Halsey Minor has a dream. The technology entrepreneur, multimillionaire, and Thoroughbred owner wants to purchase, renovate, and return racing to historic Hialeah Park, the Southern Florida track that has been closed since 2001.
Minor said July 22 he has talked to Hialeah owner John Brunetti on the phone and they have plans to meet face-to-face in early August to discuss the track’s future. Minor also has been in touch with Alex Fuentes, who heads the group Citizens to Save Hialeah Park.
“I think Mr. Brunetti has a very important decision in front of him,” Minor said. “The question is will he be the one who allows Hialeah to be revitalized or is he the one who allows the greatest icon in Thoroughbred racing to die?"
Minor estimated refurbishing Hialeah would take three years to complete and would cost $30 million to $40 million, which doesn’t include the purchase price of the land. The track, whose barn area has been demolished, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and it is officially designated as a sanctuary for the American Flamingo by the Audubon Society.
“My goal is to make Hialeah look as good as it looked on its best day and then to do some innovative things to help bring the fans closer to the sport,” Minor said. “It will have the same natural beauty, but no one will have ever seen a track be as high tech in the way I will make Hialeah.”
Minor’s desire to resurrect Hialeah is inspired by his love of Thoroughbred racing and his interest in historical preservation. Last year, he purchased Carter’s Grove Plantation, which is part of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, for $15.3 million, saying he wanted to use the property for a Thoroughbred breeding program.
“I have never been more afraid that an industry I love and means so much to me is actually going to go away,” said Minor, a Virginia native who splits most of his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. “It is an industry that’s lost its way, and it’s dangerously close to the edge. I’m willing to take my money and risk it in the hopes I can produce a model that shows how to run a track or an institution in a way that is completely fan-focused and still makes money. I’m not in this to make a fortune from the track; I’m in this to make a track that proves that people still like horse racing. If I’m going to turn the industry around, what better way is there to do it than to bring Hialeah back to life and make Hialeah work?”
Minor wants to resurrect Hialeah without relying on slot machines.
“I have no plans for anything other than a racetrack,” he said. “I hate slots. I think they are corrosive, and I think people are going after slots because they have given up hope they can make racing work. They are putting their fate in the hands of the government, and they don’t control the government. There is no crossover between people who play slots and people who race. They (slots) are the worst thing that has happened to our sport; they are utterly and completely corrosive.”
Minor’s strategy for success, he said, is to “get people back in the stands, and the way you do that is to focus on their experience. When you go to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and you buy a table, you don’t run out of drinks before the Derby runs. You don’t have people working in your facilities who are rude to your patrons. You run your business for the only constituency that matters and that is the fans. When I go through the process of reconstructing Hialeah, I’ll do it with one thing in mind, that it will be the best place in America for fans to enjoy Thoroughbred racing.”
Minor, through agent Debbie Easter, purchased grade I winner Dream Rush for $3.3 million at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed sale. The 4-year-old filly has finished second in the Vagrancy Handicap (gr. II) and third in the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) this year. Minor also owns Fierce Wind, who captured the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in February.
Minor, 43, founded CNET in 1993 and it became one of the Internet’s first companies to achieve profitability. He also developed Grand Central Communications and a software technology called PRISM.
The Blood-Horse could not reach Brunetti for comment.