The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Oct. 27 approved Hialeah Park's application to hold a 40-day Quarter Horse meet beginning Nov. 28.
It will mark the first racing at Hialeah since 2001, when it held its most recent Thoroughbred meet. The Miami-area track opened for Thoroughbred racing in 1925. John J. Brunetti has owned Hialeah since 1977.
“We are very pleased with the approval for our racing dates," Brunetti said Oct. 28. "It is another step forward in a long journey. It is now full speed ahead.”
Brunetti said the DPMW’s lengthy review and request for a re-filing based on whether Hialeah would run two 20-day meets or one 40-day meet had made him concerned he might be forced to start later than Nov. 28. Hialeah held off on some building work earlier in October.
“We are making up for lost time, and will be ready on Nov. 28,” Brunetti said.
Hialeah will hold Quarter Horse races each Saturday through Tuesday for its meet, which extends through Feb. 2, 2010. The last Quarter Horse meet in Florida was in 1991 at harness track Pompano Park in Pompano Beach.
By holding a Quarter Horse meet, Hialeah would take a first step toward a possible return to Thoroughbred racing on a limited bases, and a possible casino. A dispute between the Florida legislature and the Seminole Tribe of Florida has delayed enactment of a pending gaming law that would allow those activities for Hialeah.
Florida DPMW officials have begun inspecting Hialeah for safety of horses and patrons and for operations, that agency’s spokeswoman, Alexis Lambert, said Oct. 28. That focus will include what Hialeah will have for a detention barn for horses and its offices for Florida DPMW employees, Lambert said.
If the agency finds any deficiencies, "we would work with them to resolve it," Lambert said.
Hialeah received its Quarter Horse permit March 16 with a requirement to begin its first meet within one year of that date. Florida law requires Quarter Horse permit-holders to have at least 40 race dates, with at least eight races per card, during a state fiscal year that ends June 30.
In addition to Quarter Horse races, Hialeah will operate a poker room. For its initial Quarter Horse meet, it will not be able to bring in simulcast signals of Thoroughbred races or other pari-mutuel events.
A pending Florida law would allow Hialeah to have a casino, with Las Vegas-style slot machines, if it holds two Quarter Horse meets of 20 days or more during two consecutive calendar years. The pending law, upon enactment, would allow Hialeah to have Thoroughbred races for up to 50% of its overall race cards--without approval from nearby Gulfstream Park or Calder Race Course.
On Oct. 22, Brunetti said he expects Hialeah’s dirt track will be ready for horses by the end of October. It is the same surface Hialeah used for Thoroughbred. (see related story).