The race is too close to call. Bettors anxiously watch the slow-motion replay on the JumboTron. The footage shows Doctor Onaka's head bobbing just ahead of Marys Corazon's. Tickets are ripped in disgust and yells of triumph echo when Ives's horse is declared the winner by a nose.

A beaming Ives rides Doctor Onaka into the winner's circle, where Kirby the trainer and Chantaille Smith, the jockey's agent, wait. Kirby, sporting a graying Fu Manchu mustache, hugs Ives as he dismounts Doctor Onaka. "You done great, Bill," Kirby gushes.

After posing for pictures with Kirby and Smith, Ives shuffles to the jockeys' dressing room near Hialeah Park's administrative building. He slowly peels off his sweaty riding silks and changes into a pair of jeans, T-shirt, sneakers, and sunglasses. Deep creases in his face make him look older than he really is.

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.

The win ensures Ives will make at least $1,350 during his first weekend in Hialeah this year. But a few weeks later, Ives decides that's not enough. His knees are aching, his back aflame, and he's drained from having to keep his weight low. Three years after it began, his comeback is finished.

"I figured I'm better off retiring now before I really start going down hill," he says. "I just pray I go out with a little dignity."

Smith says Kirby didn't take Ives's retirement well. "Jackie was really upset about it," she says. "But it's been hard on Bill too."

"Bill is a good Christian man," Kirby adds. "The Lord told him it was time to go home."

But Ives went out in spectacular fashion, riding four of Kirby's horses to victories in the following weeks, including one at the Beautiful Prairie Stakes, which paid out $22,500. "I couldn't have asked for a better finish," Ives says. "On the road back to Omak, I felt like turning the car around."

Ives has wrapped up his career, yet Hialeah Park's comeback remains an unfinished race three years after it began.

Though Brunetti Sr. is optimistic that building a casino will save the historic track, experts are not convinced.

"It is going to be a challenge because Hialeah Park is not on the water or in a city with the cachet of South Beach," historian Paul George says. "The market is already saturated with casinos, so the question remains if Brunetti can make it viable."

The gaming bill, which has already been amended 18 times to create parity between the pari-mutuels and the proposed destination resorts, was recently approved by the Florida Senate's Regulated Industries Committee. However, the bill's sponsors — Ellyn Bogdanoff in the Senate and Erik Fresen in the House — are not optimistic the measure will pass during this session.

Meanwhile, a trial date in Miami-Dade Circuit Court has yet to be set for Minor's lawsuit. Calder and Magic City Casino are waiting to find out if the state supreme court will consider their appeal.

From his desk inside Hialeah Park's administrative office, Brunetti Sr. believes he'll succeed. He'll build his casino, he says, and the profits will allow horses to continue dashing around the storied track.

"Three years ago, most of the new condo buildings in downtown Miami sat empty," he says. "Now they are filling up with residents. There is no better place to be."

Adds Brunetti: "I take pride in the fact that we have been able to accomplish and endure a lot to keep Hialeah Park alive. It's not gonna stop now."

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8 comments
Joy
Joy

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Eva
Eva

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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.

 
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