Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hialeah Park opens in 1925 with creative betting

Hialeah Park
East 4th Avenue
Hialeah, FL

By Jane Feehan

Hialeah Park Race Track, developed by Missouri cattleman James Bright and aviation pioneer Glen Curtis, opened for thoroughbred races January 15, 1925.  Thousands of fans jammed the new park, nicknamed the “Longchamps of America,”* to watch horses run the one mile track.

The Miami Daily News reported the festivities; excerpts follow:

… Innovation after innovation greeted the thousands at the track this afternoon.
Unlike the grass lawns at other tracks, the Miami sward is a fast stretch of grey black tied concrete sweeping gently to the rail of the home stretch.

The band stand, a 20-foot enclosure that was sunken in the center of the lawn and surrounded by a high yellow daubed picket fence, was the stage for the famous Frank Novak band ...  Activity centered in the club house, a Spanish type structure. Two balconies were crowded with the smart set, a few dining between races in the beautiful buff and green paneled dining room.

Another Miami Daily News story of the same day anticipated the Hialeah visit of “Englishwoman bookmaker” Helen Vernet en route to the U.S. aboard the Mauritania. Claimed to be from one of oldest families in Great Britain, Vernet followed the horses to make fast money. She became a broker for Ladbroke and Company, the “largest turf commissioners in the world” where she handled more than $25 million in bets. She was anxious to see - and probably place a wager at - Hialeah.

She may have been disappointed with the betting situation at the Florida track. Pari-mutuel gambling was not legal then but track operators got creative. They developed an oral system of betting as well as a more complex “certificate plan” in which the betting tickets were sold as stocks (for one such system at Pompano in the 1920s in Broward, see:

Pari-mutuel betting was passed by the Florida legislature in May, 1931, but Governor Fuller Warren vetoed it because of a rumored (and later assessed as well-founded) payoff from a Dade County businessman. A month later, a compromise was reached in which each county, regardless of its size, would share equally in tax proceeds of pari-mutuels; it gave the Florida Senate enough votes to override the governor’s veto in June, 1931.

As for Hialeah Park Race Track, it was severely damaged by the 1926 hurricane. Joseph Widener and partner Edward R. Bradley purchased, renovated and re-opened the track in 1932 to wide and decades-long acclaim. The park closed in 2001 but opened again in 2009. Today Hialeah Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and meets during winter months for quarter horse racing. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

*Longchamps is a race track along the banks of the Seine River in Paris, France.
Miami Daily News, Jan. 15, 1925
Miami News, Aug. 8, 1978

Tags: Miami history, Florida racing history, Florida gambling history, Florida history, film researcher, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian

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