• The Great War is off the Derby trail following poor finish in the BattagliaPosted 2 days ago
  •  Royal Son scores in the John Battaglia Memorial.Posted 3 days ago
  • Stellar Wind an impressive winner of the Santa Ysabel. Posted 3 days ago
  • Far Right shoots up the rail again to score in the Southwest Stakes. Posted 9 days ago
  • Khozan demolishes a Gulfstream Park allowance field to remain perfect in two starts. Posted 9 days ago
  • No beating North Slope as he returns to dirt a winner in the Evening Attire. Posted 9 days ago
  •  International Star scrapes the paint to win the Risen Star.Posted 10 days ago
  • I'm A Chatterbox speaks loud and clear in the Rachel Alexandra. Posted 10 days ago
  • Itsaknockout wins the Fountain of Youth on the DQ of Upstart. Posted 10 days ago
  •  Chocolate Ride sneaks away in the Fair Grounds Handicap.Posted 10 days ago

HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Flights of Fancy in Florida Part II

Day two of my 48 hour horse racing odyssey in South Florida continued into Sunday morning with no more sleep than I enjoyed the night before. I find that on trips like these, a fair amount of sleep deprivation only heightens the senses to be more susceptible to the fun. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. After some early morning handicapping and a wobbly shower, (for some reason the floor in the shower of the Ramada felt much like standing on a water bed) Matt and I were off to Gulfstream Park again.

This time, though, it was not for the races, but rather in support of one of the most vital aspects of our sport … the fan. Often overlooked, without the fan, there would be no thoroughbred horse racing. So said Nick Zito, as one of the celebrity speakers at the first annual ThoroFan Awards Brunch, and of course I could not agree more with the two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer. So it was with great pleasure that I was able to present the Third Annual Tim Reynolds Memorial Fan of the Year Award on behalf of Horse Racing Nation to one of the most passionate fans of racing I’ve ever met, Ryan Brady. I stumbled through a short speech highlighting why he was chosen, and then stepped aside as Ryan stole the show.

The young man from Ohio’s genuine love for racing bubbled over to the audience, as he emotionally accepted the award. I’m sure I was not the only one pumped up after witnessing his energy. In fact, I’m not sure who was the bigger hit at the awards brunch, Ryan, or the elegant Patrice Wolfson, who received the first ThoroFan award as the owner of racing’s last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. The lovely Ms. Wolfson was not only a gracious award winner, (she stuck around to give personally autographed Affirmed photos to seemingly everyone that attended, including yours truly) but her great love for her champion was as evident in her words today as it was in the footage shown of Affirmed to begin the event.

After visiting with many in attendance at the brunch, I lost the jacket and tie, and we beat it on down the road in the warm Florida sun. For the first time in a lifetime of following the horses, the destination was Hialeah Park. Ask me why, after forty years plus of being a horse racing fanatic, I had never before visited the South Florida mecca, and I have no good answer. Timing perhaps, years of no racing for sure, and no thoroughbreds of late, all factored in, but still, I have no good excuse. After all, I had loved Hialeah from afar since the very first time I saw the pink flamingos and great horses on television.

Granted the surrounding neighborhoods to the grand old track are nothing to write home about, but the long, tree-lined drive up, after entering the front gate, has to be the closest thing American racing has to Augusta National. It quickly changed my outlook from worrying about finding the place through the unfamiliar surroundings into a warm fuzzy, I have arrived feeling. Zipping by the bright pink shuttle, we were early enough to park close to the front gate. 

Surreal is one word that can describe my emotions as I stepped into the venerable old facility. Matt was chatting about some free contests Hialeah was running that day, but I was more interested in seeing everything there was to see. A wall dedicated in honor of Woody Stephens was the first stop. We were both amazed at how young and different the legendary trainer looked back in the fifties. The notion of way back when, would become a theme. I quickly realized that I had entered more than just a racetrack turnstile a moment before, but rather a time machine transporting me back to a time long ago.

It’s not just that Hialeah Park is old; it’s more about that it has maintained much of what I imagine what the place must have been like back in the time when Woody was a young trainer collecting wins. It reminded me of something commonplace in so many foreign countries, but is so rare in America. Hialeah has not tried to tear down the old and beautiful in favor of the modern and economically efficient. From top to bottom, I could taste the history of the place. From Citation’s statue, in the middle of a fountain, to a gorgeous walking ring, to a timeless looking dining room on the top floor, Hialeah is unlike any other track I’ve ever visited.

A Cuban sandwich interrupted the touring, and its modest quality really didn’t matter much. The important fact was that I was eating it at Hialeah ... and loving it. More investigation into the building revealed a mixture of what I imagine an old Havana night club to be combined with a racetrack of old. I’ve never been a fan of the cookie-cutter, box-like structures that became so prevalent there for a while. Hialeah has a grandstand that rivals any of the best in America. It’s sizeable and comfortable and close enough to the rail to make all the seats good ones. I would be remiss in not mentioning the renovation going on in the far side of the grandstand in preparation of a casino, but I can only hope that it does not change the eternal feel of the place.

As far as the racing, I can honestly report that Quarter Horse racing is not my cup of tea. The horses are still beautiful, but the mad dash from start to finish lacks that critical strategic element that I love so much. More power to all you fans of this type of racing, but my great wish for Hialeah Park is for it to someday return to the thoroughbreds that made it what it was for so many years. Thoroughbreds on the track and flamingos in the infield now that would bring me back to Hialeah again and again. It’s just that kind of special place. And oh yes, I cannot forget the flamingos. In all honestly they were probably the biggest reason for my fascination with this winter oasis so many years ago, and it’s still true today. Truth is I could spend an entire afternoon at Hialeah with no horses at all, as I just watch the hundreds of strange pink birds make their way around the infield … but I still want the thoroughbreds.


comments powered by Disqus

Older Comments about Flights of Fancy in Florida Part II...

Rest In Peace, Sam Abbey, Hialeah Park's beloved Director of Racing.
Well said Brian. Those are exactly my thoughts of Hialeah. Also your interpretation of the long nights and qucks turnarounds into the next morning was described perfectly as you know that is just what us die-hards do everytime. It was great seeing you this weekend and thanks again my friend. :)
I loved seeing the old silks hanging around the grandstand from Vanderbilt, Calumet, Greentree, etc.
thanks so much for the writing about this place It has been a dream of mine to watch the races there since I first saw Hialeah on tv back about 1954 I have been able to have a drive by glimse many yrs ago but no stopping because no live racing was going on then Or such a thing as being open for off track betting Maybe someday I will be there for a race and hopefully it will be TBs


      Connect With Brian

Me On Facebook
Follow Me On Twitter


 ZATT's Star of the Week 

Main Sequence

Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing since birth. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 
As Managing Editor of Horse Racing Nation, Brian authors a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and adds his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Brian also serves on the the Board of Directors of ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption and is a Vox Populi committee member. 
A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when he is not following the horses.