Harness racing at Pompano Park, the sport’s popular winter escape for nearly 60 years, may be forced out of Broward County by the middle of 2022.
The track now owned by Caesars Entertainment is apparently looking for new and more profitable options, which could leave The Pomp out of luck.
Recently, track officials and the new owners agreed to extend harness racing for another year since the meet runs four days a week from November-May.
After that, the intrigue begins.
For 57 years, there has been winter racing at The Pomp, but for the last decade, it’s been touch-and-go. The track’s previous owner, Isle de Capri, was always looking for a way out, but because of state laws, racing continued.
At times, negotiations between Isle and the Florida Standardbred Owners Association were contentious. That has not been the case with the facility’s new owners.
“Negotiations have not been hostile,” said Joe Pennachio, the FLSBOA president. “They’re trying to help us. “Isle tried every year to get rid of us. We’re looking for a long-term solution.”
Caesars does have options. Currently, it appears to have the upper hand. Caesars has a license to offer quarter-horse racing from June 1-Oct. 1 and could apply for a meet that could take place in the 2022-23 winter season.
Caesar also has a license to offer jai alai [the license is being contested in court by the FLSBOA]. Jai alai has been around for decades and with no more dog racing in Florida, could jai alai fill a void?
If you read between the lines, it seems like harness racing will come to an end at Pompano next year. There is hope, however, that the meet could take place in another location. Though the track has seen a resurgence in betting the last two years, Pompano Park sits on 230 acres of Broward County real estate and that’s the motivating factor for Caesars.
The numbers have been good. Through the meet’s first 38 days, handle is $35.5 million; last year, it was $13.8 million, and total handle is 128% higher than last year. But most of that is off-track, which means the track’s take basically covers purses for the meet.
So, what does that mean for the future of harness racing in Florida? Even though Caesars has bigger and perhaps better plans for the land, it is trying to help harness racing survive in the state.
If harness racing leaves Pompano, the pari-mutuel license would have to be transferred as the state would not issue a second standardbred one. That transfer would go to a different county which would require further government approval, which does not always happen quickly.
According to Derrick Gwiner of the Daily Racing Form, after 2022, the license and cash will be transferred from Caesars to the FSBOA in exchange for the group leaving Pompano Park. That gives both sides time to figure out a long-term plan for Florida harness racing.
Pennachio remains confident that another Florida country will step up.
“We want harness racing in Florida, at the Pomp or elsewhere and Caesars seems willing to help,’’ Pennachio said. “Negotiations will continue for what the future holds with Caesars.”
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.