Having been rebuffed by State of Florida lawmakers in his efforts to revive legislation that would allow his track exclusive operating dates, Hialeah Park chairman John Brunetti said he does not expect the historic track to open in 2002 or, quite possibly, ever again.
"We have begun a year-long project of land planning for the property that will likely consist of high-level multi use development, both residential and commercial," he said. "It's what I said would happen if we couldn't run our dates."
Under the expiration of the legislation that granted Hialeah the ability to operate unopposed from mid-March through mid-May, competitor tracks Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course have filed for racing dates that would allow Hialeah only one independent date in 2002.
While he holds out a glimmer of hope for action by the state legislature when it reconvenes next January, based in part on some movement in Hialeah's favor when a second vote was taken in the sessions' waning hours, Brunetti does not expect there to be any negotiation amongst the three tracks. "That's a dead issue," he said, "I put my hand out to them and all I got was indifference. I think their intentions are pretty obvious."
But Doug Donn, who represented Gulfstream at the session, saw the climate in the legislature differently. "There was a sense that enough has been done to regulate the industry, and now it's time for free market competition to take over," said Donn, "It was not an issue of Gulfstream versus Hialeah."
Although the closure and subsequent commercial development of Hialeah's 220 acres would remove stall space for approximately 1,200 horses, Gulfstream's president Scott Savin does not expect a shortage of horses. "We can accommodate all of the horsemen who want to race here," he said, adding that he is already in the process of addressing issues pertaining to the extension of Gulfstream's meet an additional five weeks beyond its traditional March 16 closing date.