Driving into the south parking lot at Hialeah Park Nov. 23, one could see a large satellite dish that was not there several weeks ago and a Teleview Racing Patrol truck. There were several dozen cars in the lot, compared with the handful you usually would find in recent years.
Those were the first clear signs that racing will indeed resume Nov. 28 at the historic Hialeah, Fla., track.
Hialeah’s first meet since 2001 will be solely for Quarter Horses - on 40 race days through Feb. 2, 2010.
Track owner and president John J. Brunetti is still waiting for Florida’s politicians to determine whether Hialeah will be able to return to Thoroughbred racing, with up to half its races in future meets, and build a casino with Las Vegas style slot machines. A state law that passed this year would allow that expansion for Hialeah. Enactment of that law is being held up amid a dispute between Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida legislature over terms of a gaming compact for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Brunetti has told The Blood-Horse he considers the first Quarter Horse meet “a mean to an end.” He expects to lose $15 million or more preparing the property for and running the 2009-2010 meet.
But Hialeah is making its new horsemen feel they are a main immediate and future attraction.
“Sam Abbey (racing secretary) and everyone else at Hialeah have all been great and are treating me better than I have ever been treated at a racetrack,” said Larry Devereaux, who has trained numerous Quarter Horse graded stakes winners.
To get ready for Quarter Horse racing, workers on were still painting some portions of Hialeah’s clubhouse Nov. 23. Most of that section of the building will be open, but the grandstand will be closed during the meet.
Other workers were putting in wiring around the building and up to restaurants on the third floor. Others were getting escalators ready or were installing self-service betting machines. Bunting was already hung over the balconies facing the paddock. The tropical trees have been trimmed in the paddock area, where testing was being done on the electronic tote board near the life-size statue of Citation.
Quarter Horses have already begun training on the dirt track and their trainers were giving the same praise for its consistency and apparent safety for horses that Thoroughbred trainers often talked about, Abbey said.
“The level of excitement keeps rising every day, here and around the country,” said Randy Soth, Hialeah’s vice president and general manager. “I’ve had people call from several states, saying they are coming here and want to know where they can find hotels.”
Fans will find that Hialeah has done an impressive partial reconstruction over two months. But expectedly, it has not yet returned to its grand appearance from the 1990s and earlier.
Details of Hialeah’s meet are on its Web site http://www.hialeahparkracing.com/.
Here are some highlights of what to expect:
First post time is 1:05 p.m. for the Nov. 28 eight-race card. On other days, first post will be at 2:05 p.m.-with racing Saturdays through Tuesdays. Each card will have eight races, Soth said.
Hialeah officials expect an opening day crowd of 10,000 or more-with many there for the event and not especially for racing. Hialeah will hold weekend concerts and other promotions to attract fans later in the meet.
The opening day card has drawn 63 entries. That includes a maximum 10 in the featured $25,000 Bienvenido de Nuevo Stakes. The race is 300 yards, for 3-year-olds and up.
Hialeah’s races will be at distances from 220 yards to 1,000 yards. Races on the straightaway will be as long as 660 yards. The only one-turn races will be at 1,000 yards.
Horses and Trainers:
Hialeah has put up 800 temporary stalls. Almost 300 horses were on site as of Nov. 23.
About 150 were en route from other states, Abbey said. He expects to have 800 horses on site by early December.
“It appears it will be very representative of a top-tier meet,” Soth said.
The attractions are racing at Hialeah and the fact that several major Quarter Horse tracks have ended their seasons, he said.
Lone Star Park’s Quarter Horse meet ends Nov. 28.
Devereaux races at Lone Star and other tracks on the Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico circuit. He arrived at Hialeah during the week of Nov. 16 and plans to have some of his top horses among his approximately 20 at the track.
Paul Jones, a six-time winner of the American Quarter Horse Association’s award as champion trainer, plans to have 26 horses at Hialeah. But he said he will keep his top horses at his base at Los Alamitos in Los Alamitos, Calif.
The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association expects there will be 30 or fewer Florida-breds racing at Hialeah.
Florida’s last Quarter Horse meet was in 1991 at Pompano Park, the harness track in Pompano Beach.
The Florida Quarter Horse industry hopes Hialeah’s meet will provide it incentives for breeding, said Dr. Steve Fisch, a veterinarian who is president of the Florida QHRA.
Four organizations that have Quarter Horse permits from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and are considering new construction. Thus, owners from Florida and other states hope Hialeah could be the start of a Quarter Horse circuit in Florida, Soth said.
Hialeah will have 10 cent superfectas on every race and a daily 50 cent Pick Four. It will have $1 minimums on all other bets. Those are win, place, show along with exactas and trifectas on each race, one Pick Three and late and early Daily Doubles.
Takeouts will be lower than in Hialeah’s final Thoroughbred years, when even some of its most loyal fans complained about high takeouts and a deteriorating property. Takeout will be 18% on WPS, 21% on exactas and daily doubles, and 27% on other bets.
Working with Teleview, Hialeah will send its signal to more than 100 outlets--a combination of race tracks, off-track betting companies and advance deposit wagering services. Hialeah was preparing a final list as of Nov. 23.
Under a state law, Hialeah cannot take in simulcast signals during its first meet.
Soth is not predicting Hialeah’s handle for opening day. But he expects that on some other days, especially weekends, Hialeah could have off-track handle of up to $300,000 and on-track handle up to $100,000.
Hialeah is renovating its Paddock Pavilion building, where it hopes to open a poker room before the end of its first meet.