A virtual high-stakes game of poker is on between Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, whose persistent clashes over live horse racing dates reached historic levels Monday.
As Gulfstream Park launched a summer meet Monday for the first time in its 75-year history, Calder said trainers bringing horses from its barns to Gulfstream to race would not be welcomed back, with “limited exceptions.”
Gulfstream upped the ante, offering financial incentives to entice horsemen, texting them to say their barns are available, and announcing it would accommodate even more horses by opening Palm Meadows, its training facility west of Boynton Beach that normally is closed until fall.
The tracks are on another collision course for Saturday, the first-ever day there will be live racing at both tracks straddling the Dade-Broward line and just 8 miles apart. Saturday also is when Calder offers the highlight of its summer meet, the “Summit of Speed,” even though “summit” hardly applies to the lack of cooperation between the facilities.
Several hundred horses have either been moved from Calder to Gulfstream or are expected to be this week. Among the trainers caught in the middle is Eddie Plesa Jr., a two-time Kentucky Derby participant planning to move this week, marking the end of an era. Plesa said his father was the second trainer to stable at Calder when it opened in 1971, and at least one of the Plesas has been stationed there since.
“I’m depressed about what’s happened there at Calder,” Plesa said Monday. “This is the culmination of what’s happened. Calder’s been on a downward trend for a while now.”
There were fears that Calder’s policy might trigger mass scratches at Gulfstream, but that did not occur Monday, when only the usual handful were recorded. Gulfstream drew a solid crowd for eight races with purses ranging from $16,500 to $35,000. Officials were pleased at the total handle of $2.49 million on a day when jockeys Javier Castellano, Edgar Prado, Joel Rosario and John Velazquez competed and greeted fans.
“We’re not going to fool ourselves and pretend to compete against Saratoga or Del Mar,” Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s president and general manager, told The Associated Press. “Those are iconic racing sites and meets. We just think we can do a better job of summertime racing than what’s been done. So we’re hoping to invigorate summertime in Florida.”
The clash escalated after Gulfstream filed plans with the state in December requesting year-round racing. Calder then requested the same thing. In this era of deregulated racing dates, it’s not the first time they’ve made such threats — only the first time they’ve called each other’s bluffs. They plan to butt head-to-head every weekend before Gulfstream launches its traditional meet in December. Gulfstream also plans to run holiday cards on July 4, Labor Day and Veterans Day.
“We expect to start off slow and try to market it and build a program,” Ritvo said of the summer foray. “This is a longterm commitment. We’ve built a $1 billion facility to try to generate new growth in the industry.”
But John Marshall, Calder’s vice president and general manager of racing, accused Gulfstream of “a rogue and reckless decision” to go year-round. In response, he said, “Calder had no choice” but to do likewise. The restricted-barn policy also was enacted in 1989 in a dispute with Hialeah Park.
Plesa said Calder has been “mis-maintained, if that’s a word,” and that its executives appear more concerned with gaming.
“In my opinion, they’re putting themselves in a position to lose racing,” Plesa said. “My question is, ‘Do they want racing?’ ”
Still, Plesa is hoping for peace.
“If this were to end Thursday or Friday, before I ship them there, yeah, I’d like to keep them there,” he said. “I’d like to be part of the fabric of Calder and continue the tradition.”