John Brunetti, the owner of Hialeah Park, said he has spoken “briefly” to Halsey Minor about the technology entrepreneur’s dream to buy and reopen the South Florida track. But even though the two men have agreed to talk again in early August, Brunetti told Minor he “isn’t really interested in selling yet” because he still hopes to resurrect Hialeah himself.
“Under what conditions would I sell Hialeah? Probably none,” said Brunetti on July 25. “But I told him (Minor) that if he could bring something to the table that was unique -- that would add to it -- then maybe some arrangement could be worked out. I’ve always kept the door open and taken every opportunity to talk to someone who has some views on it. I don’t have all the answers and maybe something will connect one of these days.”
Brunetti described Minor as “well-intentioned,” but wasn’t sure the Internet tycoon understood everything that would be involved in the ambitious project.
“He has a dream,” Brunetti said. “He has the same kind of dream that I had some 35 years ago. It’s a great dream – the beauty and the majesty of racing. But there are many pitfalls and many battles to get to that, and they are constant. I don’t know if he has the passion or the will to do it.”
Minor, a multimillionaire who spends most his time in California but is a native of Virginia, estimated it would cost $30 million to $40 million to restore Hialeah to its former grandeur as a premier winter racing destination. Brunetti said his own “very conservative” estimate is $20 million to $30 million. “About half” of the amount, according to Brunetti, would be needed to rebuild Hialeah’s barn area, which has been demolished. And, Brunetti added, the cost of renovations to the grandstand might push the total significantly higher because “rehab is more expensive than new construction.”
Still, Brunetti is willing to invest the money needed to reopen Hialeah, which has been closed since 2001.
“I’ve put some 35 years of my life into Hialeah and done anything and everything to keep racing there,” Brunetti said. “I still have the passion for it. With some support from horsemen and politicians -- and from breeders, in particular -- we could put Hialeah back into the spotlight of racing.”
But, according to Brunetti, a couple of things have to happen before he could reopen Hialeah.
“First, we would have to have the return of our (racing) permit,” Brunetti said. “The second thing would be the allocation of racing dates, and after that, we could take over from there and conduct racing as we did before.”
Brunetti said he would also need racing dates during the winter tourist season along with the assurance that no other track in South Florida would be open when Hialeah was operating.
“I think we’re entitled to a portion of the winter dates,” Brunetti said. “Everybody thinks we want the whole hog, but we don’t. We just want a fair distribution of dates. We want something where we could put on a good racing program and something that fits in a year-around schedule within the state and within the whole racing community. Gulfstream is enclosed the same as Calder, and they both have air conditioning. They can run in warmer weather.”
Brunetti, has taken steps to get back Hialeah’s racing permit, but so far has not been successful.
“The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering knows of our interest,” he said, “but there’s been no movement. I don’t know whether it’s political or it’s something else. We have litigation going on, and we’re using that for the basis for negotiating the return of the permit. But the court system moves very slowly, and someone has to say enough is enough. I’m like the maid of honor. I’m waiting to be asked to be married back again into this great tradition of racing, so I’m standing by.”