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Hialeah park, Hialeah race track
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Statue of Citation, Hialeah Park, Florida

Halsey Minor Wants to Save Hialeah and Horse Racing

August 04, 2008 06:02 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
CNET founder Halsey Minor wants to buy Florida's historic Hialeah Park racetrack in hopes of reviving horse racing, but the track’s owner and the sport’s declining fan base could stand in the way.

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Halsey Minor, who founded CNET.com, has expressed interest in purchasing historic Hialeah Racetrack, a Miami-area landmark that has been closed since 2001. Hialeah has seen champions like Seabiscuit and Seattle Slew, and was an opulent venue, with palm trees and flamingoes, when it opened in 1925. Joseph P. Kennedy's partial ownership of the track from 1944 to 1960 added celebrity power, and Winston Churchill called the park “extraordinary.”

Hialeah’s owner, John Brunetti, bought the track in 1977. An avid horse racing fan, Brunetti said he’s spoken once to Minor, but is not convinced that he should sell. Brunetti said he still has hopes of restoring Hialeah himself.

Minor wants to see people return to Hialeah to watch races, but doing so will be an uphill battle. Several factors, such as online betting, the increased footprint of casino gambling, and performance-enhancing drug scandals, have deterred fans from horse racing.

Furthermore, plans have been proposed for turning Hialeah into a condominium and retail space, prompting The National Trust to name the track an endangered historic place.

However, a passionate Florida-based cadre is intent on saving Hialeah, urging the local government to build a museum or equine hospital on park grounds to generate revenue for the track.

Hialeah’s fans will have to wait a bit longer to learn the fate of their beloved track. Brunetti and Minor plan to talk again this month, and Brunetti says he’ll be open to selling if Minor presents something unique. “I don’t know if he has the passion or the will to do it,” said Brunetti.

Can an Internet Tycoon and a Revived Hialeah Revive Horse Racing?

According to the Miami Herald, CNET.com founder Halsey Minor wants to buy the historic Hialeah Park, a 220-acre track in South Florida that has hosted champions like Seabiscuit and Seattle Slew. Minor hopes to restore Hialeah’s opulence and revive thoroughbred racing in the process.   Minor told the Herald, ''You can't point your finger at any one person, but the institutions collectively are destroying horse racing. I want to buy my own track, run it the way I want to run it and prove—or disprove—that there's a way to rebuild a fan-friendly experience where the fans connect with the horses.''
At first glance, one may wonder, as Brunetti seems to, whether Minor is merely a nouveau riche, idealistic neophyte.  But Minor is a lifelong horse enthusiast who has owned thoroughbred racehorses for years and recently purchased a breeding farm in Virginia. In a recent edition of The Paulick Report, a blog by the former editor of The Blood Horse, Ray Paulick reports on his interactions with Minor through the years.  Minor consulted Paulick and many others before purchasing his first racehorses, and wrote an article for The Blood Horse in 2003 proposing a National Horse Racing League.

Hialeah Owner Brunetti Has Mixed Feelings

BloodHorse.com reports that Brunetti has agreed to have further discussions with Minor in August.  “He has a dream,” Brunetti said. “He has the same kind of dream that I had some 35 years ago. It’s a great dream—the beauty and the majesty of racing. But there are many pitfalls and many battles to get to that, and they are constant. I don’t know if he has the passion or the will to do it.”  But Brunetti is reluctant to sell the track “because he still hopes to resurrect Hialeah himself.” However, Brunetti said that if Minor “could bring something to the table that was unique,” he might consider some sort of deal.

Background: Hialeah doomed by Gulfstream Park, which now struggles; Minor at CNET

Generally, racetracks hold one- to three-month meetings, after which racing shifts to a neighboring track.  Gulfstream Park, located in Hallandale, Florida (north of Miami and south of Fort Lauderdale), opened in 1939; for several decades, it was content to cede the most lucrative midwinter racing dates to Hialeah and begin operating only after Hialeah closed in mid-spring. But in 1972, the State of Florida decided that Gulfstream and Hialeah would be assigned the most lucrative dates in alternating years. Florida eventually decided to deregulate racing dates, allowing the two tracks to choose their own dates and even compete on the same dates if they chose. The most desirable Miami racing fan demographic had moved north by that time, so Gulfstream had a decided advantage, leading eventally to Hialeah's closure. In 1989, Steven Crist, then horse racing writer for The New York Times, explained the lengthy feud between Hialeah and Gulfstream and its impact on each track.
One possible reason for Minor's optimism about Hialeah is that Gulfstream Park is now enduring its own troubles. Frank Stronach, through his Magna Entertainment, purchased Gulfstream in 2004, then razed and rebuilt the grandstand to reflect his vision of the ideal racetrack, which apparently few fans share. Paul Moran, a longtime racing writer, opined on his blog, Paul Moran at the Races, that “The new Gulfstream is apparently universally despised by horseplayers and unpopular with slot players, a sparkling, neon-lighted white elephant that serves no one efficiently in a highly competitive South Florida gambling market…. Essentially, Stronach built a slot-machine casino with a racetrack in the backyard, the design of which eliminated most views of racing and the entire outdoor experience, Florida’s single greatest natural resource. What he discovered is that his is a vision shared by no one and Stronach has now achieved the near impossible—a year-old racino that loses money. What is worse is that he also is saddled with a hugely expensive development that has plenty of bars and restaurants, all deprived of sunlight, but banishes racing and its patrons to the periphery, which is not far from out the door.”
In a July 1999 profile piece, BusinessWeek covered Minor's formative years and his founding of CNET.  He founded CNET in 1992, and kept it alive despite a slow start that nearly bankrupted him.  "I could go bankrupt, but I was not going to quit," he told BusinessWeek; "I have learned that you can will success." The article discusses Minor's ambitions for CNET, his former political aspirations, and his desire to retire before age 40 to pursue other interests, including education.
Minor resigned as CEO of CNET in March 2000.  CNET remained a well-respected technology news site, but struggled in its goal to become a preeminent Web destination.  CNET was acquired by CBS for $1.8 billion in May 2008.

Historical Context: Hialeah in its heyday

Opinion & Analysis: Sticking up for Hialeah

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