The final dog race in Florida takes place on New Year’s Eve, a minute before midnight, at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Once the clock strikes midnight, dog racing in the sunshine state is no more. That’s when Amendment 13, passed overwhelmingly back in November 2018, bans the sport forever.
There are about 1,200 greyhounds that have still been racing in Florida since Amendment 13 passed. The tracks claim all the dogs will be adopted or sent north to the last four tracks in the country located in Arkansas, Iowa and West Virginia. The two dog tracks in Arkansas and Iowa are slated to close by 2022. Only West Virginia plans to continue the controversial sport, but all signs point to the extinction of dog racing in America.
I wrote about the end of dog racing and the closing of the Sarasota Kennel Club back in 2019. The club had its last race on May 4, 2019. That was the last time I was there. I spent long days with the dog trainers, many of whom had taken care of dogs for decades, to describe a way of life in Sarasota that vanished that day. I called the former owner of the dog track, Jack Collins Jr., to see if he had any news or thoughts on the official end of dog racing.
“Our last day was last Wednesday,” Collins said over the phone. “It was a weird feeling…having my last sip of beer here.”
Collins had spent his entire life at the track. His grandfather, Jerry Collins, bought the place back in 1944. After he closed the track, Collins still operated a lucrative poker operation there called One Eyed Jacks. This week he moved One Eyed Jacks to a new spot at 4404 Bee Ridge Road. Collins brought over most of the parimutuel people who remained at the track. “I’m very happy with the new poker room,” he said. “There’s a lot less overhead. A lot less building upkeep. The old place was rather aged.”
I asked Collins if he’d heard from any of the trainers who worked the kennels year in and year out. He said just one, who promised to stop by the new place. As for the others? “I’m sure they’ll find a job,” Collins said. “Dog training was a time-consuming job. They’ll figure out a way.”
Collins sold the track and the almost 30 acres it sits on when he decided to end dog racing. New York-based Wakefield Development Partners announced in 2018 it would be building an assisted living residence and 340 apartments there. But now a new development group, JBCC Development Company, has purchased at least part of the property with plans for a Circle K and car wash, says Collins. The remaining acreage is still under discussion.
I went to see the track for the first time in nearly 18 months. Today the parking lot is used as a Covid-19 drive-thru testing site. Nurses in blue scrubs stand under the Miss Whirl Club sign, right next to the entrance where the dogs were once kept in their kennels. I walked through a bit of broken chain link fence to get to the track. The dirt track is now covered with dry grass. Sand spurs were everywhere and stuck to my legs and shoes. The banner from the last race was still under the tote board, worn and untethered. Green scum covered the pond.
It’s only a matter of time before even this is gone, but when people ask for directions around north Sarasota, I and other longtimers will always say it’s around where the old dog track used to be.