Eliot Schechter

Hialeah Still Awaiting Approval for Dates

Hialeah Park is still waiting for approval of its racing dates application.

Hialeah Park has set Nov. 14 as the date for the start of arrival of Quarter Horses for a 40-day meet it plans to run beginning Nov. 28. But as of Oct. 22, the Hialeah, Fla., track was still waiting for the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to approve its application for racing dates.

Hialeah, which has not held racing since its last Thoroughbred meet in 2001, also is facing deadlines to have a portion of its clubhouse and its paddock area ready by Nov. 28.

“It will be a photo-finish, but we will get it done,” Hialeah owner and president John Brunetti said “We have two shifts, each with 100 men working on it.”

On Oct. 21, the Florida DPMW received a revised dates application it deemed “complete” from Hialeah. That agency has 90 days from that date to review the application, for approval or rejection.

“As always, the division strives to review applications in a timely manner,” Florida DPMW spokesman Alexis Lambert said.

If the Florida DPMW approves Hialeah’s dates, it will review the track’s racing and stable areas to assure compliance with its rules for safety of horses and patrons. If that agency finds any deficiencies, “we would work with them to resolve it,” Lambert said.

“We are hoping for approval (dates) soon,” Brunetti said.

Hialeah on Sept. 21 applied to hold two 20-day Quarter Horse meets—one from Nov. 28 to Dec. 29, and another from Jan. 2. to Feb. 2, 2010.

Under a law the Florida legislature passed this year but has not been enacted, Hialeah would be able to have a casino with Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines if it holds Quarter Horse meets of 20 days or more in two consecutive calendar years.

The current law requires any Quarter Horse permit holder to run a meet of at least 40 days during Florida’s fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30, with no eligibility for a casino.

In the Oct. 21 application, Hialeah, by order of the Florida DPMW, changed its application to one 40-day meet based on current law. Florida DPMW officials otherwise required no significant changes from Hialeah’s Sept. 21 application, Lambert said.

“If the law changes, we will make applications next year that would allow us to later have a casino,” Brunetti said.

Brunetti is among the racing executives who are not optimistic Florida will enact the new law this year. That enactment has been delayed by a dispute that has pitted leaders of the Florida legislature against Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Tribe of Florida regarding operations of the Seminoles’ seven Florida casinos.

Hialeah would be the first racetrack to hold a Quarter Horse meet in Florida since Pompano Park in 1991.

Hialeah expects to have about 1,000 Quarter Horses for a 2009-10 meet. Most are owned by members of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association.

Brunetti said Hialeah’s dirt track will be ready for horses by late October. It is the same surface Hialeah used for Thoroughbreds.

A tour of the facility on Oct. 22 produced an observation that Hialeah has restored its racing surface in fast order, but that considerable work is still needed on its building before Nov. 28. Brunetti plans to use portions of the clubhouse section and have the building’s grandstand, on the north side, cordoned off from patrons.

Brunetti has approval from the city of Hialeah to have the clubhouse first-floor and track apron open. He said he expects approvals for the clubhouse’s second floor by the end of October.

If approvals are received, Hialeah will begin painting seats and walls and do sand-blasting in that section. Several restaurants and bars in the clubhouse also would be reopened, Brunetti said.

Hialeah plans to have a poker room in its Paddock Pavilion building.

Hialeah plans to put up as many as 1,000 temporary stalls in its former barn area. Ground is being cleared, and Hialeah is waiting for arrival of tents. Quarter Horse owners will not pay to have horses stabled at Hialeah.

Horse owners, mostly in central and north Florida, will pay to send horses to and from Hialeah, said Dr. Stephen Fisch, a veterinarian who serves as president of the Florida QHRA.

Hialeah plans to have at least eight races on each of 40 racing days. Brunetti has a goal of purses averaging $100,000 per day. That comes to $4 million.

On Oct. 22, Brunetti said he will pay all purse money. He said funding from his family’s real-estate business will help cover purses and the more than $10 million he expects it will cost to prepare for and run an initial Quarter Horse meet. Fisch said horse owners will pay entry fees for races, thus contributing to purses.

Hialeah’s first condition book, through Dec. 15, shows nine races per day. The Nov. 28 opening-day card has nine races with total purses of $83,200. The feature is the $25,000 Bienvenido De Nuevo Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 300 yards.

The bill pending in the Florida legislature would allow Hialeah to have up to half its races as Thoroughbred events without permission from Gulfstream Park or Calder Casino & Race Course. If the bill is enacted, Brunetti said he probably would add some Thoroughbred races at a meet in late 2010.