07/12/2001 12:00AM

Track hopes to create good buzz


MIAMI - Calder's $1 million Summit of Speed is only in its second season but the event has already created a fervor among fans and media. At the same time, it has won over south Florida-based horsemen eager to defend their turf and keep the majority of that purse money from leaving town in the pockets of the nearly two dozen invaders who have shipped in.

"We decided years ago we have to do something exciting for the racing fans and the media at Calder, where the racing season lasts 7 1/2 months," said track president Ken Dunn. "The obvious choice was to create events based around good racing. We already found the Festival of the Sun generated a lot of interest but we needed something to bridge the gap during the summer. With our budget, we realized to attract top-caliber horses we had to find a niche and for that reason we came up with the concept of an all-sprint day like the Summit of Speed."

Dunn admitted that in the past there had been some isolated dissension among horsemen when it came to allocating a large portion of their purse budget for a one-day event. But the dissenters have all but disappeared following the success of the inaugural Summit of Speed, which produced an all-time Calder record handle of more than $8 million.

"The horsemen have been very supportive of both the Festival of the Sun and now the Summit of Speed," said Dunn. "I think they've come to realize we cannot be an island and events like this are the way of the racing world nowadays."

Kent Stirling, executive director for the Florida Division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, agreed.

"This is an event-driven industry now," said Stirling. "The public wants to come and see good horses from other parts of the country. I think these things are good for the game and the numbers bear that out. There is a buzz for racing on days like this and Lord knows we need it. There were some complaints from horsemen years ago but I haven't heard anything negative recently. Hopefully, our guys will be able to win a good portion of the purses Saturday. But either way it's money well spent."

Frank Gomez is the dean of the Calder training colony, having raced here since the track opened in 1971. And while he'll run only longshot Lucette in the $250,000 Azalea on Saturday he believes the concept is a good one for everyone involved with the sport locally.

"I don't see anything wrong with giving away the money if it promotes racing," said Gomez, who trained Princess Rooney, the namesake of Saturday's main event. "Look at all the good horses coming and all the publicity it is attracting. Good horses always bring people to the races. It also gives all of us here more incentive to go out and get better horses to compete for these big purses in the years to come."