New Hialeah Breeders' Cup Bill Introduced

Bill could allow Hialeah to again hold annual Thoroughbred meets.

A bill introduced Nov. 3 in the Florida legislature could allow Hialeah Park to again hold annual Thoroughbred meets, provided that it becomes a site for the Breeders’ Cup.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Eduardo Gonzalez and authorizes the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to issue a “Breeders’ Cup Permanent Meet” permit at the facility of a Florida horseracing permit holder that becomes the permanent site of the Breeders’ Cup or is selected to be among tracks in rotation for the annual two-day event.

The holder of that permit would be allowed to conduct a Thoroughbred meet each year from early November through Nov. 30, including years when it does not hold the Breeders’ Cup.

The bill, HB 563, does not mention any facilities by name.

But it is similar to a bill on the same issue that did not pass in the legislature’s 2011 session after being sponsored by several legislators who support expansion at Hialeah Park.

In May 2011, Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti said he had hoped the bill would have passed and that his track would have attempted to use it to return to Thoroughbred racing—which it last held in 2001.

Brunetti was not available for an interview Nov. 9.  Another official of the Hialeah, Fla., track said Brunetti had not yet had a chance to review the new bill and thus would not comment on it.

“We are not in any discussions with Hialeah,” a Breeders’ Cup official said.

Passage of the bill without any changes is undoubtedly a longshot.

Hialeah’s ability to qualify to hold a Breeders’ Cup likely would depend partly on completion of renovations of its clubhouse/grandstand building and construction of a $150 million casino it plans to open late next year.

Gonzalez was not available for comment.

The Florida legislature will hold its 2012 regular session from Jan. 10 to March 9.

Gonzalez’s bill includes what appears to be Hialeah Park’s full wish list. Most notable are authorization of a new Thoroughbred permit, in  language that basically translates to perpetuity, and the right to have a casino.

Opposition can be expected from several pari-mutuel organizations—particularly Calder Casino & Race Course which under the bill would relinquish its important November race dates to long-time rival Hialeah. Calder would receive a tax credit equal to its operating loss, up to $950,000,for lost race dates as determined by the Florida DPMW.

“Calder will not have a comment on the proposed bill,” said an official at that track in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The bill does not mention Calder. Instead, it states the holder of a Breeders’ Cup Permanent Meet would take the dates of any track within 35 miles that is running a Thoroughbred meet in November.  Calder is 11 miles north of Hialeah and races the full month each November.

Gulfstream Park, about 15 miles from Hialeah, also might have some objections—especially to a provision on simulcasting,  The bill allows the special permit holder to prevent any pari-mutuel within 25 miles from taking its signal on the two Breeders’ Cup days and other days when it holds races.

On Nov. 1, Calder and two other southeast Florida pari-mutuels asked the Supreme Court of Florida to consider a review of a lower court’s decision that authorizes Hialeah to have a casino with Las Vegas-style slot machines.

The plaintiffs maintain Hialeah cannot have a casino because it is not among pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade County and Broward County that are eligible under a referendum that statewide voters passed in 2004.

On Oct. 6, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled against Calder and its co-plaintiffs and upheld a state circuit court’s Nov. 22, 2010 ruling that Hialeah is eligible for a casino under a 2010 state law.

The Florida DPMW revoked Hialeah’s Thoroughbred permit in 2003 because it did not hold live racing during either of the two previous years. Hialeah’s only current racing permit is a Quarter Horse permit, which it has held since 2009.

The permit authorizes Hialeah to hold a mixed meet, with up to half its races for Thoroughbreds. It has held two Quarter Horse-only meets. It will hold its third Quarter Horse meet Dec.10, 2011 to Feb. 19, 2012, with no Thoroughbred races scheduled.