Thursday, July 11, 2013
Battle for Florida, War for the Derby
It was a dark and stormy night.
—A Wrinkle in Time
There’s a fistfight brewing. Actually, more to the point, it’s happening right now in glorious southern Florida. It kind of looks like this fight between Lane Pryce and Peter Campbell. Put up your dukes.
Gulfstream, our Spring Place to Be, started running on July 1st, if for no other reason than to honor our neighbors to the Great White North. It was Canada Day, after all. This, of course, chagrined Calder Race Course.
This is Jacob versus the Man in Black, only worse.
Gulfstream might want to watch what they’re doing. They are the big boy in Florida racing for, essentially, one reason: its Kentucky Derby prep races. Gulfstream holds three of a kind in the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth and the crème de la crème, the Florida Derby.
Sure, heavy is the head that wears the crown, but heavy also is the axe that beheads. CDI appears to have that kind of power. And what would Gulfstream be if it lost its point status in the run up to the Kentucky Derby? A neutered A.P. Indy: Pretty on the outside with little to offer future generations.
Tim Ritvo, president of Gulfstream Park, feels that summer racing at Gulfstream would bring the likes of super trainers to the area.
"This is not about putting another company out of business,” Ritvo said, “but doing what we believe is best for Florida racing. We’ve seen a deterioration in the product during the summer, and think there’s a day when trainers like Dale Romans, Todd Pletcher, and Kiaran McLaughlin will keep a string of horses in Florida all year.”
Great. The rich may get richer in this instance because those cats stable in Kentucky and New York in the summer, the latter two predominantly in New York. What Ritvo is saying isn’t best for “Florida racing.” It’s best for Gulfstream Park.
John Marshall, vice president and general manager of Calder, said, “All Calder did is apply for its regular dates. Gulfstream Park is the one who made the application to run on Calder, and they’re doing it. We felt it was in the best interests of the industry in South Florida to have a consistent circuit for horsemen and bettors.”
Field sizes, predictably, are small. Horses don’t pop out of the ground like potatoes, so what’s a trainer to do? It’s been said horsemen feel torn and imprisoned. If Gulfstream-stabled trainers run at Calder, it could put their winter string in jeopardy.
While these two snap at each other like a couple of cobras, they’d better be careful some horseman don’t leave. There’s a few other tracks—Stronach and CDI-owned—that may take trainers willing to emigrate from the Sunshine State.
The big blow to Gulfstream would be the loss of its point status. That crippled the Illinois Derby, a once-valued Derby prep, which gave us Departed, a wise-guy Preakness horse who tanked in Maryland.
The points system is a great idea in principal, but it seems to loom as a bully in the room. On its surface, it’s there to serve the Derby, to put a better horse in the starting gate, to make the preps more competitive and more compelling. In reality, it appears to be a battle axe that CDI and it’s crowned jewel—the Kentucky Derby—swing without mercy and without reprieve.
Gulfstream may win the battle over summer in Florida, but it may lose the War of the Derby.