MIAMI, July 12, 2013--A circular firing squad has been formed among South Florida racing entities.
As if the head-to-head conflict between Gulfstream and Calder isnâ€™t potentially devastating enough to the future of the game in the Miami area, the various interests have begun to take superfluous potshots at each other.
The week after the first head-to-head showdown between the two tracks on July 6-7 degenerated into a series of charges and counter-charges extraneous to the main event. The only beneficiaries were the lawyers. Isnâ€™t this always the way?
It started when Floridaâ€™s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering filed a complaint against Gulfstream for staging a 150-yard match race with betting on the morning of July 1. The odd event was intended to maintain a permit for Gulfstream-affiliated company, Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program. The ultimate goal is to qualify GPTARP to obtain a slots license.
The Division said GPTARP was outside the rules because one race does not constitute a racing card. Furthermore, the state is supposed to get 10 days notice of such an event. It says it got one day.
Sanctions range from a $1,000 fine to loss of license. The expectation is the decision will come down closer to the former. The latter is unthinkable punishment far beyond fitting the crime.
The bigger question is who got the Division, which rarely acts outside a complaint being filed, involved. Common sense suggests two likely suspects. Calder, its parent company or someone championing its interests and the Florida HBPA. The Calder connection is obvious. The FHBPA has been trying to get Gulfstream to assure it that if more slot machines come into operation, it will continue to get its share.
It could be neither was responsible for the Division becoming involved. But if you were Gulfstream, who would you suspect? This is important because at some point all these parties are going to have to work together again. Hopefully.
On the other side of town, the FHBPA undertook another quixotic mission. It asked the state not to renew the license for Calderâ€™s slots casino because there is no purse agreement in place and there hasnâ€™t been one since the start of the season on April 6.
This is the second action taken by horsemen against Calder. They denied the track permission to simulcast out of state May 2-5, cutting off their noses to spite themselves. Calder responded by cutting purses 20 percent. This was called off in time to resume simulcasting on May 9 and Calder reinstated the 20 percent cut.
The horsemen are understandably concerned that with Calder and Gulfstream racing head-to-head, handle will decline and purses will take another hit. So they tried to strike out against Calder and its parent, Churchill Downs Inc., where it hurts, at the casino.
You have to wonder if anyone considered what the impact on purses would be if the casino were shut down and the millions dedicated to purse enhancements went away.
Only problem is, Calderâ€™s slots license had already been renewed because of a 10-year contract signed in 2010 between it and horsemen to designate a set percentage of slot revenues to purses. You have to wonder about the people advising the horsemen.
Meanwhile, there is no resolution in sight to the Calder-Gulfstream conflict. By all indications, there arenâ€™t even talks taking place.
Itâ€™s hard not to get the feeling that a lot of the extra-curricular legal nonsense would cease if the tracks could come to an agreement beneficial to them and the horsemen. Someone has to break the ice and make the first call so the gamesmanship can end and the healing can begin.
The Racing Form has earned its sobriquet as thoroughbred racingâ€™s Bible. I and many, if not most, horseplayers would no longer think of a day at the races without the Form than a missionary would knock on a door sans the Good Book.
Such praise often is preamble to something less positive, just as surely as one partner in a relationship beginning a conversation with â€śWe have to talkâ€ť rarely progresses pleasantly. The Racing Form and I need to talk.
A survey regarding The Racing From showed up in my email inbox during this past week. I assume the fact that I have a DRF betting account and have long had stable mail had something to do with me being targeted.
The essence of the multi-part questionnaire was how I feel about the looming construction of a pay wall for much of the content now free on DRF.com. If this had been a live interview, I would have said that I feel the same way I did many years ago when I had to start paying for programming that my backyard satellite dish had been bringing in for free. I wasnâ€™t about to give up TVâ€™s exploding multi-channel universe, so I grumbled and paid.
I visit the Form site several times a day and enjoy it as a source of information and entertainment. I recognize that producing quality reporting and opinion is costly, and salute the Form for upgrading its editorial content in recent years.
But as I wrote at the end of the survey, quoting a golden oldie tune, â€śGot along without you before I met you, going to get along without you now.â€ť
Iâ€™m certain the Form will get along without me, too. But I doubt I am in the minority on this issue. How many more people like me can the Form get along without?
Thereâ€™s a racetrack saying weâ€™ve all heard. â€śNever bet your eating money or eat your betting money.â€ť I think paying for Racing Form editorial matter would come close to falling into the latter category.
As someone who worked in newspapers from my first job to my last, one thing I learned is, as circulation drops, so do ad rates. There is no question the pay wall will cost DRF.com circulation. I would argue substantially. This is especially true with the explosion of alternative sites, such as this one, the Paulick Report, EquiDaily and the Bloodhorse.
So the pay wall could turn out to be a bottom-line negative.
A big issue is price, which the survey suggested could be as much as $19.95 per month. This does not include past performances. Those are extra, as they should be. Those, too, cost a fortune to gather and maintain. However, the $19.95 price point for DRF-Plus would make it one of the most expensive on the net. Itâ€™s more than five times what ESPN charges.
This is about double what most folks pay for the wonderful TV world of HBO or Showtime. Indeed, for about $19.95 you could get both, which would deliver about 20 channels of premium television, with something for everyone in the family, 24 hours a day. TV is a different universe but writing a monthly check for one is no different than writing one for the other.
This isnâ€™t an effort to sabotage the Form. I canâ€™t imagine a world without it. Like any business, the Form is entitled to make a profit. But if this pay wall is crucial to its survival, I fear I might have to get used to this world.