12/16/2010 5:14PM

Gulfstream reaches deal with horsemen for first half of meeting only

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Gulfstream Park has reached a racing agreement with its horsemen that will expire halfway through the track’s upcoming meet, a representative of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said on Thursday.

The unusual agreement will expire on Feb. 28, requiring horsemen and the track to negotiate an additional deal or extension while the meet is running, according to Kent Stirling, the executive director of the horsemen’s association. Owned by MI Developments, Gulfstream will open on Jan. 5 and close on April 24.

According to Stirling, Gulfstream has asked the horsemen to agree to a contract that would expire on closing day, but the horsemen insisted that the contract run for at least a calendar year. The contract covers distributions of the track’s wagering revenues and includes the horsemen’s consent for simulcasting.

Stirling said that horsemen were uncertain why Gulfstream was pushing for the abbreviated contract. Under the compromise the two sides reached, Gulfstream officials and horsemen are expected to “brainstorm” new ways for the track to make money in advance of reaching a new deal that would run through at least the end of the year, according to Stirling.

Gulfstream officials did not return phone calls on Thursday.

Stirling said that Frank Stronach, the chairman of MI Developments, participated in the negotiations and told horsemen that “the model’s broken” without providing specifics on changes the company would be seeking.

“He said he wanted to do a lot of brainstorming on how to make new revenues,” Stirling said.

Stronach has consistently complained that racing is over-regulated in the United States. He has also said that racetracks should be free to race as many dates as possible, without relying on approval from regulators.

Thoroughbred racing dates in South Florida are currently held by two tracks: Gulfstream and Calder Race Course, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. While Gulfstream races exclusively from January to the end of April, Calder races the remainder of the dates.

A third South Florida track, Hialeah Park, runs a Quarter Horse meet from October to January. The owner of Hialeah, John Brunetti, has said that he would seek Thoroughbred dates if state law were changed to allow a meet at the track.

Earlier this year, the former chief executive of MI Developments, Dennis Mills, said that the company had plans to install lights at Gulfstream, despite a state law that prohibits the start of a live Thoroughbred race after 7 p.m. Stirling said the plans to install lights have been shelved, although he expected Gulfstream officials to lobby for a change to the law when the legislature comes back into session in January.

The contract in place for the first two months of the meet will provide for purses of $400,000 a day, according to Stirling, a sharp increase over average purse distribution of approximately $325,000 a day during last year’s meet. The increase is tied to legislation passed earlier this year that reduced the state tax rate on gambling revenue at racetrack casinos from 50 percent to 35 percent. Horsemen share in the revenue from the casinos.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the rate to which the Florida state tax on casino gambling revenue at racetracks had been reduced. It is 35 percent, not 25 percent.