“We accepted that as being the new normal,” Marshall said. “Now I’m not sure what they want.”
The issue is that Gulfstream wants more stand-alone race days, while Calder needs to race at least 80 days a year to comply with state rules to retain the license for its casino.
At both tracks, designated portions of slot machine revenues, including nonrace days, go into purses for races. Money from betting on races is still the major contributor to purses.
Calder’s average daily purses were about $200,000 during most of its 2012 season. Gulfstream’s average is about $400,000 this month, and Ritvo expects an increase in January.
Gulfstream’s national name recognition would help it generate more wagering than Calder on summer and fall days, Savin said.
Trainers David Fawkes and Henry Collazo, who both have horses at Calder, joined Savin in saying that the expectation of higher handle and purses is a reason they would like Gulfstream to have more race days.
They also are among numerous owners and trainers who feel that Calder has let conditions deteriorate in its stable area and parts of its racing building.
“We keep the building clean and functional,” said Marshall, adding that Calder has an ongoing program for renovating barns.
Gulfstream has racing when many of the country’s top horses, jockeys and trainers are in South Florida for the winter.
It has what Ritvo calls a top brand identity for fans who bet at other tracks, at Las Vegas sports books and through Internet and telephone services.
Gulfstream also has a fan base that appears younger and more upscale than at Calder. Calder does what Marshall calls “the hard and heavy lifting, for Florida racing.”
“We race during the summer rainy season,” he said. “We are a developmental track for 2-year-olds that are a big part of Florida racing.”
Calder and Gulfstream have different systems of reporting, handle, thus making a direct comparison difficult.
Calder’s handle fell in three of the four years between 2008 and 2011, according to Churchill Downs Inc. financial reports.
Gulfstream’s news releases show that betting on its races in 2012-2013 had a daily average of $7.9 million — the highest at the smaller facility it opened in 2006. Calder’s best days are between $3 million and $4 million, on Saturdays with major stakes races, according to a review of Equibase Co. charts.
Ritvo expects that Gulfstream’s name recognition can help it generate higher summer and fall handle than Calder. He said Gulfstream would race just three days in many weeks, with horses that some trainers would leave at Gulfstream and horses vanned over from Calder.
During the second half of next year, Gulfstream expects to complete construction of the outer portions of the hotels and most construction of its new grandstands.
Construction will continue in 2014 in ways that will not disrupt racing and minimize inconveniences for fans, Ritvo said.
Gulfstream will increase its seats facing the track from about 1,500 to 52,000, including views from hotel rooms. It hopes that will qualify it to hold the annual Breeders’ Cup races in 2015 or some later years.
A casino building and movie theater complex are part of the plan.
Gulfstream also wants more race days because many fans stay to eat or shop at the adjacent The Village at Gulfstream Park outdoor mall, which Stronach Group owns.
Gulfstream is trying to build recognition as a local year-round entertainment destination with racing as the big attraction, Ritvo said.
“To do this we need more racing days,” he said. “The time has come for year-round racing at Gulfstream Park.”
Amid the Gulfstream-Calder dispute, Hialeah Park is eligible for, and interested in, returning to thoroughbred racing for the first time since 2001.
Hialeah is holding its fourth season of quarter horse racing. Under its state license for that racing it can have the more glamorous thoroughbreds for up to half its races each year.
“We would like to have the thoroughbreds back, and a lot of people ask me about that,” said John Brunetti, Hialeah Park’s chairman and owner. “But we don’t plan to do it [thoroughbreds] if we have to go head-to-head with one of the other tracks.”
Hialeah stopped holding thoroughbred meets because it could not be sure of a schedule spot of its own.
One factor that might help Hialeah’s prospects for a return is that Ritvo and Brunetti both said that Gulfstream and Hialeah have a good working relationship.
Brunetti said Calder has not responded to his requests to meet and talk about setting up a three-track schedule.
“We would have no objections to Hialeah running thoroughbreds as long as it is not head-to-head with Calder,” Marshall said.