For years, the fabled Hialeah Park race track has sat idle — battered, broken, and left to rot.
These days, fresh paint coats the walls, pink flamingos are practicing their familiar moves and some of the luster has been restored to Florida's grand old track. On Saturday, those famous flamingos are expected to fly again, when Hialeah reopens for its first race day in nearly a decade.
"No track has a feeling like this," said owner John Brunetti, who expects 10,000 to 15,000 people to walk through the gates for quarter horse racing.
The once-elegant treasure is nestled in a blue-collar neighborhood of mechanic shops and tile depots. Sweeping staircases welcome racegoers to the grandstand, which looks out over the racing oval and the flamingos that have made their home in the middle of the track.
In the glory days, the birds would loop the track on racedays, putting on a show for the women in their Sunday best and men in jackets and ties. Moments spent there seemed special, people spotted there were important. It was swanky, opulent and, at times, a magnificent sight.
"It was like a Hollywood premiere every weekend, every Saturday and Wednesday when we had the big races," said Tommy Roberts, a former television broadcaster and vice president and general manager of the park. "You had all the sports stars, the big political figures … It was a who's who parade. The best horses in the country. The best jockeys and trainers. It was absolutely the finest that American racing had to offer."
Hialeah, which was built in the 1920s, slipped into disrepair after its last live race in 2001. The pa