Part of Isle Casino’s upcoming rebrand to Harrah’s Pompano Beach includes the closing of Pompano Park. The harness racing track will run its last card on Sunday, April 17.
As part of the farewell proceedings, announcers Pete Aiello and Gabe Prewitt will hit the track themselves for a special match race for charity on Monday, April 4.
The “Battle of the Big Mouths” came about after years of discussions between the two friends. Aiello is raising money for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, while Prewitt’s drive will benefit New Vocations.
How it came together
“It was kind of an epiphany I had,” said Aiello, whose day job sees him calling the races at nearby Gulfstream Park. “How cool would it be if we had this long build on social media to a conclusion of Gabe and I racing each other?”
Aiello added social media was vital in building excitement for the event.
“We thought we could also show people the power of making compelling storylines that don’t have to do with the horses,” he said. “If you bring a storyline that people engage in, the sky is the limit.”
Planning went through various stops and starts, and initial plans for earlier this year, near the Pegasus World Cup, fell through. Hall of Fame driver Wally Hennessey, though, helped make sure the event got on the schedule prior to Pompano Park’s closure.
“Gabe called me around Thanksgiving,” Aiello said. “He was out to dinner with Wally, and he said, ‘Pete wants to race me.’ Wally said, ‘Oh, yeah! Gulfstream against Pompano! You should do that!’”
“It took everything going perfect,” added Prewitt, whose extensive list of duties includes race-calling at the venue known affectionately as The Pomp. “We had to find the right people to work with, who had the right horses and were patient with people like Pete and myself.”
While both announcers have taken time to get to know their horses over the past few weeks, Prewitt cautioned those who may be expecting masterful drives in this event.
“We’re not professionals, and we’re not even amateurs,” he said with a laugh. “We suck.”
The end of the line for Pompano Park
The match race, and the support from fans of standardbred and thoroughbred racing alike, have put a silver lining of sorts around the impending demise of Pompano Park.
Several key figures have been around the track for decades. Prewitt said the longstanding rumors of Pompano Park closing coming true were a gut punch to many.
“Closing is devastating to all of us,” he said. “You’ve got guys like Wally that have been down here nearly 40 years. It’s their whole life.”
Over the past few years, handle at the track has picked up considerably. That played a role in Caesars, which owns Isle Casino and Pompano Park, allowing the track to host one final meet this past winter and spring.
“Our parent company was under no obligation to race this year,” Prewitt said, citing decoupling legislation passed in 2021. “They gave us a curtain call of sorts. It certainly didn’t have to happen. That property’s worth a lot of money.”
Pompano Park employees make the best of it
Those who work there, Prewitt added, made a crucial decision.
“There’s two different mindsets you can take,” he said. “You can mope around, doom and gloom, and feel sorry for yourself, or you can try to go out with a bang and make it a good time for everybody.”
Many at Pompano Park picked the second option. The final meet has been a successful one, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Plenty of influential people in the industry took the time to venture to Florida and say their goodbyes.
“A couple of weeks ago, the top drivers in North America came to Pompano Park,” Prewitt said, specifically citing Yannick Gingras, Dexter Dunn, and Andy McCarthy. “They came down to take on the home team. They’d watch us battle to try to stay open, and it cost them money to come here. They just wanted to be part of it.”
Pompano’s infrastructure does show its age at times. However, all of the track’s hardships and uphill battles gave the track a certain degree of relatability to the fans who follow and wager on the action.
“The grandstand is condemned, and you can’t go up and have a nice dinner anymore,” he said. “We’re The Pomp, and we embrace ourselves. Does our power go out regularly? Yes. Do our starting gates sometimes not work? Yes. But it’s all part of the charm and the fun, and social media has embraced us.”
About the race
Aiello will pilot Don’t Chip Me, while Prewitt will be in the bike behind Casie’s Believer. Both mares are veterans and have been described by the announcers as “bomb-proof,” meaning they won’t lose composure with inexperienced drivers.
Aiello is already thinking about his tactics for the race and has researched the running styles of both horses.
“My mare can lead, and she can get brave on the lead,” he said. “The problem is, Gabe’s mare is excellent off the helmet sitting right behind. I don’t know if I want a horse that’s excellent off the helmet behind me. I go back and forth every day.”
Aiello’s trips to Pompano Park included a memorable appearance on the track’s simulcast feed Wednesday night. He interrupted Prewitt’s preview show and accosted him live on-air before being dragged off the set by security.
— Stetson Wilson (@stet_dot_net) March 31, 2022
Prewitt, meanwhile, has been spending his spare time at his horse’s barn. Videos have been put out of him mucking Casie’s Believer’s stall and taking her out for a spin.
Well it’s race day for my girl, Casie’s Believer, tonight at Pompano. I couldn’t go out with her this morning, so I just made sure she got the best of care & worked on some other stuff. I think she will be large tonight in Race 8! No sign anywhere of @AnnouncerPete ?!? pic.twitter.com/mohoZcDLCc
— Gabe Prewitt (@gabe_prewitt) March 23, 2022
“People think of me as a harness guy, but I have very little hands-on experience,” he said, crediting trainer Joe Chindano and his team for helping to get him ready. “I can’t wait. I want to beat Pete. He trolled me for so long. I definitely want a shot to win.”
A third announcer, Jason Beem, will ride in from Tampa Bay Downs to call the action. Another active member of horse racing’s Twitterverse, Beem created the graphic used to promote the event.
If you can’t be at The Pomp for the match race, you can watch on your preferred ADW partner. Outlets such as TVG will be streaming the action live.