From Bloodhorse Magazine: A View From the Other Side of the Fence

by Phil Combest, President, Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association
As many in the Thoroughbred industry are aware, there is an ongoing dispute regarding stabling at the track formerly known as Calder Race Course, now operating as Gulfstream Park West.
Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) owns the property, but Gulfstream Park (GP) leases 40 racing days from CDI to run a boutique meet there. This arrangement allows CDI to continue to operate its profitable casino for the foreseeable future.
CDI made a deal with Gulfstream this past summer to lease a small portion of the barn area to allow about 440 horses to remain stabled at Calder/Gulfstream West on an ongoing basis. However, CDI has consistently refused to consider any arrangement with Gulfstream to lease or buy the remaining stable area and its 1,200 stalls. Further, the initial agreement between the companies stated that the main stabling area could only be occupied through Dec. 31, 2014.
Obviously, we are now at that Draconian cutoff date and there are still approximately 600 horses in the main barn area literally living behind a barrier fence which CDI has erected. To this point, there has been ample egress through the fence to allow horses passage to the track to train and to provide a means for vendors to deliver feed and bedding.
However, as of Thursday, Jan. 1, CDI plans to seal the fence, potentially trapping 600 horses behind it.
How did this situation come to pass?  Simple, really. CDI and Gulfstream have been banging heads for years and neither wants to give an inch. And, as usual, who gets caught in the crossfire but the horsemen.
So, if Gulfstream knew about the Dec. 31 cutoff date, shouldn’t it have provided for other stabling? That’s a question we horsemen have been asking management for months. The answer was consistently the same: Don’t worry, we’re in negotiations with CDI and when they hear the monetary figure we’re going to offer, they’ll grab the money and extend the lease for those 600 stalls.
Except CDI didn’t accept the offer. And 10 days ago we horsemen were told by Gulfstream that we DID NOT have any stalls for the winter, after all. But don’t worry we’ll put up some temporary stabling out in the parking lot because we control that area by contract.
So, to their credit, Gulfstream has stepped up and contracted at great expense with a Riviera Beach company to erect giant tents out in the employee parking lot with stalls for 600 horses. Only problem is, that’s not what these tents were designed for.
These tents were designed to be temporary structures for three-day horse shows which are generally held in park-like settings with ample room all about for the horses to graze and relax. These tents were not designed to be jammed into a small, asphalt parking lot with 600 horses standing cheek by jowl for three or four months.
Yes, you read it right, these 600 horses are being asked to stand on asphalt, albeit matted, until springtime. And with the profusion of guy ropes and metal ground stakes holding up the tents, it’s inevitable that horses are going to be injured.
Would you allow your horse to be stabled in such conditions? For many owners, the answer was clear: No, I can’t allow that.
So, as a result, many trainers are watching the horses previously in their care being shipped out to other environs.
So, who are the trainers blocked in behind the fence? The vast majority are the “little guys” trying to feed their families by training three or four horses. There are certainly no mega-stables of 150 horses back there. No high-priced, future Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup hopefuls. Just work-a-day horses in the care of work-a-day trainers. But as all horsemen know, these horses make up the backbone of racing. Without them, racing couldn’t go on. And, frankly, both these horses and these horsemen deserve more respect.
So, what’s the answer? It’s simple, really, Churchill Downs, with its over 100 years of racing history, must answer the bell. We need 30 barns with 20 stalls each for 100 days. Calder has been in existence for 42 years, so what’s another 100 days? Gulfstream is willing to pay a lot of money to rent 600 stalls for those 100 days.
CDI has no plans, permits, contracts, or agreements in place to demolish, develop, or sell the Calder barn area until at least this summer. So, this is one time that CDI is definitely NOT acting in the best interest of its stockholders if it doesn’t accept Gulfstream’s generous offer.
30 barns. 20 stalls in each barn. 100 days. Mucho $$$. The math is simple. 600 horses and their caretakers eagerly await an