Following a year-long series of events that have directly violated its standing purse contract with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), Calder Casino and Race Course (Calder) management has rejected a proposal by the FHBPA to resolve the issue of offering “open access” between Calder and Gulfstream when the tracks are scheduled to race head to head in July 2013. “Open access,” as that term has been discussed and understood by Calder and the FHBPA, would allow horsemen to ship their horses back and forth between Calder and Gulfstream.
The Calder purse contract initially expired on December 31, 2012. However, since the track conducted no live racing during January, February or March, 2013, a simulcast agreement/purse contract was not critical for those months.
Serious contract negotiations restarted in March and, in a show of good faith, the FHBPA even extended the expired contract through April, 2013, so as to address several difficult issues, the largest of which was the guarantee of “open access” when summer came.
In the end, the FHBPA’s efforts were to no avail and the contract finally expired on April 30, 2013. And, with that, the FHBPA’s consent for simulcasting Calder races was revoked.
Live racing resumes at Calder on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 12:50 p.m.
As the Florida chapter of the National HBPA, the FHBPA works to protect the safety of its members, their stable personnel and their horses, and works with racetrack management to ensure proper accountability, and responsible and humane conditions for those competitors, among other varied and statutory responsibilities. Maintaining the independence of horsemens’ organizations serves to assure the wagering public of continued integrity in the horse racing product.
For over 40 years, Calder Race Course—now Calder Casino and Race Course—has never charged a fee (rent) to its trainers for stalls, nor did it ever charge grooms and hotwalkers rent for their bare-bones-style dorm rooms. Last year, that all changed as Calder management opted to charge room rent to workers and then, in December, charge trainers top dollar to rent stalls. Notably, the December stall rent charge occurred even though the very same purse contract that expired on December 31, 2012 clearly prohibited stall rent, as had all previous contracts.
Now, Calder and Gulfstream Park are scheduled to run head-to-head this July, this impending dates war figures to take a significant toll on the horsemen and Florida horse racing industry, in general.
“The horsemen did not create the dates dispute,” explained FHBPA President Phil Combest, “but they are caught in the middle of it. And with Calder only running three days a week after June 30, there aren’t enough opportunities to race without open access between the two tracks.”
Upon the expiration of the initial extension of the old contract through April, Calder asked the FHBPA for yet another 30-day extension. In a fair-minded attempt to resolve the problem, the FHBPA Board of Directors held an emergency meeting on April 29, 2013 and invited Calder officials Austin Miller and John Marshall to address the full Board. This was followed by two hours of discussion by the Board, which resulted in a unanimous resolution that granted Calder the requested 30-day contract extension . . . BUT ONLY on the “express condition that the horsemen are granted perpetual Open Access (as that term has been discussed and understood by Calder and the FHBPA) to the Calder grounds.”
On Wednesday, May 1, Calder management formally rejected the offer. As a result, the existing purse contract has now officially expired and with it, the FHBPA’s simulcasting consent is revoked.
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The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Executive Director Kent Stirling said, “The current dates conflict is rooted in a statutory glitch that is being exploited by clever lawyering at the expense of what could be most beneficial for all of us, not to mention Florida taxpayers.”
Somewhere, in the convoluted Chapter 550 of Florida statutes covering pari-mutuel wagering is language stating that pari-mutuel facilities wishing to import Thoroughbred simulcasts have to buy the signal from the track currently offering live racing. The selling track gets two-thirds of the net revenue, with the simulcast facility getting one-third.
Florida thoroughbred horsemen worry the continuing fight between Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park over racing dates will ultimately ravage breeders, owners and thousands of others who make a living in the racing industry.
The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Kent Stirling warned that the overlapping dates not only might risk over-extending the state’s human and equine populations, but also fragment the wagering dollar and divert resources needed to tackle other challenges facing the state’s Thoroughbred industry, such as pari-mutuel barrel racing.
With South Florida’s two Thoroughbred tracks engaging in an escalating regulatory battle over racing dates, the professionals who do the “heavy lifting” to provide the actual horse racing product—the horse owners, trainers and breeders—find themselves as unexpected bystanders in an unwanted dispute.
Done right, horse racing and breeding affords Florida with enormous economic impact because of all the jobs and businesses it creates. But, overlapping dates can drain the local horse population and fragment wagering dollars — making it difficult for the entire industry to prosper.
Lonny Powell, a former horse racing regulator and track operator, who now serves as CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association said, “It’s more than troublesome that this dates overlap crisis distracts from all of our collective efforts to grow Florida’s $2.2 billion-a-year thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.”
A Florida law requires a race track or jai-alai fronton to have a minimum number of pari-mutuel performance days to obtain and retain a casino license. To do that, Calder must have at least 80 race days each year.
Churchill Downs Incorporated, home of the Kentucky Derby and parent company of Calder Casino and Race Course, has released its financial results for the first quarter of 2013 showing that it achieved record revenues for the period of $148.07 million