HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 20, 2022— This might be viewed as blasphemous by some, but I was sickened by the thought that Pompano Park will race no more.
Indeed, for me more upsetting than when I first learned Churchill Downs would shutter iconic Hollywood Park, site of Thoroughbred racing’s inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984.
It’s simple to understand, really. Pompano Park was part of my growing up. Didn’t make all that many trips out west, but the harness track in Pompano Beach was a regular if infrequent stop.
Back in the day, dinner with Toni trackside with a five-eighths mile track below. The three-turn configuration took some getting used to for a horseplayer weaned on the half-milers of Westchester and Long Island.
Some of the horses were familiar, a latter day “championship meet” for some of America’s best trotters and pacers–but many of the silks were:
Stanley Dancer’s blue and gold, Billy Haughton’s green and white, likened to Bill Popfinger’s, and George Sholty’s white and what the mind conjures as maroon.
Also, I think some of Del Insko’s young stock raced there occasionally, but I couldn’t swear to it. All, of course, were New York regulars at Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceway, “where it all began,” and where stands a mall parking lot today.
Over decades, I might have gone racing at Pompano a dozen times, max, but it always was an enjoyable evening, even on nights when winning tickets were scarce.
Not making comparisons, but I did note the irony of the track’s passing on an Easter Sunday, some 58 years after harness racing came to Pompano Beach.
Sixteen races might have been a bit much at this stage, But I regret not having seen the many tributes afforded longtime horsemen who supported the place and loyal employees, now jobless, who made it all happen.
It was reported locally that “a large crowd” was on hand, which rings true. Of course, many tracks were closed Easter Sunday, but a nighttime harness track where a near-record $1.4 million was bet? That’s a lot of souvenirs.
Greed closed this place the same way that money always is a driving force for change–history and tradition be damned in American racing:
Call it Critical Racing Theory and ban my latest track program because it’s made me very upset.
Greed in this case are states needing more revenue, a good goal which would be even better if only the new money was spent on things for the community; money for education that never seems to reach the schools, never mind teachers.
Somehow proceeds always seem to land in the pockets of a chosen, well connected few.
The instrument for Pompano’s demise was a bill passed in the spring of 2021 allowing racino owners to forsake racing because racing is a show that costs money to produce. Slots, blackjack tables and roulette wheels are a pittance in comparison.
Actually, there was serious talk of de-coupling in New York until Albany legislators and the new governor looked up the Northway when it heard lots of noise was being made 30 miles to the north in Saratoga.
Who knows what might have been had the old governor still been in charge. Andrew Cuomo was no friend of racing, seldom if ever celebrating big racing events with his attendance and participation.
In almost all instances, racetracks became racinos because it too wanted a slice of a bigger gaming pie, so casino interests adopted racing by becoming its grandfather but has been trying to estrange itself ever since.
Slowly and systematically, casinos began its abandonment of the very business that gave it birth. Thanks for the use of an existing hall, now go and have a nice, quiet death.
In New York, at least there was some reconstruction at Aqueduct Racetrack even if the upgrades more suited Resorts World’s needs than it did the New York Racing Association’s.
At Pompano Isle Casino, a Caesar’s Entertainment property, they discouraged racetrack attendance from day one, long before de-coupling. You entered Pompano Harness through the equivalent of a side door.
Being unaware that the end was Sunday was my bad, and the racing gods dealt out swift, appropriate punishment.
Twelve-year-old pacer and track record holder Panocchio, reined by Pompano’s all-time leading driver, Wally Hennessey, won his final career start, his 53rd at Pompano Park and 77th overall, and returned to the winner’s circle with Hennessey standing up in the bike.
In an interview with Harness Link, Hennessey spoke to the occasion: “From 1986 to right now, I’ve lived my dream. The unfortunate thing is that I am losing my dream.
“I look from the side of my stable and can see the old grandstand standing there and in my mind, it is as regal as the day it was built…
“I wouldn’t call it depression to talk about the end of racing at Pompano, it’s more like a funeral. That’s the way I feel. And that you can’t control.”