Day At The Track

Florida's last harness track revels in memories

07:41 AM 13 Jul 2018 NZST
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Pompano Park, harness racing History Pompano Park book.jpg Pompano Park, harness racing
Will Pompano Park be sold any time soon?
Photo by Steve Wolf
Pompano Park opening night 1964
The following story is reprinted with permission from the www.sunsentinel.com.
 
This Pompano Beach harness racing horse track once thrived in spectacle, luring thousands each night to the “Winter Capital of Harness Racing.”

Some nights, the crowds at Pompano Park increased the city’s estimated population by a fourth. More than 50 years ago, they started coming for the harness racing, an extravaganza whose origins link to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, a kind of tourney mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad.

They cheered as racers reclined in two-wheeled carts and shook the reins, urging their horses to advance. The throngs of people, who once included the likes of Jackie Gleason, Kay Stevens and Rodney Dangerfield, have thinned out at Florida’s last remaining harness racing track. Now, changes are on the way.

Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher said he met with Isle Casino’s leaders this week and plans are to tear down the old grandstand building and build a 400-room hotel on the Isle Casino’s property.

After the first phase, the site, at 777 Isle of Capri Circle, may be developed into a retail, restaurant and office complex similar to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino complex in Hollywood. He said the Isle Casino has partnered with the same company that developed the Hard Rock — The Cordish Cos.

“This is a major game-changer for Pompano,” Fisher said.

There is still harness activity afoot. Jennifer Swope, spokeswoman for Isle Casino, which owns Pompano Park, said she’s working on firming up a racing schedule for next year. The track, which opened in the 1960s, is filled with memories.

The old grandstand closed after the current grandstand was built 10 years ago. Isle officials aren’t saying anything about the long-term plans for the old grandstand beyond a sign that says the building is permanently closed to the public. How the development will fit in with the existing track is unclear as plans have not yet been submitted to the city.

There is still harness activity afoot. Jennifer Swope, spokeswoman for Isle Casino, which owns Pompano Park, said she’s working on firming up a racing schedule for next year. The track, which opened in the 1960s, is filled with memories.

Mayor Fisher said he used to go there, even as a young boy. “My grandfather was part owner of some of the horses there,” he recalled. “I would go with him to the stables and to watch the races.”

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