Florida Bill Would Give Hialeah Unopposed Dates

Legislation that would mandate three distinct seasons of Thoroughbred racing in South Florida has been introduced in the House by Rep. Rene Garcia, whose district includes Hialeah Park. Another bill introduced by Garcia calls for statutory changes related to racing dates.

For 2002, Thoroughbred dates in South Florida were deregulated. Garcia's bill calls for the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to assign periods of operation for three permitholders: Calder Race Course, Gulfstream Park, and Hialeah. The three periods would be Oct. 16-Jan. 31, Feb. 1-May 15, and May 16-Oct. 15.

Applications to operate must be received by Dec. 31, the bill states, though any schedule could be amended by March 31. The bill also says the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering would assign dates should more than one licensee apply for the same period, and if the "same two applicants apply for the same period in two consecutive years, they shall be assigned different periods than those assigned in the previous year."

In a letter to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart that was copied to all legislators, Hialeah chairman John Brunetti said it was time to "make one last request concerning the most serious matter facing the Thoroughbred industry." He said Florida is the only state that doesn't regulate racing dates.

"For over a year, we have made a case for the necessity of Hialeah Park to operate a racing meet without the competition from out-of-state Thoroughbred conglomerates, entities whose resources and corporate philosophy call for the elimination of racing at Hialeah Park," Brunetti said in the letter.

Calder is owned by Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc., and Gulfstream by Ontario, Canada-based Magna Entertainment. In previous comments, Brunetti has heralded the fact that Hialeah is locally owned.

Hialeah, which last year held its meet at Gulfstream, isn't scheduled to race this spring. When applications for dates where filed last year for 2002, with deregulation in place, Calder and Gulfstream applied for a combined year-round schedule. Hialeah would have been left with only one day without an overlap.