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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Let the record show that the mandatory Rainbow 6 payout was $6,234, that Edgard Zayas won the riding title, and Rohan Crichton a training title as the curtain came down for good on Calder Race Course.

My earliest memory of citified Miami Springs venue came 43 years ago when my oldest daughter was in a stroller and I got my first glimpse of the world famous Kenny Noe Speed Bumps on the Calder backstretch.

But it wasn’t a great experience because there were laws against bringing children to the racetrack back in the day. My wife and daughter were turned away before I could even open my Racing Form.

My last remembrance wasn’t much better. The announcer was calling races from the crow’s nest of an automated lift, the grandstand had been imploded and only a handful of self-automated betting machines existed where a building once stood. There were about 100 fans in attendance.

I didn’t stay long; it was too depressing.

Calder was my first experience dealing with a synthetic surface, the “Tartan Track” developed by 3M company. If memory serves, its color was as black as night and horses either loved or hated it.

It had a reputation for safety back then but I don’t know that for a fact. Some who should know say management often played fast and loose with training injuries and in recent years didn’t have enough personnel in place and reporting protocols were sketchy.

But when Calder horses stayed healthy, they were plenty fit when they left the grounds.

Whatever the track composition, Calder was always a Horse for Course surface. It had a loyal following that extended outside the Sunshine State, even before the game became all simulcasting all the time. The plant was large, comfortable and concession stands provided some bang for the buck.

This was the second track put down by Churchill Downs Inc. and follows by eight years the Christmas week shuttering of Hollywood Park. And so another racetrack joins the Bowies and New England tracks of my youth. Who’s next?


A Kentucky Circuit Court Judge has granted a summary judgment in favor of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission which will permit Churchill Downs and Keeneland to institute house rules regarding raceday Lasix for two-year-olds of 2020.

As a result, and of greater significance, the 2021 Kentucky Derby will run Lasix-free with a variation on that same theme in recognized Kentucky Derby qualifying prep races.

Those racing with Lasix in Kentucky Derby preps will not earn qualifying points. Points will be awarded only to horses racing Lasix free in those events.

In confirming the authority of the KHRC to oversee racing and house rules at Kentucky’s signature tracks, the barring raceday Lasix for two-year-olds represented a defeat for the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The HBPA group argued that the language regarding this issue was vague and inappropriate and did not give tracks the authority to institute “house rules” regarding a medication which studies have shown to be performance enhancing.

When issuing his decision, the judge made it clear that the ruling was not based on scientific evidence or on humanitarian grounds–either for or against–but on the legal ramifications of statutory authority that fall under the purview of the racing associations.

The guess is we have not heard the last word on this. But the good news for the horses is their handlers will need to find better ways to deal with Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage rather than simply resorting to a needle by default.


Fairly recently we can recall reading a press release stating that when Gulfstream Park opened its Championship Meet, which begins tomorrow, it will do so a 50% fan capacity. In the interim that number was reduced to zero.

Clearly, The Stronach Group is acting out of an abundance of caution and doubtlessly is hoping for a small miracle in advance of their first major event, The Pegasus World Cup Invitational on JAN 23.

Otherwise, where will they find $3 million to put on that event, another million for the Pegasus World Cup Turf, and $9 million more to complete their ambitious stakes calendar?

In retrospect, too bad TSG didn’t set up shop in Tallahassee, where state government is in complete disarray, its chief executive in the conversation for Worst Governor of the Covid Era.

Ron DeSantis is HorseRaceInsider’s 3-1 early spreader favorite to win the title because everywhere you look in SoFla businesses and schools are open. Ft. Lauderdale bars are doing brisk business; Tampa Bay Downs is open to the public, but with strict on-track protocols.

The press does not have access to the barn area, the Palm Meadows training center, or the track apron despite the absence of fans. The media can access the press suite with outdoor seating, accessible only from the south entrance where temps are taken before access is granted.

We’re guessing at an over-under for fans by JAN 20. Any takers?

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14 Responses

  1. John: This old New Yorker liked attending the “old” Gulfstream but I loved my several trips to Hialeah. Since you are now close to the scene, with Calder closing, what are the realistic chances of the TSG and the Brunetti family coming to their collective senses and restoring Hialeah for thoroughbred racing? I just saw some pictures posted on Twitter, taken by Gene McLean, of the The Pressbox-LTS, from a recent visit to Hialeah. It is beyond heartbreaking, as to the deterioration of Hialeah. Obviously, we have lost so many tracks in the last several decades, but Hialeah is too important, as a place of such-storied history, that it should be permitted to rot away like this. Moreover, it just can’t be plausible to run 12 months a year at Gulfstream. There has to be a reasonable agreement somewhere such that TSG and the Brunettis can find a space for racing to resume at Hialeah.

  2. Mountaineer seems to be the next track/ racino to go Kaput since it has already changed hands a couple of times and since Charleston,near Washington,DC and

    Maryland has become the favorite son,sort of,of the small state of W Virginia.,,and its politicians’ lobbyists. Follow the money !! Location,location.

