Consider how the two tracks presented their cases to the racing commission last January. Gulfstream hammered away with hard, cold facts and figures on attendance, handle and revenues. Hialeah, to the astonishment of those in attendance, showed a film. The shots of the elegant clubhouse, palm trees, flamingos, celebs and classy horses might have entertained tourists, but they left commission members cold. As one of them told the Miami Herald, "When the lights came on, we sort of just looked at each other."
"John is trying to bring back the 1950s," says Donn. "That's part of the problem with Hialeah. He's devoted his efforts to that and not to competing in the '80s. In the '50s you got a license and a racetrack and you didn't have to be a genius to make a profit. That's not the case today."
Brunetti retorts, "It's not just the [tax-revenue] dollars that flow into Tallahassee that matter. Do people want this track, the most beautiful racetrack in the world? Do they want this tradition? Is it any different from saving any great institution? I mean, they saved New York City. They saved Chrysler. They have a draft system in the NFL and the NBA to try to help those that need help. What's wrong with applying that here? I don't play political games. When my patience is over with...now, I'm not threatening, but if things happen that are happening, I'll have no alternative but to make decisions."
Donn and his advisers say Brunetti is making money on the track—and investing much of it elsewhere. They point out that since 1983, Hialeah has made investments totaling more than $8 million in stocks, notes, mortgages, etc. "They used their resources and profits to invest in nonracing ventures," says Donn. "What kind of commitment [to Hialeah] is that? Any profits we've generated, we've put back in the business. And he hasn't."
Brunetti counters that, yes indeed, he has invested the track's money in ventures outside his track—to benefit it. "Hialeah Park invested $2 million in stock of Monmouth Park," he says.
"Within two years that yielded a profit of $2 million. All that money is put back into Hialeah. You can see that in our financial report. What Doug Donn is saying is, I'm taking the money and running, which is a lot of garbage."
But is Hialeah really poverty-stricken? Does it need the middle dates to survive? Not according to Erich Braun, the only holdover from the racing commission that handed Hialeah the worst dates last January. "First of all, I think Hialeah will continue to be a racetrack," says Braun. "It's going to survive with the undesirable dates. They'll still make a profit—not as big a one, but still a profit—as proven by Calder's success with the end dates."
One suggested answer to Hialeah's lament is a proposal that the track conduct a relatively brief big-purse Saratoga-type meeting calculated to preserve the dowager queen in all her glory. This scenario has Hialeah, perhaps under state ownership, running a three-to five-week meet during the high tourist season. Brunetti has spurned such a meet partly because of the limited time span. At a racing industry forum last month in Ocala, he offered another idea—that the state "retire" Calder's winter permit, cutting that track out of winter racing, and divide the winter dates equally between Hialeah and Gulfstream. However, this proposal won't be evaluated by the commission when it convenes in early February to set the racing dates for next season. All that will occur then will be another three-track free-for-all for the best dates.
Brunetti no doubt will present the same sort of ominous case he made last week: "I'll wait as long as I can, and then I'll make some very serious decisions, which, when made, will not be altered. And which, I think, will cause tremendous despair and loss to the state of Florida and the whole thoroughbred industry."
To anyone who knows Hialeah, the idea of it being plowed under for a corporate park is unthinkable. But as someone once said, "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be." God save the dowager queen. It may be that nobody else can.