments, was at Gulfstream on Thursday to announce the planned year-round schedule. He also said that Gulfstream will construct 500 additional stalls to accommodate horsemen that wish to stable at the track year-round.

Earlier on Thursday, Calder vice president and general manager John Marshall said Calder plans to amend its dates request and run four days a week from July 1 through the first week of January 2012. In it previous dates application, Calder had requested a three-day race week during that period.

“We have decided to run four days a week out of respect to the owners needs and to sustain healthy participation for our racing program throughout the summer and fall,” Marshall said.

Stronach said he was scheduled to meet with Bill Carstanjen, chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc., on Friday to discuss the potential dates conflict between the two tracks.

“Just because we have both applied for year-round racing doesn’t mean we cannot sit down and come up with some solutions that would be good for racing, good for horsemen, and good for the whole industry,” Stronach said.

Under the new schedule, Gulfstream would race two days a week – Saturday and Sunday – beginning July 1 until its regular meet opens Nov. 26, the opening date Gulfstream previously applied for earlier this week. According to Tim Ritvo, vice president of racing at Gulfstream, the track would operate three days a week in December, have three or four cards a week in January 2012, and then race five days per week until the regular meet ends in early April 2012.

“We plan to keep our backside open year-round and have already contacted several Calder horsemen, offering them stalls here on a year-round basis with no restrictions if they wish to ship their horses elsewhere to race,” Ritvo said.

Both Calder and Gulfstream have until midnight Monday to amend their racing dates for the fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30, 2012.

Stronach reiterated his long-time stand of wanting more of a free-enterprise system when it comes to racing dates.

“I’m not trying to put oil on the fire,” Stronach said, referring to the ongoing feud between Churchill and MI Developments over several issues, including south Florida racing dates. “This doesn’t mean we have to clash. I want to have a good relationship with Churchill Downs, but like I’ve said before, the model for this game is broken. The system doesn’t work anymore. Racing is the only business that doesn’t operate under a free-enterprise system.”

Stronach said he was surprised by Calder’s decision to put restrictions on where its horsemen could race over the next two months.

“I would never threaten people, ” Stronach said. “Without the horsemen, a racetrack doesn’t exist.”

Ritvo said that with the additional 500 stalls, to be built on the south side of the property, Gulfstream will be able to house 1,500 horses ontrack, with 1,400 more stalls available at Palm Meadows. He said only the main track would be kept open during the summer months. Ritvo also said that 200 temporary stalls would be constructed immediately on the north side of the property across from the racing office to house horses who ship over from Calder to race here during the remainder of the meet.

“In the final analysis, horsemen will pick their spot, stable and race at the track at which they feel more comfortable,” Stronach said.