    1. Fram, the barn area still a mess at Hialeah, but if the track and turf were maintained, GP could arrange for a lease agreement similar to the one they had with CDI for the “Calder” dates and horses could ship in to race.

      TSG buying Hialeah has been discussed a million times. It is my understanding from two sources that Hialeah wants an unconscionable amount of money.

      Hialeah exists on card rooms, slots and simulcasting, I guess they are content to do so.

      Bits, makes sense…

  3. John: Your suggestion about TSG & Hialeah, utilizing the “Calder” method, seems to make the most sense. I didn’t even think about Stronach buying the property. I’m sure that the dear departed father imbued his sons with the same hatred that he had for Gulfstream, whether it was the Donn family or the Stronach family. However, Hialeah is just too important to the history of this great sport to let it sit there as a sort of old west ‘Ghost Town”. Is there anybody down there paying attention? is it just about card rooms and casinos down in South Florida? Moreover, John, what about the fact that it is implausible to run on Hallandale Beach Blvd for the entire 12 months of the year? Is TSG so enamored with its Shopping Mall that it would just let the track be subjected to unlimited use? Certainly, that turf course can barely stand the strain of the winter dates. What happens to it after 12 months of constant pounding?
    John, is there just ONE politician down there with a backbone? NYRA can’t even complete its Belmont project without a cadre of local politicos telling them what to do. Does anybody down there even give one whit about Hialeah?

    1. Fram, trust me, management knows it can’t race in Hallandale for 12 months; that’s why they made the deal with the CDI devil for the past six years and something will have to give. Without a circuit to complete, my guess is that GP will take a short break, 4 to 6 weeks–again, just a guess. Certainly, there figures to break a period of time when they will give the turf course a rest.

      Hopefully, an unusually lawless period in U.S. history is behind us but corruption will always be with us, especially down here. It’s the reason when Hialeah was a going concern, John Brunetti spent more time in Tallahassee than he did in Hialeah. The Seminoles are a potent political force as huge contributors to political campaigns.

      And gambling companies know that casinos are far more profitable than racetracks, given the expenses to put on a racing show.

      In the past, there was a formidable rivalry, the Brunetti’s v Donn’s, but not a lot a acrimony vis a vis TSG. It’s all about the Benjamins. But if you’re looking for political courage, don’t expect to find much of it in the Sunshine State–one look at the Governor’s mansion will tell you that.

  4. JP,
    Didn’t the Jockey Club recently indicate it might purchase tracks that were on their way out?

    With the effects of COVID-19 likely to continue through 2021, only the racing /training/operations areas need to be brought up to snuff, but what 3rd parties other than the Florida State Government could successfully negotiate with TSG and the Brunettis?

  5. I remember The Donn Handicap. Hialeah used to be a pretty rough neighborhood. Quarter horse racing took place there a while back. Another track recently shuttered was Scarborough Downs in Maine. Harness track but they may have had flats at one point. Suffolk, Rockingham, Green Mtn and Scarborough are all but just a memory. Rockingham Park was pretty cool and the announcer, Jim Hannon, was excellent. Now it is a Tuscan Village with shops.

  6. C, The Donn is now the Pegasus World Cup, and Hialeah wasn’t rough, it was a working class neighborhood with a heavy Cuban population. Also was lucky enough to visit “The Rock” before it closed. Loved NE racetracks…

  7. Ok, I had heard that it was rough but that was many years ago. The guy who bought Rockingham has a string of restaurants called Tuscan Kitchen. There’s one in Boston also. Apparently he developed a pasta sauce and sold it to Nestle for big bucks. May or may not be a true story. They left the oval but tore down Rock and put in a Tuscan village theme with stores. They even brought harness in for a while, think Walter Case. I was there one night for simulcasting a few years ago and in the poker room they had an Ultimate Wrestling bout going on. Fifty bucks a ticket and it was packed. On one end of the grandstand they had bingo going for a while also. Yes, nice track in it’s day but that day has passed. It’s situated next to Rockingham Mall which is a big draw.

  8. Like so many, race tracks like Calder have gone the way due to mergers. But I argue, not all acquisitions are good for the consumer. I’m here to say that diversity, what we used to call racing circuits was good for the industry.
    Racing at different tracks gave everyone involved in the sports a break. Horsemen, jockeys, horses and bettors all benefited from different environments which only added to handle.

    At least you have racing in Florida, the pols here in New England killed the sport. Unfortunately, racing only exist now for us on digital screens.

    1. T, Excellent point vis a vis diversity, promoting interest, growth and a need change of scene from time to time. Also certain tracks favor a particular running style because of changed dynamics, also fun and challenging (read value here).

      Can’t believe Mass pols recently killed attempt at sports betting, which almost assuredly would have resurrected horse racing there. Damn, stupid shame…

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