04/21/2009 11:00PM

Sense of harmony ushers in new meeting

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Following a contentious 2008 racing season that everyone at Calder would just as soon forget, optimism will be running high on all fronts when the long 2009-2010 Calder season opens Friday.

A disagreement over the purse contract between track management and the Florida division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association prevented Calder from sending its simulcast signal out of state for most of the 2008 campaign. The resulting decline in handle led to substantial purse cuts and even some fairly significant cutbacks in the stakes schedule.

Fortunately, a similar conflict between management and horsemen that threatened the opening of the 2009 meet was averted when the two groups reached an agreement on a purse contract earlier this month. That fact, along with purse subsidies provided by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, has everyone hopeful the bitter memories of 2008 are a thing of the past.

"We are very optimistic that we can bounce back off a less-than-ideal 2008," said John Marshall, who was appointed vice president and general manager of racing by the track's owner, Churchill Downs Inc., in December. "The agreement with the HBPA was a real boost for both the horsemen and the track, and the new relationship between the groups is going to make a difference."

Marshall said the track had "put forth a real push to get some notice taken" in both the simulcast and account wagering markets.

Also, he said, "With the subsidies provided by the breeders, the 2-year-old program has a shot to be the best it's ever been around here. We are also hoping to get off to a fast start by putting up $470,000 in purses for Saturday's program and will try to maintain an average overnight purse structure of between $140,000 and $160,000 throughout the year."

Saturday's card, which includes the Grade 2, $150,000 La Prevoyante Handicap and Grade 3, $100,000 Miami Mile, starts a stakes schedule that will again be highlighted by the rich Summit of Speed on July 11. Although purses have been cut for each of the four graded stakes on the program, they have maintained their previous graded status, including the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap.

Other key events during the Calder meet are the Juvenile Showcase on Aug. 29 and Festival of the Sun on Oct. 17. The Calder session runs through Oct. 19 and is followed immediately by the Tropical at Calder meet.

Friday's opening-day program will be topped by a $25,000 allowance race for 3-year-olds going six furlongs. Nine have been entered, with the undefeated pair of Mr. Sluggo and Peterson among the likely favorites.