Category Archives: Great Lakes Downs

Meadow Vespers voted Michigan’s Thoroughbred of the Decade

Four-time Sire Stakes winner Meadow Vespers took 39.76% of the vote to earn Michigan's Thoroughbred of the Decade title.

The readers of The Michigan-Bred Claimer have voted Meadow Vespers Michigan’s Thoroughbred of the Decade, from 2000-2010.

The nine-year-old Meadow Prayer gelding drew 33 of 83 total votes (39.76%) to hold off second place finisher Tenpins for the top spot. Full results from the poll can be found at the end of the post.

Meadow Vespers is campaigned by owner John Mack and trainer Richard Rettele. He was bred in Michigan by James Arnold, Marcia Arnold and Deb Miley.

One of his barn’s stars for over a half decade, Rettele listed Meadow Vespers among the best horses he has trained.

“He’s sound, tough and has longevity,” Rettele said. “He’s good to train and goes to race. That’s the kind you need.”

Meadow Vespers won 13 of 42 career starts for earnings of $489,066. Five of those victories came in stakes company, along with nine other stakes placings. He is Michigan’s ninth leading male by lifetime earnings.

Meadow Vespers’ racing career often mirrored his running style – A slow build-up to a big finish.

The gelding’s late kick often led to minor awards in early-season stakes races, but became dialed in as the season, and the race distances, grew longer. Prior to the 2009 season, Meadow Vespers’ only stakes wins came in the longest blacktype contests at the end of Michigan’s racing calendar, the Sire Stakes.

After one start as a two-year-old, Meadow Vespers’ run of Sire Stakes victories began in 2005, when he won the three-year-old males division of the race at Great Lakes Downs. That victory, along with on-the-board finishes in the Dowling and Spartan Stakes, helped secure his division’s title for the year.

Meadow Vespers stepped up into older competition the next year and won that division’s race twice before Great Lakes Downs was closed in 2007. However, year-end awards eluded him both times.

In 2008, Meadow Vespers showed he could translate his success on GLD’s five-furlong track to a mile oval with an award-winning inaugural campaign at Pinnacle Race Course. His fourth straight Sire Stakes triumph, and three other in-the-money stakes efforts, helped wrap up Michigan’s older male title.

Meadow Vespers had another solid year in 2009 and even notched his first non-Sire Stakes blacktype win; a rallying half-length score in the Michigan Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Pinnacle. However, his signature late move could not overcome traffic problems in the Sire Stakes, and his streak was snapped with a fifth place finish.

Despite showing some flashes in 2010, including a half length runner-up finish in the Frontier Handicap and a valiant effort against graded stakes-level competition in a Hoosier Park allowance, Meadow Vespers failed to find his timing last year and again finished off the board in the Sire Stakes.

Most horses spend their entire careers trying to hit in just one big spot, and most never get there. Meadow Vespers made hitting in the big spot an annual event. In an industry where many horses that show success are quickly retired, even geldings, there is something to be said for a horse that manages to compete at a consistent stakes level over a seven-year racing career.

Thanks to his longevity, lethal closing kick and status as Michigan’s alpha male for the latter half of the 2000s, Meadow Vespers is Michigan’s Thoroughbred of the Decade.

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Here are the full results for Michigan’s Thoroughbred of the Decade poll. Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on the poll, and to everyone who campaigned the horses that showed off the best Michigan has to offer.

To view the original post with information on each entry, click here.

TOTAL: 83 Votes

1. Meadow Vespers – 33 Votes (39.76%)
2. Tenpins - 23 Votes (27.71%)
3. Secret Romeo – 8 Votes (9.64%)
4. Cashier’s Dream – 5 Votes (6.02%)
5. Valley Loot – 4 Votes (4.82%)
6. Born To Dance – 3 Votes (3.61%)
T7. Rockem Sockem – 2 Votes (2.41%)
T7. Weatherstorm – 2 Votes (2.41%)
T9. Sefa’s Rose – 1 Vote (1.2%)
T9. That Gift – 1 Vote (1.2%)
T9. Other (Starlit Hour) – 1 Vote (1.2%)

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Michigan Thoroughbred of the Decade (2000-2010)

Another year is quickly coming to a close.

Year-end honors are being awarded or debated, while racing fans and participants alike are reflecting on the 2010 racing calendar.

The end of 2010 also allows for the opportunity to reflect on a much bigger scale. Depending on one’s guidelines for defining the decades, we are either wrapping up the current ten-year stretch or we are in the midst of the ’10s.

Either way, enough time has elapsed to discuss the last decade in Michigan Thoroughbred racing – the highs, the lows and all points in between. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the highs.

Over the last 11 years (to account for both schools of thought and avoid confusion we’ll include 2010), Michigan has produced solid runners on the local, regional and national levels. Michigan has proven it can produce a Thoroughbred that compete anywhere.

This state has had some good ones in the ’00s, and it is time to decide who is the Michigan-bred Thoroughbred of the decade?

