Hialeah Park

Hialeah Park

Tom LaMarra

Hialeah Pulls Plug on Thoroughbred Request

Owner John Brunetti said other tracks won't meet with him about the proposal.

Hialeah Park is calling off its plan for a possible return of Thoroughbred racing in April and May of 2013.

Hialeah Park chairman John Brunetti said May 14 he made the decision because officials at nearby Calder Casino & Race Course and Gulfstream Park have declined his requests to meet with him about his goal of returning his track to the southeast Florida racing calendar.

“I do not want to stir the pot and reopen some of the wounds that led to the situation we have today,” Brunetti told The Blood-Horse. He also noted “there might not be enough horses” because Hialeah would be holding Thoroughbred races head-to-head against Calder.

Thus, in a filing submitted April 27, Hialeah asked the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering for permission to not race on 20 days in April and May 2013 for which it has received regulatory approval. Brunetti is preparing a revised filing with information that, based on precedent with other pari-mutuel facilities’ requests, could lead the Florida DPMW to approve the request to cancel the scheduled dates for which it was considering Thoroughbred races.

The last head-to-head Thoroughbred racing in southeast Florida was in late 1989, between Hialeah and Calder. Hialeah had several problems, including difficulty in building field size, and received state regulators’ permission for early termination of its meet. Hialeah has not held Thoroughbred racing since 2001, and has not had a license for Thoroughbred racing since 2003.

Under a Quarter Horse license, which it obtained in 2009, Hialeah can hold mixed meets with Thoroughbred races comprising up to half its schedule. Hialeah’s first three Quarter Horse meets have had races only for that breed.

But on Feb. 28 Hialeah raised speculation about a possible return of Thoroughbreds when its final dates filing with the Florida DPMW showed the 20 April-May dates for 2013. The filing also listed 32 dates from December 2012 to February 2013, in what has been Hialeah’s Quarter Horse season since 2009-10.

On March 1 Brunetti said it was “very possible” the track would hold Thoroughbred races on the April and May dates. He also said Hialeah might use those dates for Quarter Horse racing.

Now, Hialeah is attempting to remove the April-May dates from its state-approved schedule for the period between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013.

A spokeswoman for the Florida DPMW said Hialeah’s April 27 filing was not complete because it did not include written approval for the cancellations from all seven pari-mutuel facilities within 50 miles of Hialeah. On May 14 Brunetti said Hialeah has obtained all of those approvals and is preparing a revised application.

After it deems the application complete, the Florida DPMW will have 90 days to decide whether to approve or reject Hialeah’s request to reduce its racing schedule.

Even though Hialeah at least for now is pushing back any plans for Thoroughbred racing, Brunetti said it is moving ahead with a casino it hopes to open in the spring of 2013. He said reconstruction will begin in early June on the grandstand/clubhouse building’s north side for a casino with 900 Las Vegas-style slot machines. He said the project will cost about $85 million, with financing entirely from his family’s businesses, including real estate.

Brunetti said Hialeah intends to add a separate casino building as part of a redevelopment that could include a hotel and retail complex on the 206-acre property. Timing for the start of construction would depend on availability of outside financing and the performance of Hialeah’s casino in the highly competitive Miami-area market, he said.

On April 27 the Florida Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower state court that authorizes Hialeah to have slots. The courts rejected a suit by Calder, Miami Jai-Alai, and Greyhound track Magic City Casino, all of which maintained that a casino at Hialeah is not permissible under the Florida constitution.

The courts ruled that a 2010 state law authorizes a casino at Hialeah. By holding Quarter Horse meets, Hialeah has remained eligible for a casino under the law.