Hialeah, still beautiful as ever, continues to descend into racing oblivion. The latest travesty is as outrageous as the Metropolitan Museum of Art being transformed into a brothel would be. A quarterhorse meet has been used to justify Hialeah being allowed to operate a slots casino and poker room. Now that is being abandoned in favor of some sort of sham racing where as few as two horses gallop--in a manner of speaking--down a path. The only consolation is, it might not come to pass if decoupling is approved by the Florida legislature this spring.
I havenâ€™t been to Hialeah for simulcasting since the Gulfstream West meeting. If Iâ€™m going to watch local races on TV, Hialeah is half the trip for me that Gulfstream is.
The Hialeah experience still gives me a good feeling. Palm trees still sway, the grounds remain breath-taking, flamingos cavort in the infield and the clubhouse has been refurbished. Itâ€™s like revisiting my old neighborhood, which has become, shall we say, not a desirable place to live anymore. But the structures and landscape are unchanged, so going back still rekindles warm memories of what once was.
On my next trip to Hialeah, if there is one, Iâ€™m going to check to see if there is a tear running down the cheek of the statue of Citation. There should be.
According to a dispatch in The Paulick Report, the once most cherished thoroughbred track in the world is about to be reduced to running sham two-horse races to satisfy the legal requirement to keep its casino and card rooms.
This might seem only marginally worse than the Gulfstream West meeting at a venue that is now an empty lot bordering a race track or the low grade quarterhorse meeting Hialeah has used to keep its casino . But Calder, as much as it grew on me over the years, was never the treasure of the turf that Hialeah was.
The latest development all but dashes my dream of thoroughbreds racing under the flamingoes again. I felt that if decoupling were passed, as seems likely this legislative season, the Gulfstream West meeting at Calder would be put out of its misery and Hialeah would move in with a short boutique meeting between Gulfstreamâ€™s summer session and the prime winter meet.
It would make sense. A fall hiatus is beneficial to Gulfstream. It breaks the monotony of running 12 straight months at a single venue with one season bleeding right into the next. But now, as they say in Brooklyn, "Fuhgeddaboutit!"
I still think decoupling is a factor in the farcical meeting Hialeah got approved. Iâ€™m not the only one who feels decoupling is inevitable. If it happens, it will probably be at the end of April, near the conclusion of the 2017 legislative season.
Hialeah announced last year that it was shifting its keep-the-casino quarterhorse meeting from December-February to a June start, apparently hoping decoupling would make it unnecessary. By dumping the quarterhorses for barrel racing or flag fall racing or God-knows-what racing, Hialeah doesnâ€™t even have to go through the motions of preparing for a quarterhorse meet.
This is the thanks the scuffling quarterhorse guys get for helping Hialeah to get a casino.
Some things never change in John Brunetti Land.
Too many stakes
The foal crop has dropped in half over the past decade or so. Logically speaking, the roster of stakes worthy horses also has had a decline. Yet, it seems as if the number of stakes races hasnâ€™t had a corresponding reduction. If anything, stakes opportunities have increased.
Tim Ritvo was justifiably proud when the Pegasus, even with its million dollar buy-in, and its consolation heat, the Poseidon, drew 21 entries on Jan. 28. â€śNormally we struggle to get eight in the Donn (the premier handicap race the Pegasus replaced),â€ť the Gulfstream president said.
He might have added that one week earlier, eight older horses ran a mile and eighth in the Sunshine Millions Classic. There was only one repeater between the Classic and the Poseidon, Hy Riverside. Thus, 28 older horses ran for added money within a week.
This Saturday, older horses will go at it again in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Nine have been entered. Iron horse Hy Riverside is answering the bell again. Awesome Banner and Awesome Slew are back from the Millions. Even with these repeaters, the three-week total of older horses in stakes stands at 34. Subtract Arrogate and Imperative, who shipped in from California to win the Pegasus and Posideon, as well as California Chrome and this still leaves 31.
The question is, are there really 31 older stakes caliber horses in South Florida at this time of year? The answer would have to be no. An argument could be made that there arenâ€™t 31 genuine older stakes horses in the country.
I never thought I would be one to call for a reduction in stakes. However, it takes more than dropping an entry slip in the box to qualify as a stakes horse. Fewer stakes, spaced over a longer period of time, would enhance the prestige and caliber of field of all of them.
The Sunshine Millions should be relocated to December. The Halâ€™s Hope could also stay at the end of the calendar year for horses ineligible for the Florida-bred races. The Pegasus and any accompanying race should have January all to themselves.
A race like the Harlanâ€™s Holiday could be wedged into late February or early March. The Gulfstream Handicap would be a nice fit on the Florida Derby undercard. Run the first week in April, it might attract some of the better handicap horses ready to come out of their winter break.
It makes little sense to continue to cram these races within little more than a month.
Bring back the Donn
With a second edition of the Pegasus likely, Iâ€™d like to reiterate my call to attach the Donn name to the Gulfstream Park Handicap, which is kind of a generic anyway.
Without the Donn family, there would be no Gulfstream Park.
If the Pegasus indeed comes back and the Donn is not used for a stakes for the second straight year in 2018, it will be stripped of its graded status and likely be forgotten about. That would be a pity.
Miami, February 9, 2017