Hialeah Park announced that it will run its 2001 meet – scheduled for March 17 through May 22 – at its home track.
Hialeah ran its 2000 meet as a lessee at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, and reported gains in attendance and handle as compared to its 1999 meet, run at Hialeah. But in a prepared statement, track president John J. Brunetti said, "Last year Gulfstream's turf course was not able to handle two 60 day meets and all of the horsemen stabled at Hialeah preferred our racing strip."
"That's good news," agreed trainer James Bond when told of the announcement, "Hialeah is a beautiful track as long as they're willing to pay for the upkeep."
Upkeep has been a recent problem for the historic facility that hosted its first race meet in 1925. A panel commissioned by the State of Florida legislature in 1998 concluded that $8 million in renovations were necessary, and severe tropical weather systems in 1999 and 2000 also did damage.
But general manager Rick Sacco contends that all of the work necessary to bring Hialeah in compliance with code was completed prior to 2000. "The place is going to look good," he asserts, "We've had a lot of time to get the track ready."
Nevertheless, Hialeah had been negotiating with Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of Gulfstream, to run its 2001 meet at the Hallandale facility. Negotiations broke down within the last month amidst speculation that a planned expansion would render the track inoperable for the Hialeah dates. "Magna has a lot of plans," noted Sacco," And as of 30 days ago we weren't part of their agenda."
One group that is not pleased with the announcement is the local horsemen. Its organization, the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, is involved in litigation with Hialeah for alleged underpayment of over a half million dollars in purses at the 2000 meet. "Horsemen coming to Florida should know that the situation there is unpredictable," said FHBPA president Kent Stirling.