Eliot Schechter

Hialeah Seeks Later Start for Meet

The Florida racetrack currently has only Quarter Horse racing.

Hialeah Park is seeking a later start for its 2010-2011 Quarter Horse meet, and says it has “reached a formal agreement” with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association for six racing seasons through 2015-2016.

The Hialeah, Fla., track made its dates request and announced the contract in an Aug. 31 letter to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. That state agency must approve Hialeah’s revised dates request and contract.
In a press release on Aug. 31, Hialeah said its agreement with the Florida QHRA calls for purses to average $100,000 per day in 2010-2011.
Earlier this year, Hialeah told the Florida DPMW it planned to hold 22 live Quarter Horse cards, from Nov. 26, 2010 through Jan. 2, 2011. On Aug. 31, it requested to hold 24 live racing cards, from Dec. 3, 2010 through Jan. 23, 2011.
In an Aug. 31 letter to the Florida DPMW, Hialeah said it is requesting the change “in the spirit of cooperation and in the hope of maximizing revenues for all parties involved, including the State of Florida, plus further advancing all aspects of Florida’s Quarter Horse industry.”
Hialeah Park officials were not available for comment on Sept. 3.
Horse tracks in Florida select their dates for racing, filing them by each March 31, with no approval needed from the Florida DPMW, for the 12 months beginning that June 1. After March 31, the Florida DPMW must approve amended racing date requests.
A spokeswoman for that agency said it likely would decide on Hialeah’s request during the week beginning Sept. 6. She would not comment on prospects for approval. However, the Florida DPMW generally approves requests for reasons such as those Hialeah stated in its letter.
Under its amended request, Hialeah would hold races from Fridays through Sundays. It would be dark on Christmas Day.
Hialeah would extend its racing beyond the holiday season. It would have a major part of its meet during January, which is traditionally a month when many Miami-area residents are seeking outdoor sports and entertainment. 
“We look forward to building on last season and using this season as a springboard into the future,” Randy Soth, Hialeah’s general manager, said in the Aug. 31 news release.
Hialeah held its first Quarter Horse meet from Nov. 28, 2009 through Feb. 3, 2010. That 40-day meet was the track’s first racing since 2001, when it held its most recent Thoroughbred meet. Hialeah is the only Florida track holding Quarter Horse racing. Several groups that have permits from the Florida DPMW hope to open Quarter Horse tracks as early as next year.
For its 2009-2010 meet, Hialeah’s contract with the Florida QHRA called for it to pay purses of $4 million, or $100,000 per day. A Blood-Horse review of Equibase charts showed that Hialeah paid about $3.5 million. Within several days after the close of the meet it raised that total to $4 million, according to Hialeah and the Florida QHRA.
The 2010 state law allows Hialeah to have as many as half its races as Thoroughbred races during its Quarter Horse meets. 
John Brunetti, Hialeah’s president and owner, on June 22 told The Blood-Horse that he does not plan to hold a “mixed meet” with Thoroughbred races in 2010-2011.
Hialeah Casino Plans
As of Sept. 2, Hialeah had not filed an application with the Florida DPMW for a gaming and casino license—for which it is eligible under a law Florida passed in 2010. Brunetti has said several times this year that he hoped to start construction of a casino this fall and have it open by late 2011. That casino would have Las Vegas-style slot machines.
However, in its Aug. 31 news release, Hialeah said construction plans “slowed due to pending litigation.”
In two similar lawsuits, filed this year in a state court in Tallahassee, three pari-mutuels are seeking to prevent Hialeah from having a casino. Those three facilities and Hialeah are in Miami-Dade County.
On June 18, Calder Casino & Race Course filed a suit in state Circuit Court in Leon County. Greyhound track Magic City Casino and Miami Jai-Alai filed a similar suit on June 30. The two suits challenge a 2010 Florida gaming law provision that allows Hialeah to apply for a casino.
The plaintiffs maintain that a casino at Hialeah would violate the Florida constitution because Hialeah was not specifically listed among pari-mutuel facilities that voters approved for slots in referendums in 2004 and 2008. The listed facilities met the referendums’ requirements of holding live pari-mutuel events in 2002 and 2003.
Calder and Magic City have casinos, with Las Vegas-style slot machines. Miami Jai-Alai has plans to build a casino.
On a separate issue, Hialeah and four other Quarter Horse permit holders on July 21 filed a suit in the Tallahassee state court seeking to take away Calder’s two Thoroughbred permits.
Florida Quarter Horse Track Association, the plaintiff group, maintains that the state laws that granted Calder its Calder permit and later authorized transfer of the Tropical Park permit are illegal because of conflicts with the Florida constitution and other state laws. Plaintiffs maintain that laws needed approval by local voters, as well as the Florida legislature.
The Quarter Horse group’s suit asks the state Circuit Court in Leon County to revoke the Calder permit and suspend the Tropical Park permit. The plaintiffs also are asking the court to take from Calder “all rights flowing” from each permit.