04/18/2008 11:00PM

No purse deal seen by opener


MIAMI - The long 2008 Calder meeting that opens Monday could begin under a cloud of controversy and uncertainty, as track officials and the local horsemen's group are not likely to have a signed purse agreement in place by opening day.

Without a signed purse contract, the Florida division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has the right by law to deny Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., to simulcast its races out of state. Additionally, horsemen's groups around the country sympathetic to the Florida horsemen's cause could withhold their simulcast signals from being sent to Calder.

Among the issues under dispute are the fee Calder will pay the horsemen from future slot-machine revenues and an agreement on revenue-sharing for in-home wagering on the Calder signal. An official from the Florida horsemen's group said if the impasse continues through Kentucky Derby weekend, the group would not prevent Calder from taking the signals of the Kentucky Oaks or Derby cards.

In addition to the contract issue, Calder's longtime president, Ken Dunn, announced less than two weeks before the opener that he would be stepping down from that post effective July 31.

The 116-day Calder season runs through Oct. 19 and will be immediately followed by the 55-day Tropical at Calder session, which continues until Jan. 2, 2009. The meet will begin with a rich stakes card this Saturday, the inaugural edition of the Calder Turf Million, a program of four grass stakes worth $1 million topped by the Grade 3 Calder Derby.

The Calder meet will be highlighted by the rich Summit of Speed on July 12, which features six stakes worth $1.8 million. The co-featured Grade 1, $500,000 Princess Rooney Handicap and Grade 2, $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap will be supported by the Grade 2 Carry Back and Grade 3 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Other top events on the Calder stakes schedule include the Juvenile Showcase on Sept. 6 and the Festival of the Sun on Oct. 18.

The Tropical meeting presents 24 stakes, nine of which are graded, led by the La Prevoyante and W.L. McKnight handicaps, which are both Grade 2's at 1 1/2 miles on the turf Dec. 13.

The Turf Million has drawn considerable interest from horsemen and will feature Shes All Eltish, recent winner of Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes, in the $200,000 Calder Oaks, as well as In Summation, among the premier sprinters in the country, who will go in the $250,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint.

Mike Anifantis, the man who replaced the late Bob Umphrey as racing secretary at Calder two years ago, is looking forward to a big season despite all the uncertainty surrounding the opening.

"I was pleasantly surprised entries went so well for opening day, and I hope that bodes well for the entire meet," said Anifantis. "Saturday's stakes look like they're going to come up great, and we have high expectations of getting the meet off to a fast start with this newest additional to our stakes program."

Anifantis and his staff have already been promoting the Summit of Speed, which has become one of the premier events on the national stakes calendar. Both the Princess Rooney and Smile have been designated as Win and You're In races, guaranteeing berths the 2008 Breeders' Cup.

"We've already begun contacting horsemen around the country and the early feedback has been very favorable," said Anifantis. "If we get anything near the response we had last year, it's going to be another great day."

The 2007 Summit of Speed featured appearances by some of the top sprinters in the country, including the eventual Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award winner, Maryfield, in the Princess Rooney.