They had taken the infield hedges that once spelled out CALDER in big block letters and lowered them down to the roots. They changed the sign over the old turnstiles at the entrance, raised the new corporate flag next to the tote board and — wherever possible — took a thoroughbred track that since 1971 was known as Calder Race Course and renamed it Gulfstream Park West.
The first day of horse racing at the old track with the new identity was Wednesday, and it was not unlike any of the other days at the racing oval formerly known as Calder. Losers outnumbered winners, same as always.
“No different,” said jockey Eduardo Nunez, who, as the winningest rider in Calder history, knows every square inch of the track. “It seemed like the same old place to me.”
Just don’t call it Calder, anymore.
Gulfstream, in a six-year lease agreement reached with Churchill Downs Inc. — Calder’s parent company — is running the show there now.
They’ll conduct a 40-day “boutique” meet through Nov.30 before returning to the real Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach early December.
With the exception of a massive green neon sign on the side of the grandstand that spells out “Calder Casino,” which Churchill will continue to own and operate under the new agreement, just about everything else has Gulfstream’s name written on it.
“It’s taking the Gulfstream brand and bringing it over here,” said P.J. Campo, vice president of racing. “Gulfstream is a very strong brand throughout the country, and we want to keep that brand going.”
And so the old “CRC” designation that bettors once found in the Daily Racing Form for races conducted at Calder will now become “GPW” even though the facility and racing surface is exactly the same.
“It’s a little weird,” said veteran trainer David Vivian. “It seems funny.”
Vivian moved down to Calder from Philadelphia Park 35 years ago and remained in Barn1 until a year ago, when a head-to-head racing dates battle between Gulfstream and Calder sent some trainers — fearful of the outcome — fleeing. Vivian was one of them.
“I was here an awfully long time, and I hated to see it go under,” Vivian said of Calder. “But you could see the handwriting on the wall.”
Though perhaps not as fashionable as either Gulfstream or Hialeah Park in its heyday, blue-collar Calder — which operated throughout the summer and fall — developed its own rich history.
It became a launching point for a number of talented 2-year-olds who became national stars, from Kentucky Derby winners SpendABuck and LilETee to champions Princess Rooney, Smile and Hollywood Wildcat.
Now those days are largely in the past. Gulfstream has singular control of thoroughbred racing in South Florida.
“It gives us a change of scenery,” Campo said of the 40-day interlude in Gulfstream’s long season. “The horsemen who were here for so long, they get a chance to run over here now. And it gives us a chance back at Gulfstream to catch our breath and give it a little bit of a face-lift.”