As far as thoroughbred racing goes in South Florida, Calder Casino and Race Course is handing over the reins to Gulfstream Park.
An agreement between the two tracks received state regulatory approval Tuesday, ending their head-to-head competition and giving Gulfstream near-total control over racing in South Florida.
Under the agreement, which takes effect immediately, Gulfstream will be open for live racing from December through September each year. Racing will be held at Calder in October and November, and Gulfstream will operate that meet, as well, under a six-year lease arrangement.
“This is a new era for Florida racing,” said Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “The horsemen are looking forward to a much brighter future here in South Florida.”
Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., will continue to manage and operate its casino.
“We would like to thank all parties for their hard work in reaching an agreement which allows for the long-term preservation of racing in South Florida on a year-round basis,” Calder president and general manager Maureen Adams said in a prepared statement.
Gulfstream, which is owned by The Stronach Group, has long been one of the nation’s leading winter racing venues. But it has sought to increase its market share not only the local racing scene, but the national one, as well, through the simulcasting of its racing product.
As a result, it expanded its racing meet into the summer months for the first time last year and waged a head-to-head battle with Calder, which had always had exclusive control over summer racing in South Florida.
The amount wagered on Gulfstream’s races far exceeded what was bet at Calder. With Calder all but bowing out of the local racing picture, Gulfstream will expand its racing meet from three to four racing dates (Thursday through Sunday) each week, starting with the July 10 card.
Simulcasting on horse racing will no longer be offered at Calder.
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Adams said that the Studz Poker Club at Calder has also closed for good.
“However, all other gaming operations in the Calder Casino are not affected by this agreement and will continue under the leadership of Calder and Churchill Downs Inc.,” Adams said.
Horsemen applauded the agreement.
“For the owners and trainers that race in Florida, the final settlement of the Calder/Gulfstream dates war is definitely the best thing that could have happened,” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the FHBPA. “South Florida racing, in general, has suffered greatly during the long war and now the horsemen can expect higher purses, less anxiety and year-round, quality racing at Gulfstream.”