Eliot Schechter

Hialeah Files Solely for Quarter Horse Dates

The South Florida track has not held Thoroughbred racing since 2001.

Hialeah Park's preliminary racing dates filing for the 12 months beginning in July calls for another three-month season of Quarter Horse racing, without a return of Thoroughbreds.

In a filing with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, the Florida track listed 40 racing dates from Nov. 28, 2014, to Feb. 22, 2015, mostly Fridays through Sundays.

Hialeah Park has not held Thoroughbred racing since 2001. It has not had a Thoroughbred license since 2003, when the Florida DPMW revoked it for not holding racing during consecutive years.

Under the Quarter Horse license it was issued in 2009, Hialeah Park can hold mixed meets with up to half its races for Thoroughbreds. But the track's owner and chairman, John Brunetti, said he does "not just want to wade back into the water" in Thoroughbred racing, and does not want to race Thoroughbreds head-to-head against Miami-area neighbors Gulfstream Park or Calder Casino & Race Course.

"The other two are racing head-to-head now, and if a third track came in people would think, 'They're crazy down there in Florida,' " Brunetti said. "I understand that they are talking. We need to see what they do before we decide anything (on Thoroughbreds)."

Hialeah Park's options remain open for Thoroughbreds in fiscal year 2014-15, based around the schedules of Gulfstream and Calder. Under Florida's "pick your own race dates" system, all of the state's pari-mutuel facilities have until Feb. 28 to submit final date filings to the Florida DPMW for the state's 2014-15 fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015.

In preliminary filings Calder and Gulfstream both set plans to race every Friday through Sunday during the 2014-15 fiscal year. The two tracks are holding periodic talks aimed at a settlement that would prevent head-to-head racing in 2014-15, possibly by Gulfstream leasing or buying Calder.

Hialeah Park and Gulfstream have what Brunetti and Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo call a friendly business relationship. There has been speculation that, pending a settlement with Calder, Gulfstream might alter its schedule and leave several open weeks when Hialeah might run Thoroughbreds under its Quarter Horse license.

But Brunetti said his preferred return would be with a new Thoroughbred permit. Thus, he said he hopes Hialeah Park's supporters in the legislature will work for passage of bills that would authorize a Thoroughbred license for his track and bring back regulation of racing dates.

As of Jan. 9, no bills on either topic had been introduced in the House or Senate.

"I hate to sound like a broken record, but what the other two tracks are doing now shows why we need a return to regulation of racing dates," Brunetti said.

Hialeah' Parks 2013-14 meet will run through Feb. 23, mostly Fridays through Sundays, with first post time of 12:35 p.m. EST.

Hialeah-Florida QHRA Suit

Meanwhile, Hialeah Park and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association are continuing to wait for a state court in Miami to appoint an arbitrator for a civil lawsuit in which the track alleges the horsemen's group violated terms of a purse account spending agreement. The track 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.

The track alleges 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.

In early December, Joseph DeMaria, an attorney who represents the Florida QHRA, said the contract with Hialeah Park allows the Florida QHRA to determine the use of that money. (Related story)

"John Brunetti has been trying to take control of the horsemen's account for several years, and this is his latest attempt," said DeMaria, a partner in the Miami law firm Tew Cardenas.