Hialeah, A Grand Jewel

January 9, 2020

A Grand Jewel:

Hollywood Park, Suffolk Downs, Calder, and many others failed to survive the current climate of the Sport of Kings. You have to ask yourself is horse racing in the US still even worthy of that phrase? The futures of Arlington Park and Aqueduct are at best in question. What the future holds for horse racing in California is really anyone’s guess. 

Obviously racing is not what it once was. There are many reasons that are contributory to that fact. Some were within our control. Some weren’t. If you are a student or lover of this historic sport, you have to root for, and respect a true grand jewel of racing, Hialeah Park. Hialeah was simply a victim of their zip code. Despite that, and the alignment of other Florida tracks and their corporate owners against them, Hialeah stands. All you have to do is visit the place, and you can feel the storied history under your feet. You look around and immediately are transported back to what I like to call the glory days of racing. That is a really great place to be. 

When I was a kid growing up, my parents would take me to Hialeah while on Florida vacations. The neighborhood had already changed and was continually doing so. Both Gulfstream Park and Calder were direct competitors fighting for the premier winter racing dates and were prepared for extensive litigation to get them. Hialeah was holding on though, and would always be ready to go one more round. 

My parents would share stories about the great horses, races, riders, and people they would see at Hialeah before I was in the picture, and even when I was too little to remember. They would tell me how it was the winter place to be similar to how Saratoga was the August place to be. Yes, Hialeah and Saratoga in the same sentence. That is how it once was. 

Hialeah’s grand atmosphere was not limited to horse players. Hollywood recognized what an amazing place this was and is. The Classic film The Champ, which can make the meanest of us cry was filmed there as was the legendary racing film Let it Ride. As great as both movies were, and as great a setting Hialeah is, neither film captured entirely that feeling you get when you walk into this place. 

Sure the facility is aged, but it has not lost the feel and beauty of the glory days of racing. It is a racetrack. The pictures, architecture, style, all blend together to complete the transformation back in time. Back to a better time. A time we should preserve and fight for. 

The view from any of the seats, or even the apron is perfect. There are not many better places to watch a race live. The gorgeous pink Flamingos add a touch of class, grace, and originality to Hialeah’s grand personality. 

Despite countless opportunities to develop or change the land and get rid of this landmark in the Sport of Kings, at likely significant financial gain,  the Brunetti family has kept Hialeah alive. I am sure it has been a big struggle at times, and the resistance considerable, but the family’s love of racing, and support of the sport has to date continued to win out. Racing needs more owners of racetracks like the Brunetti’s. We can only hope it stays that way. 

The list of champions to race at Hialeah is long enough to be an encyclopedia on racing’s greatest. Just look at the picture of the great Bold Ruler, sire of Secretariat in the paddock for a glimpse. The Flamingo was once a true Kentucky Derby prep and window to the best three-year olds the east coast had to offer. 

Hialeah is not racing thoroughbreds right now. I would venture to guess they’d like to be and hope to again. Regardless they are indeed still involved in the Sport of Kings. They have the Champions Room for simulcasting and will be hosting an NHC qualifier there this month. No matter the odds, Hialeah does not fold their cards. That is something all horseplayers and lovers of this sport should both support and embrace.

For more on how you can qualify for the NHC at Hialeah read this….

See Hialeah as the background of The Champ in the original trailer:

More scenes from The Champ and Hialeah:

And of course these is this:

Time For a Change under Jerry Bailey beats Devil’s Bag and Dr. Carter in the 1984 Flamingo Stakes :

Hialeah Park opens in 1932:

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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