07/09/2013 4:10PM

Gulfstream, Calder do solid business despite conflict

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Despite racing in direct conflict with neighboring Calder over the weekend, the opening week of Gulfstream Park’s first-ever summer meeting proved to be a success, according to track officials.

Overall handle for the first four programs of the 2013 summer meet totaled just under $10 million, track officials said. Gulfstream opened on Monday, July 1, ran a special program on July 4, and raced Saturday and Sunday. The track is scheduled to conduct live racing on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of November.

The Saturday and Sunday cards were run head-to-head against Calder, which on Saturday had its marquee day, the Summit of Speed.

On Saturday, Calder handled just over $4 million in all-sources handle compared to $2.2 million at Gulfstream, according to figures provided by the tracks. On Sunday, Gulfstream outhandled Calder, $2.1 million to $1.1 million.

“We’re encouraged by the handle and the fan participation here this past week,” said Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream president and general manager. “And it’s something that’s just starting out that we believe is only going to get better and better.”

Ritvo said it might be a little too early to assess the effects of racing in direct conflict with Calder after just one weekend. Calder, located approximately eight miles southwest of Gulfstream in Miami, is scheduled to run three days a week, including weekends through November.

“Saturday is impossible to measure because they had their big card, the Summit of Speed, and ran 11 races to our eight,” said Ritvo.

It’s unclear what effect racing at Gulfstream had on the Calder cards over the weekend, said John Marshall, Calder vice president and general manager of racing. According to figures provided by Marshall, all-sources handle at Calder on Saturday dropped 10.6 percent from last year’s Summit of Speed card, and handle on Sunday dropped 19 percent from the corresponding Sunday. But Calder ran one fewer race each day this year.

“It’s tough to assess the effect of Gulfstream on business this weekend,” Marshall said, “although it’s possible some wagering dollars migrated from Calder to Gulfstream due to their brand name.”

Ritvo said that the combined handle for both tracks over the weekend far surpassed the handle for just Calder on the same weekend last year.

“It’s still early yet, but I think the results we saw this past week proved that by having Gulfstream race in the summer, the horsemen make more money, the breeders make more money, the state makes more money and as a result the whole industry wins,” said Ritvo. “Just looking at the numbers from Saturday and Sunday at both tracks, it shows we actually helped grow the market – similar to what the casinos have done every time they open a new casino in the area. Some of the money may have shifted, but in general the market itself always grows.”

Many of the major outfits who traditionally race and stable at Calder during the summer have already moved to Gulfstream Park and Ritvo says his barn area will be full to capacity, approximately 1,100 horses, within the next week. He said he’s also had to turn down so many requests for stall space that he’ll open the Palm Meadows training facility in Boynton Beach at the end of the week, rent free, for the next several months to handle the overflow.

“We’re still finalizing our plans to build 500 additional stalls at Gulfstream, which we hope to have completed by the time the championship meet opens in December,” said Ritvo.

Traditionally, Gulfstream has raced from January into April, with Calder racing from late April into January. Both tracks had applications for year-round racing approved by regulators in March. Attempts to work out a deal between the Stronach Group, which owns and operates Gulfstream Park, and Churchill Downs, which owns Calder, to avoid conflicting dates have been unsuccessful.

Ritvo said no deal is imminent and Marshall said there are no negotiations ongoing between Calder and Gulfstream, “but at the corporate level I’m sure we’re open to further negotiations.”

Said Ritvo: “We are still open to make a deal, even a date shift where they would run Wednesday through Friday and we would operate weekends during the summer. We feel that type of situation would benefit not only Calder but the entire industry.

“We haven’t changed our position. We have been willing to try to make a deal that would make Churchill Downs whole for giving up its racing dates at Calder while still being able to operate its casino on the property.”

Calder officials say they simply want to run unopposed during their traditional season. But Ritvo said Gulfstream has been moving toward expanding its racing season in order to support the ontrack casino and adjacent shopping complex owned by the Stronach Group.

“We are committed to racing Saturdays and Sundays because we are operating not only a racetrack but an entire entertainment complex at this site,” he said. “We didn’t build this place to operate only four months a year. This has been coming – it’s not something we just pulled out of the sky this year.”