Hialeah Plans Quarter Horse Meet for 2009-10

Hialeah Park has announced plans for a Quarter Horse meet that would begin Nov. 28.

The Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and Hialeah Park announced Sept. 4 that the Hialeah, Fla., track will hold its first Quarter Horse meet from Nov. 28, 2009 through Feb. 2, 2010. However, Hialeah Park had not applied for those dates or any other Quarter Horse race dates as of Sept. 4, said Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

“We have heard that they are considering applying for dates,” Lambert said.

Hialeah Park also has not obtained a required operating license from the Florida DPMW, Lambert said.

Hialeah Park owner and chairman John Brunetti Sr. could not be reached for comment. Hialeah Park last held racing in 2001 for a Thoroughbred meet.

The prospect of Hialeah Park re-opening has since been a recurring story in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. This year, the track obtained a state Quarter Horse permit, and the Florida legislature passed a bill that would provide it with economic benefits.

The news release, distributed by the Florida QHRA, said Hialeah Park plans to run from Saturdays through Tuesdays during its 10-week meet, with eight races per day.  With 40 programs with eight races per program, Hialeah would meet minimum requirements for Quarter Horse meets under Florida laws.

The release said average daily purses will be about $100,000, and that additional nomination payments would be made for races it said would be futurities, derbys, and stakes.  Hialeah Park will have 1,000 stalls, the release said.

Hialeah Park would be the first track to hold Quarter Horse races in Florida since 1991, when harness track Pompano Park held a short Quarter Horse meet.

Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida QHRA, said he expects Florida owners would send between 750 and 1,000 horses to Hialeah Park for its 2009-10 meet. Several Quarter Horse owners in Oklahoma and New Mexico also have said they will send horses to Hialeah Park, said Fisch, a veterinarian at AVS Equine Hospital in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida owners have been sending Quarter Horses to tracks in those states and in Louisiana, he said. Hialeah Park would hold its meet after tracks in several other states end their Quarter Horse seasons.

On March 16, 2009, the Florida DPMW issued a Quarter Horse permit to Hialeah Park. As an existing facility, Hialeah Park has 12 months from that date to hold its first meet.

A bill the Florida legislature passed last May and Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law in June would allow Hialeah Park to use its Quarter Horse permit to also hold a limited number of Thoroughbred races. The 2009 law also allows Hialeah to have a casino, with Class III Las Vegas-style slot machines, after it holds race meets for two consecutive years.

But that bill’s provisions cannot take effect unless the Florida government agrees to a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There are widespread concerns the law will not take effect because an agreement Crist and the Seminoles signed Aug. 31 would make major changes in the law.

The changes would include giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack and baccarat at all seven of their Florida casinos rather than at four as would be allowed under the law.

In their joint announcement, the Florida QHRA and Hialeah Park said the track also is planning for Quarter Horse meets in 2010-11 and in 2011-12.

Before Hialeah Park re-opens, Lambert said the Florida DPMW would send an inspector “to ensure that it is ready to operate and that it complies with all of our pari-mutuel rules and regulations.”

“We will not look at anything structurally in terms of building codes,” she said. “We will look at the barns and stables and the racing area in terms of our rules and regulations.”

Several years after Hialeah Park stopped racing, Brunetti had the barns torn down. They were west of the paddock area. A portion of the turf club’s roof was blown off by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Hurricanes also damaged other parts of the grandstand/clubhouse building and the grounds.

Fisch said Brunetti has told him Hialeah Park is preparing to build 1,000 stalls. He said Brunetti would have to provide details on stalls and other changes that are being made on the property.

The release said Hialeah Park will have “other requirements that will make the meet an enjoyable experience.”

Fisch said an overgrowth of vegetation has been cut from the dirt track. “I think it is just a couple of days away from being ready for racing,” he said. “The surface for Quarter Horses is the same as for Thoroughbreds.”

Last year, Brunetti estimated it would cost between $30 million and $40 million to totally refurbish and re-open Hialeah Park. While full details were not available Sept. 4, it’s apparent Hialeah Park’s planned re-opening in November would be on a more limited scale.

Several other holders of Quarter Horse permits are considering plans to build tracks. Gulfstream Park and Pompano Park also hold Quarter Horse permits.

Fisch said the Florida QHRA believes Hialeah Park’s opening “would create a new industry where our Florida-bred Quarter Horses can race and where we will have horses coming to race from around the country. This will be very good for our state’s equine breeding industry.”