Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Driving down the entrance lane to Hialeah Park in late February of 1970 amid the beauteous palms and grass and flowers and wondering, "Where has this been all my life?"
Walking into the press box and being stopped by lovely Eve Dolan, who wanted to know what I was doing there. She was skeptical of my claim that I was the new racing writer for the Ft. Lauderdale News, until veteran New York-Florida handicapper Sam Engelberg came over and bailed me out.
Looking out the press box window and marveling at the Queen of Thoroughbred Racing - the track, the trees, the flowers, the lake, the island, the flamingos, and the Seminole Indian sitting in his canoe waiting for the seventh race, and wondering, "Where has this been all my life?"
Watching the keeper of the canoe paddle over to stir up those beautiful pink birds, who then waltzed their way over and around the grounds while the PA system wafted the haunting strains of "The Flight of the Flamingos."
Sitting in at a meeting at my new newspaper, the Miami Herald, and listening to a reporter telling us that he had been on a fishing trip with the Florida Supreme Court justices, and they related that instead of Hialeah keeping the January-February "middle dates" year after year, followed by Gulfstream, they were now going to let the two tracks rotate the dates.
Calling the New York-based trainers to get their reaction to the dates switch, and Allen Jerkens, Lucien Laurin, Johnny Campo, Woody Stephens, John Parisella, Eddie Neloy and John Nerud all expressing their surprise, and dissatisfaction.
In one column, printing all the letters that had arrived that week - all knocking Hialeah for its high prices for valet parking, seating, food, the clubhouse, etc., and having to go to the paper after the races to explain why I had so angered Herald publisher John S. Knight, owner of the Fourth Estate stable, who brought his Palm Beach buddies to watch the races every day in his box at his favorite track.
Having to go to the paper for explanations once again after Art Grace of the Miami News had a long preview story pertaining to the debut of the $200,000 Keeneland yearling, Mr. Prospector, and I didn't write about it. I did write about it after Mr. P broke his maiden that day.
Walking into the jocks' room one day and having Alberto Ramos give me a horse coming up in a couple of races with Don Brumfield aboard. I headed back to the press box and on the way bumped into Carl Rosen (owner of Chris Evert) and New York Yankees' centerfielder Bobby Murcer and marked the horse on their program. Brumfield brought him home at $34 and I made a nice score - Rosen and Murcer told me later they didn't bet on him.
Talking to Lucien Laurin on the phone and him telling me, in that wonderful French accent, about a nice colt he had ready to start named River Reach. Fortunately for me, I read a piece in the Racing Form the same day and changed the name to Riva Ridge.
Booking a $2 win bet from the late Joe Hirsch on Head of the River in the Everglades when I knew Riva Ridge couldn't lose. Head of the River did beat Riva and paid $19, but unbeknownst to Joe I had snuck over to the window and bet the $2.
Looking out at the winner's circle to get a glimpse of 13-year-old guest Brooke Shields, and wondering why she was allowed to defy the state rule that you had to be at least 18 to enter a pari-mutuel facility.
Seeing three of the great ones of the sport, Seattle Slew, Alydar and Spectacular Bid, win the Flamingo in successive years, 1977-79.
Driving to Hialeah with Max Hugel and David Goldman for the 2001 Flamingo, won by Frank Stronach's Thunder Blitz, not having an inkling that it would be the last time the race would be run.
I could go on for a month.
Now comes the news that John Brunetti has tainted the memory and history of the Queen by turning his previously legal quarter horse meeting into a farce, like Gretna, and Hamilton Downs, and Oxford before him. Reports from down south have Hialeah running two programs of eight races a day, using a makeshift starting gate, someone yelling "go" to start the races, and fields of two being acceptable. The "crowd" for the opener on May 31 is said to have been less than a dozen.
Equibase no longer carries the entries and results, and TVG no longer carries the races.
Track exec John Brunetti Jr. was quoted as saying the change was made to reduce the track's racing costs. The same racing that allows Hialeah to have a casino and a poker room.
For the record, that casino's slot machines netted $$68.3 million in the fiscal year 2015-2016, less the $23.9 million to the state, or a profit of $44.4 million. Through April of this cycle, the casino net is $60.7 million, with $21.2 million going to the state, a profit of $39.5 million. When the figures for May and June are added, it looks as though Hialeah's take will exceed that of last year.
As for the poker room, the first 10 months of this fiscal year have produced a revenue of $5.4 million.
Ergo, JJB Jr.'s explanation about having to reduce costs is a joke.
The blame for this fiasco can be laid right at the doorstep of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. There is no direction and no leadership as far as pari-mutuels are concerned and the only way the twisted state of affairs is going to be resolved is when the governor appoints a State Racing Commission, comprised of individuals who know and understand thoroughbreds, quarter horses, jai alai, dogs and standardbreds.
And, 47 years after I first walked into the Hialeah press box, I wonder, "How did it all come down to this?"
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