Gulfstream Park West Meet Opens Wednesday; Challenges Ahead for Churchill Downs

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By Jim Freer and Barry Unterbrink

Monday, Oct. 5, 2015

At Calder Casino & Race Course, the tents are up for fans and horsemen who won’t be able to get into the racing building during the Gulfstream Park West meet that will open this Wednesday.

Meanwhile Gulfstream Park, which is running the 41-day meet under a lease agreement with Calder, has made the turf course lush and the main track deep and ready for horses and jockeys.

“You won’t find a better turf course”, Bill Badgett, Gulfstream’s Consultant for field operations, whose team manages and maintains Calder’s racing surfaces, told us at Calder this afternoon as we visited the grounds and surrounding areas.

Badgett and other Gulfstream officials were busy coordinating the activity of workers who were finishing the installation and tests of automated betting terminals, wiring additional display boards, and testing the cameras  at Calder in Miami Gardens.

But what Gulfstream is doing in the area between the building and the rail is determined by Calder and its parent company Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI). Louisville, Ky.-based CDI still owns the entire 250-acre Calder property, and manages the casino with about 1,200 Las Vegas-style slot machines.P1050335

During our visit to Calder today, it appeared that Gulfstream is attempting to make the best of what will be a makeshift set-up that some observers are referring to as “tent city.” There’s a long entrance-way tent (pictured) as you enter the track on the west side, and then more tents for the wagering terminals, and still another for trainers and owners to escape the sun and view the races via televisions (pictured).

“Let’s hope that we don’t have a hurricane,” one trainer said after seeing the two tents for fans.  The weather was warm and breezy today, but a marked lower level of humidity than in the past week, as our seasonal climate change will no doubt yield excellent weather for South Florida racing fans. However, our take-a-way is: with the entire racing operation in the outside air, rains and winds could send patrons scrambling into the nearby casino to escape the elements.

Trainers Viewing Tent

Trainers Viewing Tent

As previously reported  on July 28 by,  Horse Racing FLA, Calder and CDI are not letting the public enter into Calder’s racing building or grandstand seating areas during the  GP West meet that will end on Nov. 29th. Last October and November, the first floor of the seven-story building was open to anyone.

This year the sixth and seventh floor’s of the building will be open, but only to the stewards, placing judges, track announcer Pete Aiello, Equibase chart callers and writers, timers, the camera crew and working media.

In December, CDI will begin tearing down the Calder building that opened in 1971 (Calder’s first racing year) and went trough several expansions during its early years.

CDI will do an old-style demolition, taking several months. An implosion is not permitted because the building contains asbestos and other contamination  problems.

CDI is planning a non-racing commercial re-development for portions of the calder property, for itself or through a sale. But it has not announced any plans as of this post.

GP West: What to Expect

The GP West meet will be 41 days, primarily Wednesdays through Sundays.

The two tents for fans are set up just to the right and left of the finish line, and cover about 100 yards.

The two tents and an area on the building’s east side combine to have about 45 automated betting machines and about 35 teller stations. Simulcast wagering will be available at GP West on “a limited menu” of tracks, Gulfstream said in a news release on Monday.

During the GP West meet, Gulfstream will be open daily from 11 a.m. until about 11 p.m. and will have simulcasts from GP West and its regular menu of about 30 tracks.  Gulfstream is in Hallandale Beach, eight miles east of Calder.

At Calder several hundred seats, mostly benches facing the track, are still in place between the rail and the Calder building.

There are several areas with standing room under roofs. But rain could result in elbow-to-elbow crowding in the two tents.

There will be a refreshment stand in the area just east of the building. Fans will be able to buy food and drinks in the casino, just west of the racing building, and bring it back to the racing area.

Permanent men’s rooms and women’s rooms are outside the racing building.

Calder has not held live racing or brought in any simulcasts since the first GP West meet ended late last November.

The tote board/jumbo screen TV in the infield no longer works. Gulfstream has brought in two large screen replacements. One is on the east side of the apron area, and the other is on the west side of that area.

Horsemen’s Tent
The tent for trainers and owners is in the first turn area near the walking ring. It is covered on three sides and has four TVs, several tables and about 25 seats.

Last season at GP West, trainers and owners had a ground floor room with several dozen large TVs and a bar that had food service including burgers.

“What’s Todd Pletcher going to think if he sees this?,” one observer said Monday as he walked into the horsemen’s tent.

Pletcher has already sent some horses from tracks in New York and New Jersey to Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach.

He is rarely at Calder. But several prominent “snowbird’ trainers including Christophe Clement and Nick Zito often run horses at Calder in late November.

Last year, numerous trainers and owners asked for a re-opening of the Calder building’s second floor, where in previous years they watched races from their boxes.

But CDI and Calder refused, noting that they only had insurance coverage for the first, sixth and seventh floors.

Photos by Barry Unterbrink

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