Despite Increases, Hialeah's Future Remains Uncertain

Though its future is imperiled by the prospect of head-to-head competition from Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, Hialeah Park posted strong numbers through its first three weeks of live racing.

Buoyed by good weather, a resolution of its differences with the local horsemen's association, and an increase in field size, Hialeah recorded a 20% jump in total handle and a 3% increase in on-track attendance.

The average field size of 7.6 represents a 20% increase from 1999. In 2000, the Hialeah meet was held at Gulfstream.

While figures in all categories are down somewhat from the Hialeah-at-Gulfstream meet, track officials are pleased. "This is going to be the best meet ever at this track," said general manager Richard Sacco, who alluded in part to an accord that will keep Hialeah's signal beaming into Aqueduct through the end of April.

Still, as the meet progresses toward its scheduled May 22 conclusion, there is a black cloud. "This is as bad now as it has ever been," Hialeah chairman John Brunetti Sr. said.

Brunetti said his track couldn't survive if, as scheduled, Gulfstream and Calder expand their 2002 racing calendar to allow Hialeah just a handful of unopposed dates.

Brunetti has enlisted the support of traditional allies in the state legislature and Miami Mayor Alex Penelas in an effort to revive regulation that restricts tracks to specific dates.

"We're the home team here," said Brunetti, who noted that Gulfstream and Calder are owned by out-of-state corporations. "I just hope people don't look back and realize what a wonderful thing was lost when Hialeah closes."

Brunetti said he has fielded inquiries from unnamed "non-racing people" about the facility, which has an estimated property value of more than $7 million. "In the next four or five weeks we should know what will happen," he said. By Scott Davis

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