01/01/2015 12:47PM

Horses at Calder remain on the grounds

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Calder Race Course in south Florida had not taken any action Thursday morning to enforce eviction notices to horses on an area of the backstretch that the track has closed despite the expiration of a lease on the area, according to horsemen’s officials.

Approximately 200 horses remained in the affected area Thursday morning, according to Phil Combest, the president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. The area, which has approximately 700 stalls, was the subject of a lease between Calder and Gulfstream Park that expired at midnight Wednesday.

Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., had told horsemen that they must move the horses in the affected area off the grounds by Thursday, and in a statement Wednesday, the company signaled that it would enforce eviction notices. However, enlisting authorities to forcibly remove horses could have significant public-perception problems for Churchill, which has been the subject of criticism from horsemen in several states where it operates tracks.

“No one was at the gate [this morning] with crossed swords,” Combest said. “Everything has gone pretty smoothly.”

Officials with Churchill did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Churchill has said that the affected area is slated for a development project, though the company has not offered details about the project. In December, the track put up a fence around the area and posted signs warning horsemen that the area would be closed Jan. 1.

Horsemen have known that the lease on the area would expire at the end of 2014 since Calder and Gulfstream reached a deal six months ago allowing Gulfstream to run a race meet at Calder, ending a yearlong period in which the tracks were running head-to-head. However, horsemen delayed finding new stalls under the belief that Gulfstream would reach a deal with Calder allowing the area to stay open, according to Combest.

Combest said the horses who remain in the area are being consolidated in two rows of barns to minimize disruption. He also said the ultimate intent is to move the horses out of the affected area as stalls open up at nearby tracks or horsemen leave for other circuits.

Combest also said an FHBPA official had a discussion with a Churchill legal representative Wednesday night and that the talk was “encouraging.” He declined to offer specifics about the discussion, citing the sensitive relationship between horsemen and Churchill.