Hialeah Park, Florida's greatest racetrack, battles mega-casinos and lawsuits
The sky is a surreal blend of purple and orange as dusk settles over Hialeah Park. Pink flamingos, forever memorialized in the opening credits of Miami Vice, wade in the manmade pond near the second turn of one the most storied horse-racing tracks in America. A bugle trumpets through the speakers, signaling the arrival of the horses for the last race of opening day.
Inside the clubhouse, gamblers scramble to place their wagers. Dozens who have already laid their bets congregate near the winner's circle, where they have a bird's-eye view of the finish line. Some lean against the railing as ten horses and their jockeys parade to the starting gate for the Sunshine State Stakes, a 220-yard dash featuring quarter horses — leaner, smaller animals than thoroughbreds.
William "Bill" Ives steers his steed, Doctor Onaka, into the number two slot. The 50-year-old jockey sports a satin jersey in a John Deere-tractor color scheme. The 4-year-old gelding from Oklahoma, competing outside his home state for the first time, is a 12-to-1 long shot to win the $13,500 purse.
Ives needs the cash. A win would justify his 3,000-mile trek from his rural home in the mountains of Omak, Washington, not to mention his possibly insane decision to return to the brutal demands of jockeying after 17 years away. The Native American ex-logger thought he had quit racing for good in 1991, but the lure of winning six figures and the adrenaline rush of clinging to a thousand-pound horse galloping on a dirt track proved too tempting. Most jockeys last only three years in the punishing sport before gruesome injuries knock them out, so Ives knows he's dangerously pushing his luck.
"Horse racing is physically demanding," he admits. "At 50, it starts catching up to you."
One Tough Dude, the horse in the first position, right next to Doctor Onaka, is the 3-1 favorite. Ives scrunches his five-foot-one, 115-pound frame into race-riding mode. He straps on his goggles and tightly grips the reins.
The historic track where Ives is competing faces its own high-odds fight for survival.
Hialeah Park, a place where Seabiscuit made his debut and Kennedy royalty bet on the ponies, is hemorrhaging money as fans flock to the more accessible, newer Gulfstream and Calder courses. Its owner's only hope for success — a $100 million plan for a full-scale casino — faces lawsuits from competitors and, more ominously, a bill in Tallahassee to let Malaysian giant Genting or its Las Vegas brothers build a downtown Miami megaresort.
If that's not daunting enough, longtime owner John Brunetti is also locked in a lawsuit filed by a millionaire Internet maverick who's trying to muscle him out — all while detractors charge he has let a historic gem fall into disrepair.
"The racetrack has been a noose around John's neck ever since he bought it," says Halsey Minor, founder of Internet company CNET, who is trying to wrest Hialeah Park away from Brunetti. "He has failed at everything he has tried to do there. He can't point to one success."
But counting out Brunetti at this point in the race would be as big a mistake as writing off the wily veteran Ives. The 80-year-old racetrack owner is determined to fight off the lawsuits, outmaneuver the billionaire gaming companies, and restore Hialeah Park's glorious legacy.
"Isn't it nice to believe in something that you work hard at and sacrifice so much to see it through to fruition?" Brunetti asks in a gravely voice. "Hialeah Park has been my guiding light in life."
When the gates open, Spanish-speaking gamblers yell out the numbers of the horses they've bet on: "¡Número cinco! ¡Vamos! ¡El ocho, el ocho! ¡Dale, dale!" Doctor Onaka shoots out, blowing by One Tough Dude for an early lead.
A cool breeze pushes the lilies floating in a square pool near the west entrance of Hialeah Park's clubhouse. In the pool's center, a life-size bronze statue of Triple Crown winner Citation rises from the water like an equine sentry protecting the hallowed ground. Tendrils loaded with bougainvillea stretch up the walls of the ivory-colored chateau's stone façade.
Dennis Testa, Hialeah Park's vice president of operations, gazes at the statue his dad installed in 1961. "I put a silver dollar coin underneath its right front hoof," he says cheerfully. "That's how I left my imprint."
The snowy-haired man with a neatly trimmed mustache has basically lived at Hialeah Park for four decades, watching firsthand its days of national prominence fade into obscurity and nearly end a few years ago. These days, he's back working at the track, hopeful but wary that Hialeah's legendary history can live on.
"I don't think I can narrow down my one favorite memory, considering the magnitude of this place," Testa says. "I'm lucky to have been a part of it."
In 1958, when Testa was 7 years old, his father relocated the family from Vineland, New Jersey, to a three-bedroom concrete house on the northeast edge of the 220-acre property that includes Hialeah Park. His dad had landed a job as the track's general superintendent.
"Hialeah Park was my back yard," the 60-year-old Testa says. "When I turned 10, I was my dad's go-to guy. From cleaning up manure to unclogging drains to painting the walls, I did all the odd jobs."
