Tom LaMarra

Hialeah Schedule Raises Ire of QH Group

Florida QHRA not pleased with track's schedule for 2014-15.

Hialeah Park has set its schedule for its next season, with a Quarter Horse-only meet of 40 days from Dec. 26, 2014 through March 2, 2015. It will conduct racing Fridays through Mondays throughout that period.

The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association is not pleased with that Hialeah schedule for 2014-15 because it leaves out several of the major stakes races of recent meets and because it maintains that Hialeah did not consult with it in making that change.

The Florida QHRA has had the horsemen's contracts since the Hialeah, Fla., track began its annual Quarter Horse meets in 2009-2010 and has it for two more race meets.

Meanwhile, a gaming bill under consideration in the Florida Senate would restore Hialeah's permit for Thoroughbred racing.

The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering revoked that permit in 2003 after Hialeah did not hold racing during two consecutive years. Hialeah has not held Thoroughbred racing since 2001.

Under the Quarter Horse license it was issued in 2009, Hialeah can hold mixed meets with up to half its races as Thoroughbred races. But Hialeah owner and chairman John Brunetti does not want to race Thoroughbreds head-to-head against Miami area neighbors Gulfstream Park or Calder Casino & Race Course.

Those two tracks have been racing head-to-head on weekends since last July and are scheduled to keep doing that through June 2015. (Read story)

Some weekdays might be open for Hialeah, but it would face other issues including availability of horses.

"What they're doing is not good for anyone," Brunetti said. "We would like to have Thoroughbreds again. We are waiting to see what they do in Tallahassee."

He is hoping that the legislature will restore Hialeah's Thoroughbred permit and follow that by returning to a system where state regulators pick the race dates for Florida tracks.

Under Florida's "pick your own dates" system, Hialeah on Feb. 27 sent the Florida DPMW its final list of dates for the 12 months beginning July 1, 2014with a schedule starting the last weekend of this December.

In a preliminary filing submitted late last December, Hialeah listed 40 racing dates from Nov. 28, 2014 to Feb. 22, 2015--mostly Fridays through Sundays.

That schedule was similar to the dates Hialeah ran during its last two meets.

The pending change will prevent Hialeah from holding a series of 2-year-old stakes in December, including several prep races for the Hialeah Derby. Hialeah made the change largely for handle purposes and it plans to work with the Florida QHRA to put some new stakes races on its schedule, Brunetti said.

"We have found that our handle starts to pick up after Christmas, so we decided to leave out most of December," he said.

When racing on Mondays, Hialeah will send its signal into a simulcast market on a day when most of the country's major Thoroughbred tracks are dark.

Hialeah ended its 2013-14 season Feb. 23. Two of its strongest handle days were the two Mondays it ran holiday cardsMartin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20) and President's Day (Feb. 17).

Hialeah's average daily all-sources handle for the meet was approximately $244,000the highest among its five Quarter Horse meets. Hialeah officials attributed the increase partly to its races being offered for the first time on and expanded coverage on TVG.

The Florida QHRA made the following comment in a statement released March 2.

"The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association was disappointed to learn from the Florida Division of pari-mutuel wagering Thursday (Feb. 27) at 4:30 p.m. that Hialeah amended its racing schedule without our input. The resulting program reorganization that will be required is disruptive to the national American Quarter Horse racing schedule, much like changing the date of the Florida Derby without consideration of its established place as a prep race for the Triple Crown. The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association will work with our horsemen to ensure that our record-breaking seasons remain as successful as ever and that we maintain our status as one of the top AQHA programs in the nation."

Hialeah-Florida QHRA Suit

During its final years of Thoroughbred racing, Hialeah and Thoroughbred horsemen had several disputes on purse-related issues.

Now, the dispute over race dates is taking place coincidentally with a Hialeah-Florida QHRA lawsuit.

The track and the QH group are continuing to wait for a state court in Miami to appoint an arbitrator for a civil lawsuit in which the track alleges that the horsemen's group violated terms of a purse account spending agreement.

Hialeah is asking the 11th Circuit Court of Florida to give it control of the purse account and is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the Florida QHRA.

Hialeah alleges that the horsemen's group has spent almost $500,000 from a horsemen's fund in the purse account over five years to reimburse itself for expenditures that are not direct Florida QHRA expenses, do not relate to activities at Hialeah Park, and do not provide direct benefits to trainers and owners at Hialeah Park.

The Florida QHRA maintains that the contract with Hialeah allows the Florida QHRA to determine the use of that money. (Read story)