Quiet Opening for Hialeah Park

The South Florida track's second Quarter Horse began Dec. 3 without much fanfare.

Hialeah Park opened its second Quarter Horse season Dec. 3 with announced attendance of 1,934 and all-sources handle of about $12,000 per race.

The scene at the historic Hialeah, Fla., track sharply contrasted the atmosphere of Nov. 28, 2009, when the track launched its first Quarter Horse meet. That day the attendance was 26,874 and the all-sources handle for eight races was $233,833, according to Equibase charts.

Still, Hialeah Park owner and chairman John Brunetti said he was pleased with the atmosphere on this season’s opening day—a Friday.

“This (attendance and handle) was about what we might expect because it was a weekday and a soft opening compared with last year,” he said.

The attendance and handle through seven races were similar to many weekdays during Hialeah’s first Quarter Horse meet, but Brunetti is looking beyond short-term numbers.  He is focusing on his goal for late 2011 of adding a casino with Las Vegas-style slot machines and bringing back Thoroughbred racing, in a mixed meet under the track’s Quarter Horse permit.

Hialeah held its most recent Thoroughbred meet in 2001. It then closed primarily because of difficulties competing with Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course.

In the track’s Nashua Room, Brunetti played host to Miami-area politicians and business people in an afternoon-long reception.

“We are finding that more people are starting to care again about Hialeah Park,” Brunetti said. “Today, we showed them how our dream is moving forward.”

Calder, Greyhound track Magic City Casino and Miami Jai-Alai are challenging Hialeah’s plan to add a casino. In a lawsuit in a state court in Tallahassee, they maintain that a 2010 state law’s provision that authorizes a casino for Hialeah violates a provision of the Florida constitution. On Nov. 22, Judge James Shelfer ruled in favor of Hialeah on one count of the four-count suit.

Basically, the plaintiffs are seeking to prevent the opening of another casino in a South Florida market that is highly competitive, and some observers say is saturated with  casinos.

At the reception, Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said he feels that a Hialeah Park expansion could have a huge impact for the economy in his city and neighboring cities.

“In addition to the casino, they are considering a retail center,” he said. “I am doing radio shows and talking with business people about how the other tracks’ lawsuit is not just a challenge to Hialeah but is something that could prevent job growth.”

Hialeah will have Quarter Horse racing on Fridays through Sundays until Jan. 23.