10/08/2001 11:00PM

Hialeah barns won't open this winter

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MIAMI - Hialeah Park chairman of the board John Brunetti Sr. said Tuesday he has cancelled his plans to open the Hialeah barn area for the 2001-2002 winter season.

Hialeah, which will not run a race meet in 2002, had planned to charge horsemen $2,500 a stall for the period of Nov. 1 to April 30. But the cost proved too much for most trainers to absorb and the response for stalls fell far below what would have been necessary to fund the plan. Brunetti then solicited contributions of $270,000 apiece from six leading south Florida racing organizations, including Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park, but his plea fell on deaf ears.

"Nobody wanted to contribute a penny," said Brunetti. "I received only two responses, one from Calder and the other from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, both of whom said they were not interested. As a result, it is just not economically feasible for us to open the barn area this winter."

Hialeah housed more than 1,000 horses and provided an average of nearly 20 starters a day during the 2001 Gulfstream Park meet. Among the trainers to stable there last winter were Todd Pletcher, Nick Zito, Rick Violette, and Angel Penna. With Hialeah now shut this winter, many trainers have been left scrambling to find the necessary stall space, either in south Florida or elsewhere, for the upcoming winter season.

"I'll still have my 29 stalls at Gulfstream, but I'd sure love to figure a way to take 60 horses to south Florida again this winter," said Pletcher. "At the moment it looks like I'll probably take 30 horses to the Fair Grounds. In fact I might wind up taking most of my better horses there. I don't think anybody other than Bill Mott started more horses than I did at Gulfstream last year, but unless I can find additional stall space down there, this will likely cut my number of starts at Gulfstream in half if not more this winter."