Friday, March 15, 2013
Florida Turf Wars: Calder Fires First Shot at Gulfstream
The cold war between Churchill Downs-owned Calder and Frank Stronach-owned Gulfstream is getting hotter. Calder has scheduled its biggest day of the summer, the Summit of Speed, for July 6, the day Gulfstream will launch year-round racing. Calder also has repositioned three big stakes days for December, when it ordinarily would have given way to Gulfstream's premier winter meeting. Could repercussions impact next year's Kentucky Derby qualifying points at Gulfstream and Santa Anita? Ask Hawthorne, whose Illinois Derby was cut out of the mix because of a disagreement with Churchill.
MIAMI, March 15--Calder is taking it right to Gulfstream as the tracks barrel toward their head-to-head conflict in July.
Calder has positioned its biggest day of the summer, The Summit of Speed, for July 6, the first Saturday the tracks are scheduled to run opposite each other. To be fair, the Summit card, which includes four graded and one listed stakes, was run on the corresponding Saturday last year. But with the potential conflict, you have to ask if it would have been prudent to go unopposed a week earlier. As it stands, the best racing day of the summer will be overshadowed by the first head-to-head competition.
Calder also has multiple stakes days planned for three subsequent Saturdays during July and August. If nothing else, this will deplete the availability of quality runners in South Florida, which are in short supply in any case during the summer. What might be left for Gulfstream is a matter of conjecture.
Calder also has moved three big stakes days, with five graded events, from November last year to December 2013, Gulfstreamâ€™s winter season kickoff month. However, there are gaps in Calderâ€™s November schedule, which seem to have been strategically conceived to allow these stakes to relocate back to where they have been.
This might be a sign that Churchill Downs Inc., Calderâ€™s parent, still believes a compromise can be reached before Floridageddon. The consensus viewpoint around both tracks is that Gulfstream owner Frank Stronach will come up with the right dollar figure to get Churchill Downs Inc. to step aside on weekends, so that Gulfstream can run unopposed.
When Stronach made his move on December two years ago, Churchill huffed and puffed, bellowed and threatened, but ultimately took the money and didnâ€™t run.
This seems to be the only immediate solution. The strong-willed Stronach is as adamant as Custer that he is going to do what he is going to do.
Since he became involved in race track ownership, Stronach has belly-ached about not being allowed to operate his business whenever the fit takes him, as he could in other fields. In laissez faire Florida, he has finally found the place where he can do itâ€”at least in the short term. It remains unthinkable that the state will allow him to destroy a $5 billion industry.
This isn't just a South Florida issue. If the dispute lingers, there could be repercussions that impact the Triple Crown. Would Churchill downgrade Kentucky Derby points for major 3-year-old races at Stronach-owned Gulfstream and Santa Anita, costing them marquee horses? Unthinkable? Did Churchill cut out the Illinois Derby because of a beef with Hawthorne? Has the Louisiana Derby been upgraded to top tier because it is owned by Churchill? Anything is possible.
There would be legal complications to racingâ€™s Corleones and Tattaglias carving up the territory during the year that starts July 1, because the deadline for requesting 2013-14 dates has passed. Also, Calder is obligated to run 80 days a year to keep its Calder and Tropical licenses and the casino attached to it, which Churchill has made clear is its priority.
But the state will likely be willing to bend some rules to avoid a scorched earth war. The legislature is in session, so the arbitrary cutoff for dates requests could be changed. Also, Calder could fulfill the casino mandate by racing on weekdays.
Calderâ€™s stakes schedule is a non-issue. Gulfstream has announced nothing special for the summer, so the added-money races could be moved across town, where they would be more than welcome.
The British arenâ€™t coming: A new headache has emerged for the Breedersâ€™ Cup. The British have announced a Champions Weekend to start in 2014. Six Group 1 races, corresponding to Breedersâ€™ Cup races, will be contested on Oct. 17-18. In all likelihood this will be two weeks before the Breedersâ€™ Cup.
The chances of a top Euro running in both events, two weeks apart, would be slim and none--and slim is scratched.
I suggested a couple of weeks ago that the Breedersâ€™ Cup should consider moving the event weekend back to the two days after Thanksgiving. That Friday is one of the few non-official holiday dates when millions of people have the day off from work. In addition, the competition from televised college football is substantially less.
Not that it would be much of a consideration considering the mutually strained relationship with NYRA but if the Breedersâ€™ Cup ever does decide it would like to bring the championship races back to the nationâ€™s biggest market, another obstacle has arisen. The first weekend in November is set in stone for the New York Marathon, which fills thousands of hotel rooms throughout the metropolitan area. So a later Breedersâ€™ Cup would be a necessity.
Two apparently obvious drawbacks are non-starters. Since this would take place after daylight savings time ends, lights would be a necessity. But temporary lights have been in use for years at football stadiums. Moreover, NBCâ€™s desire to have at least the Classic in prime time would obligate NYRA to install lights in any event.
As for the threat of bad weather, NYRA has staged a big weekend around Thanksgiving, headed by the Cigar Mile, for years without serious weather issues.
The extra three weeks a Thanksgiving weekend would create between the Breedersâ€™ Cup and the later season climax for Euros is one more reason to consider the move.