Gulfstream near deal to monopolize racing in South Florida

Gulfstream Park is on the verge of securing a 10-month monopoly on thoroughbred racing in South Florida. All it needs is for a state regulatory agency to approve the track’s agreement with Calder Casino & Race Course.

If approved, the deal would end the two tracks’ head-to-head dates war, reduce Calder’s meet to 40 days in October and November, and enable Gulfstream to operate without competition the rest of the year.

“The idea is to make it a healthy year-round product,” Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo said of South Florida’s fractured thoroughbred industry.

It’s now up to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to sign off on the deal, which has the support of the state’s breeders, owners and trainers. Ritvo said if the pact gets state approval, the revised racing schedules could go into effect as early as July 1.

The deal would leave Gulfstream in near total control of thoroughbred racing in South Florida, a dramatic shift in the landscape from the sport’s glory days, when Hialeah was part of a three-track mix vying for dates and business. Now that fabled Hialeah is operating a quarter horse meet only, the competition has been reduced to two tracks: Gulfstream and Calder.

And Gulfstream, which has pumped millions into a state-of-the-art facility, has gained the upper hand. Not only would it host 190 of the 230 total days on the local race calendar, but its staff would also manage Calder’s 40-day meet in the fall.

Under state law, Calder must operate at least 40 days in order to keep its casino license. Gulfstream is paying Calder an undisclosed sum in order to complete the deal, which is good through 2020.

“We think we’re a racing company. We’re good at racing,” Ritvo said of Gulfstream. “They’re [Calder] good at gaming, no question about that.”

The agreement would entail other changes.

Gulfstream, for example, plans to go to a four-day racing schedule during the summer months but expand to five days a week from December through March. At the moment, Gulfstream is racing three days a week.

Ritvo said that with Gulfstream and Calder no longer competing for horses to fill cards, the average field size is expected to increase. That, in turn, could increase wagering on those races.

As a result, Ritvo said the state should receive more tax revenue from handle, and purses also would increase. Gulfstream also would pick up Calder’s stakes program, including two of its signature events in the Summit of Speed and Florida Stallion Stakes.

Calder, which is owned by Churchill Downs, has seen its handle drop dramatically in the head-to-head showdown with Gulfstream over the past 11 months.

“This is a great deal for the horsemen, for Gulfstream and for South Florida racing in general,” said Phil Combest, president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “We’re all very grateful to Gulfstream … for working with us to find a means to bring racing back to the level it should be on a year-round basis.”

Big money

Gulfstream is preparing to shell out big bucks Monday.

If there is no single winning ticket on the track’s Rainbow Pick 6 wager Sunday, track officials estimate the pool for 20-cent wager could swell as high as $16 million — a North American record for a Pick 6 wager.

And Gulfstream has scheduled a mandatory payout Monday to anyone who picks the winners of the fifth through 10th races.

The current record for largest Pick 6 pool belongs to Hollywood Park in California (July 2, 2007, $10,870,852.60). The tickets for 13 winners were each worth $576,064.40.

Read more Horse Racing stories from the Miami Herald

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