By the '50s, the park had aged gracefully. It was founded in 1925 by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and his partner James Bright and then sat unused for years after the 1926 hurricane wrecked the grounds. In 1932, philanthropist Joseph Widener bought the property just as the state legalized horse betting.
Widener set out to erect a monument to horse racing in grand South Florida fashion. He and his chief architect toured Europe, drawing inspiration from British race courses and casinos on the French Riviera, basing their architecture on what they saw and importing pink flamingos from Cuba for local flavor.
For decades, Hialeah Park was a place to see and be seen during its January-through-March racing season. Photographs of Joseph Kennedy with his daughter-in-law Jackie watching races and Winston Churchill strolling the grounds still adorn the clubhouse walls.
"I'd place it at the top of most important places in Florida," Miami historian Paul George says. "Hialeah Park for decades,was the most famous of all the racetracks in the country."
According to Steven Davidowitz, author of the book Racing Thoroughbreds, if a horse won at Hialeah Park, it would almost surely succeed elsewhere. After claiming the 1948 Flamingo Stakes, Citation went on to win the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness.
"The quality of the horses was always excellent," Davidowitz says. "It has the best dirt course of any track in the United States. And it's beautiful. If you were a horse player, Hialeah Park felt like you were coming home."
Other records were set in the glory years. In 1969, Testa watched Diane Crump become the first female jockey to race a horse at a major track, and he saw Seattle Slew win the Flamingo Stakes in 1977, the year the undefeated thoroughbred claimed the Triple Crown.
That golden age began to dim in the late '70s, and since then, the course has toed the line between success and closure.
Even as American sports fans lost interest in horses, Hialeah Park had its own unique problems as the city became a safe haven for Cuban refugees. "At that point, Hialeah was not moving forward economically," Davidowitz says. "And the Cubans weren't exactly interested in betting on horses."
Racing fans began to flock instead to Gulfstream Park, which opened in 1939, and Calder Race Course, which debuted in 1971. The facilities are located in Hallandale Beach and Miami Gardens, respectively, close to I-95. "Those racetracks were better positioned logistically and geographically than Hialeah," Davidowitz says. "They benefited from the growing affluent population in the northeast communities."
That's when a wealthy New Jersey real estate developer named John Brunetti Sr. stepped into the picture and bought Hialeah Park for approximately $9 million in 1977. Twenty-nine years earlier, shortly before Citation won the Flamingo Stakes, a then-17-year-old Brunetti had visited Hialeah Park for the first time to watch his dad's horses race. He was an incoming freshman at the University of Miami. "I decided then that if there was one place I wanted to enjoy the pleasures of my success, it would be at Hialeah Park," Brunetti says.
In 1968, he inherited his father's vast real estate holdings, which included developments in Ohio, New Jersey, and Florida, as well as his dad's horses and horse farm in Ocala. Nine years later, Brunetti intervened to save Hialeah Park when he persuaded the previous owners to sell it to him instead of the corporations that own Gulfstream and Calder, which were intent on closing Hialeah Park.
Brunetti saved the park, but he rubbed many people the wrong way. "Brunetti has a very abrasive personality," Davidowitz says. "He alienated segments of the national racing industry and Florida's political establishment."
But Testa says Brunetti is often misunderstood by people who don't know him well. "I've always had a great professional and personal relationship with John," he says. "Can he be difficult? Absolutely. When he wants something done, he wants it done now and done right. He's been like that for the 30-plus years that I have known him."
In this case, Brunetti was determined to overtake Gulfstream and Calder, which are owned by major corporations with deeper pockets. That desire led to destructive clashes.
In 1989, for instance, Brunetti was unable to come to an agreement with executives at Gulfstream and Calder to split up that year's winter racing dates among the three tracks. As a result, Brunetti decided to go head-to-head with his rivals despite Hialeah's disadvantages. At the same time, he alienated horsemen and jockeys by paying lower purses than Gulfstream and Calder offered.
"He defeated himself with some of the things he attempted to do," Davidowitz says. "That pushed Hialeah further down to the point it could not survive."
Brunetti disagrees, noting Gulfstream and Calder would have killed Hialeah in the '70s had he not stepped in to buy it. "My sole purpose has been to save Hialeah," he says. "That is why we engaged in the infighting with the other tracks. Unfortunately, it got to the point we were unable to continue racing."
The park straggled through the '90s, always losing ground to Calder and Gulfstream. Many of Hialeah's employees — including Testa — ended up leaving for rivals. In 1994 he accepted a job offer from Gulfstream. "Business was not looking good at Hialeah," Testa says. "I was sad, but I had no resentment about leaving. I had a young family to think about."
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.
