By T.D. Thornton
More temporary stalls in tents are going up while the threats of eviction appear to be quieting down at Calder Race Course & Casino.
Churchill Downs Incorporated, which owns the track but leases a portion of the backstretch property to Gulfstream Park for year-round training and a 40-day autumn race meet, has been closing down the former main stable area of 60 barns since Dec. 1 in preparation for an unspecified future construction project.
Over the past five weeks, horsemen have been scrambling to find new homes for 600 Thoroughbreds that had been ordered to move out by Jan. 1.
In addition to 460 permanent stalls Gulfstream leases for the horsemen in a separate part of the backstretch, horses remaining on the property have already been relocated to 160 temporary stalls in tents in a parking lot. Scores of others have been transferred off the property to private stabling.
Trainer Edwin Broome still has a string of 14 horses stabled in the fenced-off area, which he estimated holds about 150 other horses awaiting transfer.
“Right now I've got to give Churchill Downs [Incorporated] a little bit of credit,” Broome said. “Churchill hasn't imposed any more restrictions on us. They're leaving us alone, they're letting us train. No more threats. That is what we want, for them to leave us be until the first of April. I don't know if they're going to keep doing it, but right now they're letting us be.”
Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, agreed that the tense situation is in a lull for the time being. But he said the current peace comes only after more “scare tactics” last weekend from CDI.
According to Stirling, for the second time in as many weeks, CDI demanded the tearing down of temporary tents after the FHBPA and Gulfstream thought CDI had granted permission for them to go up. The first disassembling was ordered in late December after electric and plumbing lines had already been connected to tents in an employee parking lot. The most recent tear-down order came for 200 stalls in tents alongside a backstretch pathway to the racetrack.
“Everyone's saying, 'Well, hold on, we're doing everything we can to move, and you guys are doing everything you can to make life miserable,'” Stirling said.
The new plan, allegedly with CDI's blessing, calls for 500 temporary stalls in tents that are being erected along the outside perimeter of the backstretch straightway where vans and heavy equipment used to be parked, Stirling said.
“We'd much rather stay where we're at,” said Broome.
Broome said his only concern about remaining behind the fence is that to get horses to the racetrack, they have to be hand-walked through an opening that has substantial vehicle traffic. Broome said he hoped CDI would relent and re-open the main path to the track.
“Give us a chance so nobody gets hurt,” Broome said.
“As we explained to the horsemen, it's not ideal,” Stirling said. “But for 90 days, just suck it up and let's try to get through this thing. When people start to move north, we can move other outfits into the other 460 [permanent] stalls or go over to Gulfstream [where stabling is currently at capacity]. As miserable as Churchill Downs has made life, I think the horsemen have been very resilient.”
Stirling said it is “bizarre” how some 660 temporary stalls have to be built alongside 60 perfectly good unused permanent barns–especially considering how lucrative Gulfstream's alleged offer was to lease the barn area from CDI.
“Even though they were offered $900,000 for the three months for those 500 or 600 stalls, [CDI] turned it down,” Stirling said. “That's like found money. I would think they would have jumped at that.”