Florida's Hialeah Racetrack revived

Dec 22, 2009 3:57 AM

After a decade of inactivity, few Floridians believed that Hialeah racetrack, once the queen of the nation’s winter thoroughbred racing, would ever re-open. But, owner John Brunetti, the New Jersey developer, knew it was a question of timing.

With the hope of getting slot machine approval from the state, Brunetti, re-opened the racetrack late last month, albeit with quarter horses and not thoroughbreds.

Hialeah’s revival was greeted by an overflow crowd of more than 26,000 fans. This response encouraged both management and community officials. But the euphoria didn’t last.

Within three days, attendance had dwindled to less than 1,200, hardly encouraging.

Still, Brunetti was adamant. He said the return of pari-mutuel racing was merely a vehicle to get the state to approve a casino license for the property. But, with racinos at Pompano Park (trotters) and Flagler Dog track (greyhounds) struggling, some doubts exist.

Brunetti says supporting his $1 billion development plan for Hialeah, to be phased in over the next decade, would be like "building the Hoover Dam during the Depression."