Nova Southeastern University Sharks Mens Basketball
TicketsSat., Dec. 10, 4:00pm
Florida Panthers v Vancouver Canucks
TicketsSat., Dec. 10, 7:00pm
UberTAILGATE: Hard Rock Stadium Dolphins vs. Cardinals
TicketsSun., Dec. 11, 12:00pm
LUXURY SEATING: Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals
TicketsSun., Dec. 11, 1:00pm
"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.
"My dad was driving a school bus and raising horses to earn a living," he says. "All his kids had graduated and had careers, so racing was a way for him to get out of the area and make money."
Quarter-horse racing was taking off, meanwhile, in states such as Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida thanks to new laws allowing casino gambling at racetracks. An old friend and horse trainer suggested that Ives, despite his age, get back into the racing circuit.
Ives agreed, and his kids supported him. "His first race back was at a Seattle county fair," Alvin remembers. "It was pretty funny for me to see him really nervous before he got on the horse. He was shaking so much."
He didn't win, but Ives finished the race, and he soon began touring the Midwest and the West Coast, hitting tracks in Colorado, Idaho, and Washington. In spite of his father's age, Alvin encouraged him. "I was totally stoked for him," Alvin says. "I wanted him to do really good."
For the past four years, Alvin has watched his father's every race online. "Not only have I seen all his races, I've bet on my dad every single time no matter what horse he is riding," Alvin says. "If he has a bad meet, so do I."
Ives's big break came in 2009, when he met Rodger and Chantaille Smith, who would become his agents. Rodger is a former jockey who, along with his 22-year-old daughter, represents jockeys looking for trainers. "Meeting Rodger and Chantaille was a blessing," Ives says.
Despite his age and his years away from the track, Ives's talent never disappeared. In 2010, his third year on the quarter-horse circuit, he made about $125,000.
Later that year, in late November, the Smiths and Ives headed to Hialeah for the first time to run on the track he had idolized as a kid. "I couldn't wait to get down there," Ives says. "The climate, the people, and the history is unbeatable."
The old jockey didn't waste his chance at Hialeah Park. After hooking up with Jackie Kirby, a 40-year-old horseman from Pryor, Oklahoma, Ives won four races with Kirby's horses, including the closing race, the Hialeah Invitational Championship, which paid a $36,000 bounty.
By the start of this season, though, Ives's remarkable three-year comeback had begun to take its toll on his body. Before suiting up for the Sunshine State Stakes, doubts were creeping in. His knees creaked as he mounted his horse. Most of the jockeys lining up beside him were half his age. And his family was three time zones away.
"I've been growing more and more physically tired," Ives admits. "It's been coming on for months."
But now that the race is on, as Doctor Onaka barrels toward the finish line, Ives's doubts seem a million miles away. Adrenaline shoots through his veins and sends his heart pounding. Clumps of dirt fly in every direction as his horse's hooves pummel the turf. Twenty yards away — if Ives can just maintain his lead over Marys Corazon — the finish line offers another chance to taste victory.
A tall man sporting salt-and-pepper hair, dark sunglasses, and a navy pinstripe suit leisurely paces the clubhouse. His black loafers clicking quietly on the terrazzo floor, John Brunetti Jr. enters a room showcasing his father's vision for the future.
The walls are decorated with architectural renderings. Inside a glass case sits a model replica of the racetrack surrounded by new buildings. The proposed casino is connected to the clubhouse, and just to the north of the property, a hotel towers over the development. Shops and restaurants are spread out on the portion of land that currently houses the temporary horse stalls.
"My father is a very determined individual," Jr. says of the proposal.
Among racing fans and preservationists, Brunetti Sr. has long been reviled for letting Hialeah Park fall by the wayside. But the same owner who nearly killed the park now says he can save it if plans to build a $100 million casino on the grounds come to fruition — and if he can outlast the push for a Miami casino and the lawsuits against him. If he fails, the hundreds of millions the Brunetti family has sunk into saving the historic park will likely be for naught.
"[My father] never gives up when someone tells him something can't be done," Jr. says. "They said Hialeah would never have races again, yet he made it happen."
Brunetti Sr. already saved the park from the brink once, just when he seemed ready to raze the place for apartments in 2007. In part, he says, a grassroots movement by residents called "Save Hialeah Park" convinced him to give horse racing another shot in Hialeah.
"The mayor at the time, Julio Robaina, asked me what we could do collectively to bring back racing," Brunetti says. "Soon various members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation and factions from the thoroughbred industry came onboard. So I gave up my ideas about redeveloping Hialeah Park."
In December 2009, Brunetti's track ran its first races since 2001 to triumphant headlines, but today the owner admits that quarter-horse racing alone doesn't pay the bills. In fact, he agreed to reopen the historic property only under the assumption he could build a casino to offset the losses from horse racing.
"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.
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.
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.
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."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.