After 50 Years, Florida’s Calder Race Course Is Shuttered

Another American racetrack has closed its doors for good. Gulfstream Park West, formerly known as Calder Race Course, ran its final race Saturday. How we got here is, regarding the industry at large, quite instructive.

Calder opened on May 6, 1971, to a capacity crowd of over 16,000. Over the years, those crowds, like the ones at the vast majority of U.S. tracks, waned. In 1999, Churchill Downs Inc. purchased Calder; in 2010, Churchill introduced casino gaming, making the track a racino (which, as we know, is designed to subsidize the horseracing). As part of its (casino) licensing, Churchill was required to run at least 40 days of racing. But as the years passed, Churchill (as it has at many of its other properties) grew less and less interested in racing. The money, after all, was in the slots, and for Churchill, a publicly traded company, profits are all that matter.

So, in 2014, Churchill leased Calder to the Stronach Group, owner of nearby Gulfstream Park, and the track was rechristened Gulfstream West. In a move that underscored how little Churchill cared about the horseracing there, in 2015 the grandstand was razed – i.e., no fans allowed. Still, it appeared that Churchill was stuck with this arrangement. Until, that is, the company found a loophole in state law.

In order to maintain its gaming license, Churchill had to offer parimutuel gambling, with the most prominent form being, of course, horseracing. But, it turns out, jai alai would do, and Churchill went about building a fronton (a jai alai arena) in the hope of supplanting horseracing. Eventually, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (and various state courts) decided jai alai would indeed suffice, rendering racing unnecessary. And so here we are. While true that Gulfstream will absorb some of the Calder dates, not all will be made up. In the big picture, another racetrack has been shuttered. (Florida will be left with but two Thoroughbred tracks, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs.) And that’s progress.

Truth is, Churchill is not alone: There are many track owners across this land who would be more than happy to rid themselves of costly, dirty, and, increasingly, embarrassing (negative coverage, dead horses) horseracing. But they can’t and still retain their gaming licenses. That’s because the “horsemen” lobby is strong and have the politicos’ ears. Recently, though, that has begun to change (see Governor Wolf in Pennsylvania). Would that that trend continues and this corporate welfare propping up a cruel, declining industry gets redirected where it belongs – education, infrastructure, property-tax relief, etc. For now, we savor another victory.

10 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. Fantastic news! One less killing field. May the dominoes continue to tip to the next track and the next track…

  2. Oh no! I’m heartbroken for them, LOL.
    No, really. Seriously, it’s something we all hate to see: honest, hard-working, clean-living, family-oriented folks who ask for nothing more than to carry-on with their all-but-unregulated, animal-killing Florida gambling game in secrecy and stealth, only to be shut down by those crazy-cat-lady-animal-rights-extremist-whacko-puritanical-shut-ins (whose real mission, as we all know, is to take away everybody’s family pets, and force Fido and Fluffy to fend for themselves in the wild.) Or something like that.
    So, it’s a good thing we’ve still got the Stronach Group and other, equally humanitarian businesses willing to fight for our God-given right to keep on mangling and mutilating racehorses for the entertainment of gambling junkies in the Sunshine State. See? All is not lost, Calder fans;)

  3. It appears to me that the Stronach group wasn’t making a profit by keeping Calder Race Course open. I think the expenses to keep it open for racing exceeded the income that was being generated from Pari-Mutuel betting/ gambling/ wagering. So, knowing the Stronach Group has several other racetracks to generate wagering handle from, it makes financial sense to close an unprofitable racetrack. There is no sign of anyone in the horseracing industry, especially the Stronach Group, getting a sudden case of shame and a conscience. I don’t know what they are planning to do with this piece of real estate, but they could continue to use it as a training track.

  4. The horse racing business hasn’t been financially sustainable for years.
    Our spineless politicians would rather continue draining our public coffers and casino profits, to support it, rather than have the balls to say “enough is enough!”
    The main reason is because horse racing uses their ace card “jobs” as their unrelenting demands for money and more money to support them.
    What’s so insane is the money should be going to support education and/or community essential services which would create thousands of more jobs, good jobs, that horse racing will never have.
    If these state owned properties (supported by taxpayers) were sold to private developers than it would create lots of jobs plus it would bring money into the public coffers via property taxes.
    Brilliant concept isn’t it?
    Yet, our politicians continue to send millions to horse racing and it wasn’t acceptable under normal circumstances let alone during a pandemic where money is so needed right now.
    Take for example their new demand: BELMONT PARK IN NEW YORK.
    Now horse racing is demanding that the government tear down the existing “EMPTY” grandstand and replace it with a new, smaller, modern facility.
    The current grandstand is so dilapidated that it would cost more money to upgrade it than to tear it down and start all over again with a smaller one about 1/3 of the size and that will probably be EMPTY as well.
    How are they going to fund this multimillion dollar project?
    Well the VLT’s of course and this will require the authorization of politicians on state owned property.
    It’s obvious to most of us as it should be to our politicians: It’s long overdue to tear it down, shut it down, and get rid of this cancer on our communities.
    The money would be well spent in other areas such as education or infrastructure, again, creating more jobs than horse racing has ever or will ever create.

Leave a Reply to Marjorie Lynn Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.