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2018 Update

Pari-Mutual wagering legalized 1921 and Southern Florida mainly Hialeah quickly became the winter racing capital of the United States. The good times would last for about fourty years when winter racing started to take root up north. Racing in Florida saw little change for forty years or so, but in 1970 that would all change.

By the end of the 1930's racing was pretty much established in Florida. Racing centered around Miami in the wintertime with the exception of Tampa Bay Downs to the north. Hialeah was top dog with the prime dates with Tropical opening the season and Gulfstream closing it out. In 1964 harness racing was introduced to Florida with tha addition of Pompano Park. Shortly after that Seminole Downs near Orlando opened with both flat and harness meets. In 1970 change also came to Miami, a new track, Calder Race Course was approved and would conduct summer racing. This moved proved the end of Tropical Park. In 1971 another small track Gator Downs sprung up on the outskirts of Jacksonville. In a few years the minor tracks would go to the dogs and Hialeah and Gulfstream would be in a dogfight.

By the mid-seventies after running thoroughbreds, trotters, and quarter horses both Seminole and Gator Downs were converted to dog racing. In South Florida Gulfstream was growing while Hialeah was declining so much so that Gulfstream challenged Hialeah for the prime winter dates and won. Venerable Hialeah never recovered and went out of business in 2001. At that point Florida horse racing was down to four tracks, Gulfstream, Calder, Tampa Bay, and Pompano Park. Hialeah was gone but still had a hoofbeat.

In 2004 certain counties in Florida legalized casino style gaming this was enough to get Hialeah back in the game but with a twist. Knowing it would have trouble getting a license to run thoroughbreds it opted for and obtained a quarter horse permit. Hialeah is now the only full time quarter horse venue in Florida.

In 2011 all Florida tracks ran their respected meets including Hialeah Park which got the go ahead to add racino gaming. 

2018 Update

If anything is for sure about Florida it's that, it's the dog racing capitol of the United States. Since the sixties, I count seventeen dog tracks existing in the state, fourteen which are still open today. I think it would be hard to drive on either coast for two hours without finding one. If your into dog racing, now would be a good time to visit these tracks. Dog racing is disappearing quickly and for now Florida is just about the last place standing. We'll anyway back to the ponies.

First to clear up some misinformation. Gator Downs did not just spring up in 1971, it had been there since 1953, known as Ponce de Leon Raceway, it was in fact the first harness track to have pari mutual racing in Florida. It is today known as St. John's Greyhound Park, it is no longer open, but it is still standing, at least for now. If you do want to visit, you will have to worship from afar, access to the track is blocked, but can be seen from the road. The other closed track aren't that visible.

If you make it to Casselberry, you won't find any sign of Seminole Downs, today it's mostly a housing development with no sign of what preceded it. On the other hand if you make it to Coral Gables, you will still find Tropical Park, the grandstand and track are long gone, but the stables were turned into an equestrian center which exist today. Before getting on to the survivors, we're left with a puzzling question, what is Calder.

Calder Race Course, which is now Gulfstream Park West, got a dose of it's medicine when it tried to go toe to toe with Gulfstream Park. When the smoked cleared, Gulfstream bought out Calder, at least the racing surface, while Churchill Downs the parent company of Calder retained possession of the buildings. It quickly demolished the barns, and razed the grandstand leaving only the casino on the grounds. So, with no facility's there Gulfstream Park West still runs a short fall meet, probably to help the parent track refresh itself now that it just about runs, year round. Having a lease till 2020 racing will probably continue for a few years.

As for the other four tracks, left from 1966, they are still in operation. The aforementioned Gulfstream Park now controls Miami Racing after an extensive rebuilding. It runs the richest race in the country and now runs almost year round. The other Miami track the venerable Hialeah Park, is a different story, after losing it's battle with Gulfstream, it switched to quarter horse racing to secure it's racino license. Obviously happy with the casino part, it now uses a loophole in Florida law, to run fake races which fulfill it's obligation for live racing. You can go there but don't expect to see any racing. Rounding out the Southern Florida scene is Pompano Park, probably past it's racing prime, it races from October to May, with a schedule that varies from two to five days a week. It also includes the Isle of Capri casino, the real breadwinner of the facility. Rounding out the Florida lineup is Tampa Bay Downs, unlike it's rich southern cousins, it only has a card room, but it does have a golf practice facility, so you can go whack a bucket of balls before or after the track. It has year round simulcasting and live racing December through April.