04/30/2014 9:43AM

Gulfstream, Calder move to end head-to-head racing


Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course have reached an agreement that would end head-to-head racing between the two tracks, but the proposal has yet to be approved by local horsemen, officials of the groups confirmed Wednesday.

The proposal would allow Gulfstream’s parent company, the Stronach Group, to lease the racing operations from Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., a publicly traded company. Officials of both tracks would not provide specifics about the deal Wednesday but said the agreement would split the racing season in South Florida between the two tracks, putting an end to the head-to-head schedule that has disrupted the circuit since last summer.

Officials of Gulfstream presented the proposal Monday night to the board of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, officials said. The board is not expected to conduct a vote on the agreement until next week, officials of the FHBPA said, amid concerns over the impact of the agreement on purses at Calder.

Tim Ritvo, the president of Gulfstream, said that the deal would require some sacrifice from horsemen to work.

“The idea is to try to make this a win-win for both sides,” Ritvo said, in reference to Calder and Gulfstream. “We had to find ways to make it work, and that meant the horsemen’s participation would require giving up a piece as well.”

John Marshall, the general manager of Calder, cautioned that the agreement still faces some hurdles before it can be implemented.

“We’ve been talking with the Stronach Group for almost a year now, and we’ve been close to resolving this before,” he said. “Now we’re close to resolving it again.”

Gulfstream and Calder started racing head to head for the first time this summer when Gulfstream elected to run live race dates during Calder’s traditional summer meet. Calder reciprocated by running live race dates throughout the winter, putting strain on both tracks’ ability to card races with full fields.

Under the deal, Churchill Downs would still retain ownership of Calder and its slot machine parlor. The racing operation, however, would be run by Gulfstream under a lease from Calder with Calder running approximately 40 dates during the fall. Gulfstream would run throughout the remainder of the year.

Calder’s casino had net revenues of $79 million in 2013, according to Churchill’s financial statements, while the racing operations at the track had revenues of $36.3 million, down 44 percent from 2012. The racing operations were hurt most by Calder’s loss of a monopoly on selling simulcast signals during the latter half of the year.

The Stronach Group is a private company controlled by the billionaire owner-breeder Frank Stronach. The company also owns Palm Meadows training center in South Florida, along with tracks across the U.S., including Santa Anita Park, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and Golden Gate Fields.

Horsemen in South Florida have been highly critical of Churchill’s management of Calder over the past year. Last fall, Florida’s breeders reached an agreement to run the Florida Stallion Stakes Series at Gulfstream, ending a 32-year run of Calder hosting the races.