Florida Horse Racing Tracks
For years Florida horse racing was defined by Hialeah Park Race Track, long considered one of the most beautiful tracks in North America, and famous enough to be included on the United States Registry of Historic Places. The track was opened in 1922 as a dog racing track, switching to thoroughbred horses in 1925 – six years before wagering on horses was made legal in the state of Florida. Problems with securing racing dates caused the track to close in 2001, and there were concerns the land would be redeveloped. But in 2009, Quarterhorse racing returned to Hialeah, and recently there has been discussion about reviving a thoroughbred meet.
Top Thoroughbred Race Tracks in Florida
While lacking the historic allure of Hialeah, racing in the state of Florida is well-served these days with three tracks, Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and Gulfstream Park West, formerly known as Calder Race Course. Of the three Gulfstream Park holds the highest profile meet, and is home to the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Locating in Hallendale Beach, Gulfstream Park is a race track and casino complex. Gulfstream Park holds a winter meet from early December to the end of March. The track is host to three of the most important prep races for three-year-olds hoping to take a shot at the Triple Crown, those being the Holy Bull Stakes, the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and the Florida Derby. Gulfstream first opened in 1939, was closed during World War II, and re-opened in the mid-40s, under the direction of James Donn Sr., for whom the Grade 1 Donn Handicap is named.
Tampa Bay Downs
The focus of racing in the city of Tampa Bay is Tampa Bay Downs, which opened its doors in 1926, at a time when wagering in horse racing was still illegal in Florida. In the years when sportswriters were often more famous (and better paid) than the professional athletes they covered, Tampa Bay was known as a gathering place for baseball writers from around the country, who would converge on the area every spring to cover major league baseball spring training. These days Tampa Bay holds a winter meet from November to May, with an additional two-day Festival of Racing on June 30-July 1.
Now under the direction of the same ownership group as Gulfstream, in 2014 Calder Race Course saw a name change to Gulfstream Park West. Located in Miami Gardens, the track was founded by Florida businessman Stephen Calder, and opened for racing in 1971. While lacking any Grade 1 races, Calder has become well-known as a training ground for many of the top jockeys to race in the United States, including such names as Edgar Prado and Alex Solis. In 2005, jockey Edie Castro set a record when he rode nine winners at Calder in one day. In 2014, the fall meet at the re-christened track ran from early October to the end of November.