Seven years later, on May 22, 2001, Hialeah held its last thoroughbred race. In 2003, the state regulators officially revoked the track's racing license. In the ensuing years, Brunetti let the track, the clubhouse, the stables, and all of its historic structures waste away.

In 2006, he won approval from the Hialeah City Council to demolish the stables. Brunetti had plans to build 3,760 residential units and more than a million square feet of commercial space on the 220-acre site.

By the next year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation had listed the park as among the most endangered historic places in the country. The future looked dark for Hialeah Park.

Hialeah Park has hosted Triple Crown winners, Kennedys, and Winston Churchill.
Hialeah Park has hosted Triple Crown winners, Kennedys, and Winston Churchill.
Jockey William "Bill" Ives returned to racing three years ago after a 17-year absence.
Coady Photography
Jockey William "Bill" Ives returned to racing three years ago after a 17-year absence.

"Brunetti really screwed up with the racing dates, which led to him being squeezed out," historian Paul George says. "Next thing we know, he is ready to sell it to the highest bidder and knock it down."

Doctor Onaka and Ives can't shake Marys Corazon, another long shot vying for the Sunshine State Stakes' top prize. A gray-haired man with light eyes and a thin build, Ives is determined to claim victory. He bangs Doctor Onaka with his switch. The beasts are neck-and-neck as they pass the 100-yard mark. Doctor Onaka's trainer, Jackie Kirby, leans against the railing near the finish. "C'mon, Bill," Kirby says softly. "You got this, buddy."

The fact that Ives is leading a race at this point in his life, as a 50-year-old jockey whose career was essentially over decades ago, is as big a surprise as the fact that Hialeah Park is still hosting horse races. It's also a testament to the almost mystical draw of Hialeah, a track that inspired Ives when he was a rodeo-bull-riding teenager growing up poor on a Washington state Indian reservation in the '70s.

"Gosh, wouldn't it be great if I could ride there one day," Ives recalls telling himself after watching Hialeah races as a kid. "One of my idols, Braulio Baeza, was the big dog at Hialeah. He was an awesome thoroughbred rider. I was lucky to meet him when I got down there."

Ives's mother, who gave birth to him in 1961, is a member of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe in Kingston, and his father hailed from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Ives grew up on his dad's reservation, which is just outside Omak, a mountain town of 4,000 famous for its Omak Stampede and World Famous Suicide Race — a horse festival that sparked his equine love.

"I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything in the world," Ives says. "We didn't have much, but we always had good horses to ride."

Ives spent his early years hunting deer and elk, fishing for trout and salmon, and riding horses. "I was born into it and just stuck with it," he says. He was also an accomplished wrestler, becoming the first Omak teen to compete for a state title in high school. He entered his first horse race when he was 14, riding for his uncle at the Okanogan County Fair. "It wasn't a pari-mutuel track," he says, "but it had jock saddles and starting gates."

By 1978, Ives was alternating between careers as a professional quarter-horse jockey and rodeo bull rider. "It was mostly bush league," Ives says sheepishly. "But I won a rider title riding the circuit in British Columbia. I also picked up a couple of riding titles in Washington."

It was a dangerous profession. Ives shattered a collar bone, broke his nose, and fractured knuckles several times. He rode through viciously twisted ankles and torn shoulder muscles. "The worst one was when I dislocated my shoulder so bad I needed surgery to repair nerve damage," he says. "That was in 1982."

As a jockey, Ives spent months on the road away from his three sons. His oldest, Alvin Ives, recalls his dad traveling 12 hours south to compete in Boise, Idaho, and ten hours north to race in Alberta, Canada.

"During the summers, we would camp out at the tracks with him," Alvin says. "We'd play in horse manure and clean stalls for money, just living the track life."

By 1991, Ives, who has been married and divorced twice, was growing weary of being away from his boys so much. He also had a daughter on the way. That September, he called it quits.

"I was racing thoroughbreds at the Playfair Race Course in Spokane," he recalls. "It's about a three-hour drive from home. One day I wanted to take off from work so my sons and I could go fishing, but the trainers told me no way. That's when I realized I was putting horses ahead of my kids. I didn't want to do that anymore."

Ives gave up the irons for construction and logging jobs in Omak. "I built a lot of house frames and climbed a lot of trees," he says. But he never forgot the thrill of whipping a horse toward the finish line. "I hesitated because of my kids," he says. "I didn't want to leave my family again."

When Alvin was 16, Ives began coaching the wrestling team at his alma mater, Omak High School, helping his son win a state title in 1995. Now a 32-year-old truck builder, Alvin says that by 2008, Omak's economy was terrible and his father was hurting.

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8 comments
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Casinoking64

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Bubba The Wise
Bubba The Wise

You really captured the spirit of Hialeah Race Track, the Brunetti family and jockey Ives. Thanks for the article.

 
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