Track goes out on a high after 58 years of racing
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Pompano Park raced for the final time last night with a whopping 16-race card. The first race went to post at 7:12 pm, the last 12:25 am, and by the time the beautiful tribute video concluded, it was heading towards 1 am ET.
Gabe Prewitt’s final race call was excellent; it offered some sentiment, but wasn’t too emotional or over the top. He referenced the track’s 58-year history along with labeling The Pomp as the Winter Capital of Harness Racing.
The card was so long, that for ADW subscribers in New York, they could bet on the last race. In the Empire State, betting on horse racing is not allowed on Easter Sunday (it used to be Palm Sunday, too), and for many, you couldn’t even watch the racing. Two of my ADWs “were down for maintenance,” all day long to make sure I didn’t get a bet in by mistake.
For some reason, it is okay to visit casinos, buy lottery tickets and bet on NBA games and the like, but horse racing? No. The track handled over $1.4 million, including $247,000 on the finale and I wonder how much more those numbers might have been had New York residents been allowed to play.
The card was great—good purses, full fields with quality racing. I’ve always enjoyed the Pomp on Sunday evenings. I refer to Sunday racing there as a sort of “Sunday Cooldown,” where you can watch a few races to relax before gearing up for the workweek.
No driver has won more races at The Pomp than Wally Hennessey, so fittingly he won four; Panacchio is the track record holder and fittingly, the 12-year old won race 14 with Hennessey in the bike in 1:51.3. And fittingly, Hennessey won the last race ever—Race 16—when he guided Beach Forecast wire-to-wire in 1:50.4.
I wasn’t overcome with emotion to see a track in a sport I love cease its operations. I guess part of me sees the old track and knows that even if racing were to continue there, improvements would not be made, purses would not rise significantly, and crowds would never be big again.
I’m not a doom and gloomer that thinks harness racing is on its way out. As long as there is interest in breeding, training and racing, the sport will move forward. Do I see more tracks closing in the future, yes, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe there are too many tracks and the sport might and could be better off with less.
It’s unlikely that new tracks will be built. Yes, Oak Grove is relatively new, but that was built by CDI so they could make money on their gaming machines. We all know that building a new harness racing facility is not going to be a good return on investment. In a way, it would be like building a new indoor shopping mall.
The interesting thought is what will these South Florida horsemen do next winter? Will they find a new place to go in the winter, will they find a place to operate in the summer, or worse, will some retire/leave racing because of cost?
Pompano was the only harness track in Florida and in the South. The closest track that races in the winter is Rosecroft, in Maryland. Will some of the Florida breds and connections make their way to the Old Line State?
From a purse and competitive standpoint, Monticello could make sense. The Sullivan County, NY track does race 52 weeks per year, usually four days per week. Saratoga, with its February through December schedule could also fit as could Freehold in New Jersey.
If the Pompano horsemen want to wait for warmer weather, they could choose places like Tioga and Vernon in New York. Those tracks offer similar purses to that of Pompano and open in the spring and run through the summer.
But those are questions for another day. For now, The Pomp is history and its history has been good for the sport. To me, it was always a fun little track. On my grainy ADW feed, it looked smooth, the sand appeared to be white and the times—for the quality of the horses—were always fast.
Last night, the slowest time was a 1:57.0 trot by Big Sky Rocket in Race 9 with the aforementioned 1:50.4 pace by Beach Report the fastest time of the evening and early Monday morning.
Since 1964, The Pomp has been the Winter Capital of Harness Racing and it was indeed, a great 58-year run. The sun has set on the Broward County icon; before too long, cranes will be on site and in a year or two, there will be no remnants that racing ever took place there.
We’ll have the memories though and going forward, that will be good enough.