Hialeah Racetrack to Reopen?

The flamingo fountain at Hialeah Park Race Course, Hialeah, Florida.

Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

The owner of Hialeah Park Racetrack, a faded South Florida landmark that hasn't hosted a race since 2001, announced last week that the park could reopen as early as this December.

But preservationists and an investor who wants to buy and restore the 1925 facility fear that owner John Brunetti's plan to race quarter horses at Hialeah may not be enough to ensure the racetrack's revival.

Entrepreneur and businessman Halsey Minor, who wants to buy and restore Hialeah, has called Brunetti's racing plan a distraction. In an Apr. 15 statement he said: "The quarter horse proposal merely distracts the public's attention from the deplorable condition of Hialeah Park Racetrack and is an insult to the people of Hialeah, who are accustomed to hosting the finest thoroughbred horses in the world." In February, Minor and Save Hialeah Racing, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Brunetti and the city of Hialeah challenging the 2004 transfer of the track's title.

Quarter horses, once bred for running distances less than a quarter-mile, are raced at only 100 racetracks, mostly in the Southwest. Florida state law allows businesses to operate poker rooms if they host at least one quarter horse race each year. Critics suggest that Brunetti, who wants to introduce gambling at Hialeah, used that loophole when he obtained a quarter horse permit in March. To many enthusiasts, permitting quarter horses to run at Hialeah would be akin to authorizing miniature golf on the greens of Augusta National.

Hialeah was once considered a crown jewel in the racing world. Harry S Truman and Winston Churchill watched races at Hialeah, and the track hosted legendary champions such as Seabiscuit and Citation. But Hialeah's historic stables were demolished in 2002, and the racetrack's remaining Mediterranean-style structures continued to deteriorate. After Brunetti proposed a condo and retail development onsite, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the park to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2007. (The city later turned down the condo project.)

Brunetti, who began leasing the 220-acre property from the city of Hialeah in 1977, remains optimistic about his current plan.

Nevertheless, two key challenges complicate Hialeah's future: the park requires millions of dollars in essential repairs, and Brunetti says that he needs to operate slot machines at the park to guarantee profitability. A gambling bill has not yet passed the state legislature.

Opponents of the quarter-horse plan, who insist that the park can only reclaim its past glory if thoroughbreds race there once again, point to an additional hurdle: Brunetti holds no valid thoroughbred racing permit.

"It is such a magnificent place. We just really want to see it restored," says Becky Roper Matkov, president and CEO of the Dade Heritage Trust. "This [plan] is a first step, but it's not a guarantee."


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed


Submitted by surfer joe at: December 18, 2010
I think it is great to get hialeah back open. If you havent seen quarter horse racing you are missing some great horse racing. And how can bringing jobs and money into this economy be a bad thing ? Thank you counrty filly for brining your horses here and we all hope you have a great time here and bring more horses for the next meet. Welcome back Hialeah !!

Submitted by Country Filly at: December 3, 2010
I am sorry for all of the Hialeah people that think ill of Quarter horses. I race TB and QH in several states and both breeds have their high points. Both breeds offer races with purses of over a million dollars. The TB's are like the Indy 500 and the QH's are the "dragstrip racers". What's so bad about that? I just hauled my horses 24 hours straight from the Midwest to help make the Hialeah Park 2010 quarterhorse races a success. How about you locals getting out there, doing some betting, winning some money, and everybody is happy.

Submitted by Milly Herrera at: January 29, 2010
I would like to clarify something here that was brought to my attention. Please knwo that I am not the "millie" that commented negatively about my city or the people who live here. I am part of the original group "Save Hialeah Park" who worked very hard toward the historic preservation of this site, its buildings, structures and flaminges. Though I oppose a massive development plan that is currently proposed, and agree with Mr. Minor that this park is owned by the city of Hialeah, I want the best for Hialeah Park and the city of Hialeah.

