by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
By Ray Paulick

Well, it was fun while it lasted, this dream of someday returning to Hialeah Park to enjoy horse racing in its most beautiful setting. Since making my first trip there in 1988, when the South Florida track already was in severe decline, I've held out hope that someone, somehow could restore it to some semblance of its past elegance.

At first, I let John Brunetti convince me that everyone really was out to get him and that if he could only get a break from state legislators and regulators he could be the one to bring Hialeah back. But then, as the years went by and I saw Brunetti's recalcitrance and heard about his disingenuous actions from horsemen and others involved in Florida racing, my expectations were that Hialeah Park would never be reopened after running its last race in 2001.

Then along came Halsey Minor, reigniting the flame of hope many of us hold for Hialeah. The Internet entrepreneur and Virginia Thoroughbred owner and breeder put together a team of experts to appraise the property, map out renovations for the grandstand and clubhouse, design new barns, and develop an operating plan. He engaged Brunetti is discussions that so many of us hoped would lead to a sale of the track to Minor and the rebirth of the “sport” of racing in South Florida.


Turns out Brunetti was only jerking his chain.

Brunetti is one of those guys who has a number in his head that isn't based on appraised values, or highest and best use of the property. The price Brunetti wants today, the Paulick Report has learned, isn't even in the ballpark of what he was trying to get previously from the state of Florida. It's much higher.

There is no rationale for Brunetti's demands, for he isn't a rational man. He just has a price, and one that isn't based on reality – especially the reality of an economy that has seen real estate values plummet, credit tighten and development slow to a crawl.

So the talks between Minor and Brunetti are dead, unless Brunetti has any second thoughts.

Given the nature of the economy, financial markets and zoning impediments that would keep Brunetti from bulldozing the track and putting up a business park or condos, Hialeah Park isn't going anywhere soon. It will just sit empty as Brunetti gets older and more bitter about his plight. Minor, 43 years old and involved in many other business projects, can simply wait Brunetti out and see if his heirs have more interest in doing something with the track than Brunetti.

As Minor has been quoted as saying, in that scenario Brunetti would “forego any of the recognition of giving back what he took from racing.”


For Hialeah Park, it's back to hibernation, unless Brunetti changes his mind and decides that he wants to be a steward of this Thoroughbred racing gem.


SO HORSE OF THE WORLD CURLIN, GINGER PUNCH AND OTHER STAR THOROUGHBREDS racing on a program that included five Grade 1 stakes could only attract 8,563 fans to Belmont Park. No surprise there, especially considering the rainstorms that swept through the New York metropolitan area. But previous crowds to see Curlin compete at New York Racing Association tracks weren't exactly overwhelming. For both the Woodward at Saratoga and Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup, NYRA's marketing team tried to stir up interest in a sporting public apathetic to any racing that doesn't involve the Triple Crown.

The problem isn't what NYRA's marketing department has done over the last few months. It's much bigger than that. The challenge for the “new” out-of-bankruptcy NYRA (which looks suspiciously like the old NYRA to me) is to redefine itself and somehow overcome a reputation defined by decades of arrogance and indifference to the public.

THANKS TO THE READER WHO TIPPED US TO THE LATE SCRATCH OF SAILORS SUNSET from Saturday's Grade 1 Ancient Title sprint at Santa Anita. A check with the California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, confirmed that there was a scratch on that day's program because a horse received a pre-race throat flush that involved something other than water, the only substance permitted on race day. Arthur said there appeared to be no performance-enhancing procedure attempted on the horse (i.e., a milkshake), but that a steward's hearing would be conducted into the matter. If Sailors Sunset was indeed the horse in question, the hearing would involve trainer Marcelo Polanco.

California's prohibition on race-day of throat-washing products such as Wind Aid that are commonly used in some other jurisdictions could create problems at this year's Breeders' Cup for trainers unfamiliar with CHRB regulations. For that reason, Arthur said, the Breeders' Cup horseman's handbook will explain its medication rules in detail and an associate steward will be assigned to outline California medication rules to every trainer with a horse in the Breeders ' Cup.



BEST PERFORMANCE OF A SPECTACULAR WEEKEND OF RACING? Was it Curlin's victory over Wanderin Boy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup? Zenyatta's dominating performance in the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita? Eye-popping turf victories by Grand Couturier in the Joe Hirsch Invitational Turf Classic or Red Giant in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial? How about the stretch-running victory by the 2-year-old Tapit filly Stardom Bound in the Oak Leaf Stakes?

All were outstanding, without question, but in my book the race that might be the most overlooked was the track-record blowout by Fatal Bullet in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park. This 3-year-old Red Bullet gelding is a synthetic track specialist who could be very dangerous on the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Who did you like in these Breeders' Cup preps?

Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report

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