05/08/2013 12:34PM

Gulfstream Park allowed to bypass Calder and buy simulcast signals

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The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday awarded Gulfstream Park a one-day extension of its 2012-13 meet. By law, the extension will allow Gulfstream to buy simulcast signals directly from all host tracks, effective immediately, rather than purchasing those same signals from Calder, which is currently operating the only live racing meet in south Florida.

Gulfstream Park originally had closed its 2012-13 season April 5. It began Dec. 1, 2012. Tuesday’s ruling extends the season for one day, allowing Gulfstream to offer an eight-race program June 25. Gulfstream was awarded racing dates for the 2013-14 season from July 1 through June 30, 2014.

The track was denied a dates extension from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that would have allowed it to continue the 2012-13 meet with live racing programs on Mondays and Tuesdays through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

“We would have preferred to have continued our 2012-13 meet on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Calder objected to our dates proposal, saying it would lead to cannibalization of their horse population,” Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said. “So we refiled for June 25 and, by being granted that date, we now basically become a host track, with rights to directly purchase simulcast signals from other tracks and rebroadcast those signals, rather than a guest forced to purchase all signals from Calder.”

Tampa Bay Downs, located in northern Florida, had earlier been granted a similar extension of its 2012-13 meet by the department. That allowed Tampa to also become a host track immediately after the conclusion of its live racing meet last Sunday, rather than purchase the signals from Calder. Tampa will offer live racing on June 30 and again July 1, then close until it reopens for its traditional meet in early December.

By becoming host simulcast sites, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs will be siphoning off a major revenue stream for Calder during its live session, which runs through Nov. 30.

John Marshall, general manager and vice president of racing operations at Calder, said Wednesday he expects Calder will challenge the decision to grant the June racing date to Gulfstream and two dates to Tampa.

“We are certainly going to challenge the FDBPR’s interpretation on both decisions, because we believe it goes against the essence of the statute and removes the incentive to run live racing dates, while at the same time shifting purse revenues from south Florida horsemen to Tampa horsemen and shifting revenues from Calder racing to Gulfstream racing,” said Marshall. “The interpretation also serves to create an environment that doesn’t sustain or support a racing circuit in the state.”

Ritvo said he expects his barn area to be full at Gulfstream on June 25, with the opening of its 2013-14 meeting less than a week later. Gulfstream will open the meet on a Monday and then race Saturdays and Sundays with a special Thursday, July 4 card. The meet continues through Nov. 25. Ritvo said the track will save some stalls for horsemen stabled at Calder who want to move to Gulfstream.

The Gulfstream barn area can accommodate 1,057 horses.

Ritvo emphasized that Gulfstream is hopeful of being able to work out a deal with Calder that could put an end to a potential dates conflict throughout the summer, including head-to-head racing on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We are continually available to negotiate with Calder over dates in an effort to work out a situation that would benefit everybody involved with Thoroughbred racing in south Florida,” said Ritvo, who added there have recently been some discussions at the corporate level between the two sides.

Calder is operating its current meet, which began April 6, without a signed purse contract with its horsemen. As a result, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association exercised its right to take away Calder’s right to simulcast its signal out of state beginning May 1, a move immediately countered by track management with a 20 percent purse cut that remains in effect when live racing resumes Thursday.