Submitted by Tatum at: November 28, 2009
Halsey Minor doesnt want to steal anything he just wants to restore it to its orginal glory. Brunetti leases the property and has allowed it to deteriorate since 2002 because he doesnt have any money to restore it. He then proposed a condo and retail development and was denied. He has no thoroughbred racing permit or any good intention that is why he obtained a quarter horse permit in March. Why has he let this property sit there for 7 years. The truth is he wants to introduce gambling and line his pockets. A couple a coats of paint wont help him with that. The residence of Hialeah are the people that will visit the race track today, but Willy Chirino will not have them returning on any other day. Hialeah wouldnt know a good thing if it slapped them in the face. Good Luck

Submitted by bbalfan at: November 23, 2009
Halsey Minor wanted to steal Hialeah away and now that he doesn't have it, he wants to ruin it for everyone else. Poor loser Halsey should take his injured pride and paid staffers at Preservation Mag. and really put his money behind another valuable cause and let a beautiful piece of history be restored to its heyday and enjoyed by all. I'll be at the opening and many, many days thereafter. I'm not going with the unreasonable expectation that it will the Hialeah of old right out of the gate but I do plan to sit back, watch the changes as they unfold, bet my hiney off and cash a LOT of winning tickets!

Submitted by Adriana at: November 22, 2009
I am very glad to see the Hialeah Race Track Park is reopening. As a freshman in college, this brings back memories. In middle school (2002-05), I participated in projects to reopen the park and petition against the demolition of this historical site; as also having celebrations in their different halls after the park had closed. As a citizen in Hialeah, I am proud to see my city is trying to improve.

Submitted by jim at: November 21, 2009
what are the racing dates

Submitted by Proud Hialeah Resident at: November 19, 2009
Millie doesn't know the are balseros anyway she thinks they are barseros. My point is that they are people and she should not judge our city or it's people.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 16, 2009
Millie, sorry about your ignorance. Most of the "rafters" are doctors, engineers, and other kind of professionals, so I think you are so stupid. Oh!, by the way... it is not good english the word "balseros"... it is "RAFTERS"

Submitted by Proud Hialeah Resident at: November 6, 2009
The Hialeah Race Track is a Historic Gem beyond comprehension. It will once again capture the attention of all who appreciate natural beauty and historic preservation. When you visit Milly I hope you can grasp the concepts that make it so amazing and overlook the human being who may have come from Cuba on a raft who will be selling you refreshments at this breathtaking place which happens to be HIALEAH!

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 4, 2009
Millie, sorry is it not your fault that you are ignorant and have no idea of the value the represents this project to the City of Hialeah. I live in Weston, but I believe that restaurant of that landmark it is important for all of us.

Submitted by A non balsero living in Hialeah at: November 4, 2009
Really Millie, you are living proof that a little knowledge is DANGEROUS. You are obviously very well educated and rich. Hialeah happens to have a very rich cultural arts program, the best parks program and you might know that if you see past the balseros which are for the most part, hard working people who are here to pursue their dreams just like everyone else and they deserve the chance to do so just like EVERYONE ELSE.

Submitted by millie at: November 4, 2009
the problem is that it will be full of all the barseros cubans that live in hialeah and hialeah is a poor city.

Submitted by Yady at: October 29, 2009
Im interested on a job in Hialeah Race track I worked as custodian and worked to as an attendant too Im glad if I get hired with your company My name is yadila Duharte my phone is 786-326-3551 thank you and hope you call me for inteview thank you

Submitted by JULI at: October 22, 2009

Submitted by Ken from Michigan at: October 19, 2009
Let’s face facts. The re-opening of this glorious and historic facility is an enormous proposition that starts with baby steps and grows to the reemergence of the physical plant as the jewel of thoroughbred racing that it rightfully should be. The creation of an official meet, whether it be quarter horse or Harness racing, is just a point of rebirth. It opens the facility to the public again and provides a vehicle to rally public opinion on the need to force the legislature to break the monopoly that exists with Calder and Gulfstream Park on racing dates. Opening would also show the public the charm and charisma this historic gem hold in comparison to its modern and frigid competitor, Gulfstream Park/Casino.

Submitted by How Rude at: October 5, 2009
I got on this website, enthused that we may have a chance to come to the beatuiful state of Florida and race our American Quarter Horses. If you really must degrade the sport to nothing, get your facts clear. While thoroughbred racing is clearly a larger business, there is just as much prestige held in the Quarter Horse industry. Maybe your next article should read something like, "thanks to all the Quarter Horseman pulling to re-open Hialeah", if you are concerned about the re-opening of a historical landmark.