"The only way to keep the track alive and bring it back was to start with quarter-horse races even though its unprofitable and we are operating at a loss," Brunetti Sr. says. "It is a gateway to get back to thoroughbred racing."

He says he spends $1,000 a month alone feeding the flamingos and has burned $15 million on studies of how to redevelop Hialeah Park. He plunked down another $20 million to spruce up the park before its grand reopening three years ago.

During the 2010-11 season, Hialeah's average daily handle jumped 15 percent, from $39,942 to $46,034. Yet that's still a pittance compared to the six-figure daily handles — the total amount of monies tracks pay to winning horsemen and jockeys — for thoroughbred racing at Gulfstream and Calder.

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 Sr. has made overtures to bring the more lucrative thoroughbred races back to his course — even persuading Steve Bovo, then a state representative and a former employee at the track, to sponsor a bill, but the measure went nowhere.

Even if thoroughbreds returned, experts such as Paul Moran, a retired horse-racing reporter who worked at New York's Newsday and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, say the track would still face stiff competition from Gulfstream and Calder.

"The biggest problem remains the lack of regulation in Florida," Moran says. "Someone in Tallahassee should recognize the history behind Hialeah and carve out a spot in the winter when they can run without competition."

In the meantime, Brunetti Sr. is banking on a casino. He plans to drop another $80 million renovating the storied landmark and adding the casino, which he hopes to open in December. "At the other racetracks, gaming finances the losses from thoroughbred racing," he says.

What's less clear is whether lawsuits will stop Brunetti from opening the casino, which the state legislature approved for him in 2010. The same year, Calder and Magic City Casino, the former Flagler Dog Track, collectively sued, claiming Hialeah Park is not entitled to a casino with Las Vegas-style slot machines and poker tables because it was not included on the list of pari-mutuels approved in 2004 by a statewide vote.

Brunetti argues it doesn't matter because the legislature issued him a license. So far he's had the winning hand. On October 6, First District Court of Appeals Judge Marguerite Davis upheld a Tallahassee circuit court judge's dismissal. But the pari-mutuels have appealed to the state supreme court.

Brunetti, meanwhile, has countersued, alleging Calder and Flagler engaged in unfair business practices by trying to freeze Hialeah out of having slots and poker tables. He is seeking tens of millions of dollars in lost casino revenue he claims the racetrack lost out on between 2008 — the year slots and poker were approved by Miami-Dade voters — and last year.

(Calder officials say they don't comment on pending litigation. Magic City Casino co-owner Isadore Havenick did not respond to two phone messages left at his office seeking comment.)

Brunetti's son, meanwhile, says the suit is motivated by business, not the law. "It is very clear our competitors are extremely motivated in stopping us," he says. "However, we're sticking to our commitment to keep Hialeah Park open."

On another front, Brunetti Sr. is also at war with Halsey Minor, the Internet guru. In 2008, Brunetti rejected the tech magnate's offer to buy Hialeah Park for roughly $22 million, about the equivalent of what Brunetti paid in 1977 when adjusted for inflation.

Minor sued Brunetti and the City of Hialeah in 2009. Minor claims Hialeah Park is actually owned by the city and that Brunetti is a lessee who is in default of his agreement because he let the racetrack deteriorate. What's more, the entrepreneur says Brunetti is not fit to restore Hialeah Park to its past glory and that building a casino makes no sense given the strong possibility that legislators will approve Genting's resort.

"Why would you put slot machines in the hands of a guy who closed down Hialeah Park in 2001 when you can give it to Genting, which has a proven track record of success?" Minor asks. "To put a casino at Hialeah Park is a kamikaze mission. John Brunetti versus the Steve Wynns of the world is like putting a bantam weight against a heavyweight."

Brunetti Sr. shrugs off Minor's criticisms. "You can come here and feel we've neglected the track — so be it," he says. "But we have made a significant investment for the present and future of Hialeah Park. The critics can say what they want, but the facts speak for themselves."

Yet Brunetti does not dismiss the threat posed by a Genting or Las Vegas casino.

"I'm not trying to be a hypocrite, since I am in the gaming business," he says. "But wearing my other hat as a horseman, what happens to the state's horse-racing business if a destination casino were to put Hialeah Park out of business? Is it worth killing the horse industry, which employs thousands of people, for an unfulfilled promise of economic prosperity?"

Mere feet from the finish at the Sunshine State Stakes, Doctor Onaka is losing ground to Marys Corazon. Ives slaps the Oklahoma gelding's hindquarters. Doctor Onaka pumps his legs harder, snorting loudly as he lunges across the finish line.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
8 comments
Joy
Joy

More and more sexy girls guys join the dating site stdster... c0m to look for sex partner.

Jsdikrl
Jsdikrl

How would you feel if you had contacted HIV/AIDS from a partner you trust and love.HIV is not something people can nor should they go through alone. I have found my love on the HIV support and dating site stdster.,.c0m . To all of us who positive stay strong and need people to win this fight, whether it’s family, friends or a support group, people are the key. stdster...c0m is such a free site.

Jsdikrl
Jsdikrl

STD positive singles face very difficult challenges when it comes to dating. They have to either date someone with STD or disclose their status. Disclosing to someone that's HIV- is a terrifying task and finding someone else with stdster.com help you Dating and Finding Love for Std Positive Singles.To all of us who are positive stay strong and don’t let anyone put you down, life is not a rehearsal it is here and now so live the best way you can. Check out stdster.,.c0m, You can know many inspirational story here!You are not alone.

Eva
Eva

You can receive treatment for an STD at Your Regular Medical Practitioner, Local Health Departments, or Public Hospitals. Not sure where you live. but if you want, you can find a near one on the largest and most trusted HIV dating and support community datingpoz...C óM .. they list hundreds of STD care locations.Please click“ like”, maybe you will save a life who is suffering from a STD for your small click.don't let this comment down.

Eva
Eva

You can receive treatment for an STD at Your Regular Medical Practitioner, Local Health Departments, or Public Hospitals. Not sure where you live. but if you want, you can find a near one on the largest and most trusted HIV dating and support community datingpoz...C óM .. they list hundreds of STD care locations.Please click“ like”, maybe you will save a life who is suffering from a STD for your small click.don't let this comment down.

Casinoking64
Casinoking64

Magic City Caino is very poorly run. The owners are greedy and they violate many Regulations in the Florida Gaming Laws, the place should be shut down!

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.

 
Loading...