Behind the jump are ten horses whose careers have put them head and shoulders above the rest of their Michigan-bred counterparts. Some have exemplified dominance at Michigan’s Thoroughbred ovals, Great Lakes Downs and Pinnacle Race Course. Others have competed, and won, at some of the most prestigious racetracks in the world.

Each horse on the list has a reasonable claim to the title. The resumes for each candidate are included to display that claim and help voters make their decisions.

Does the flash of brilliance Cashier’s Dream showed in her tragically short career put her over the top? Tenpins’ graded stakes coups? Secret Romeo’s regional dominance? Valley Loot’s success in the latter half of the decade? Meadow Vespers’ near-invincibility in the Sire Stakes? That Gift’s transition from a stakes-level competitor to a hard knocker? Rockem Sockem’s staying power in the middle of the decade? Sefa’s Rose’s ownership of her division? Weatherstorm’s quick start? The early-decade success of Born to Dance?

To make your selection, just go to the poll on the left side of the page and click on the horse you feel is the most deserving of the title “Michigan Thoroughbred of the Decade”. Feel free to back up your vote or campaign for a horse in the comments. I look forward to hearing some constructive debate on the subject and reminiscence on the careers of the state’s best.

And the nominees are…

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Michigan Notebook: November 15, 2010

- According to the track’s Facebook page, Pinnacle Race Course will be featured in Tuesday’s episode of police drama Detroit-187. It is not known whether scenes will take place on location, or if the track will simply be mentioned by one of the show’s characters. The press release for the upcoming episode does not mention the track, but one of the characters is a high-stakes poker player. The show will air at 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

- The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has unveiled a website outlining its plans for a casino and resort on the former site of Great Lakes Downs. The site includes concept art of the casino, endorsements from local and state government and the steps necessary to make the casino a reality. A compact amendment was signed between the tribe and Gov. Jennifer Granholm to proceed with the casino, but it has not been carried through by the state Legislature. The Muskegon Chronicle reports that if the compact amendment is not acted upon by Dec. 31, it will die in committee. Additional discussion on the proposed casino can be found in the Chronicle story, including arguments for and against the plans.

- The Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association is collecting donations for its annual year-end silent auction. If any readers or their businesses are interested in donating an item or service, feel free to contact myself or MTOBA directly. For more information on the MTOBA banquet, and for contact information to make reservations, click here.

- In a small bit of chest-thumping, a snippet of my epitaph on the Breeders’ Cup Classic in Thoroughbred Times TODAY was listed as a “Quote of the Day” on Horse Circle, a blog operated by an Ocala, Fla.-based Thoroughbred breeder. I am honored that readers find my work quoteworthy. I hope to supply bulletin board material to you all for years to come.

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Michigan Notebook: February 2, 2010

- A story in Monday’s Oakland Press features Hazel Park CEO Dan Adkins and the petition he and his group, Racing to Save Michigan, are spearheading to implement casino gaming into the state’s five racetracks. The story highlights the additions Hazel Park made in 2004 after State Congress approved slots at the track. However, the structure was never finished after Gov. Jennifer Granholm failed to sign the bill into law. The restrictions set in place by Proposal 1 of 2004 further sealed the building’s fate.

Progress with the petition has been hampered by a lack of support from the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association. The HBPA website cites the petition’s lack of provisions for live racing, simulcasting, purse revenue and horsemen’s organizations for its refusal to endorse the plan in its current form. Negotiations over the language of the petition have been ongoing between Adkins’ group and the horsemen’s organizations, but according to the HBPA’s site nothing has been finalized.

- A six horse crash Saturday night at Sports Creek Raceway made the local news. WJRT-ABC 12 reports the crash occurred when the lead horse in a race at the Swartz Creek harness track fell to the ground. Horses and drivers then began to pile up as they tried to avoid the fallen leader.

Two drivers were taken to the hospital following the accident. According to the MHHA website, driver Larry Lake suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery, but he was released Sunday morning. Keith Crawford was placed in intensive care, but is expected to be released in the near future, if he is not out already.  Amazingly, it was reported none of the horses were seriously injured, and only one was “slightly hurt”.

To view the news feature, including footage of the crash (no fatalities, but still not for the faint of heart), click here.

- For those of you curious about the demolition progress of defunct Muskegon racetrack Great Lakes Downs (or, like me, just need closure), a citizen of the Internet took several pictures of the scene while taking in the decay of her former community. The photos, interspersed with other shots of the area can be found here.

- Consider this your one-week warning to vote for the Michigan-Bred Claimer 2009 Photo of the Year before the poll closes up. Photo #9, “Caged Animal”, enjoyed a burst in popularity and holds a comfortable lead. If you feel another photo is more deserving of the title, this is your last chance to do something about it. If that photo is your favorite, make sure it closes strong. Either way, you’ve got a week to decide.

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Michigan Notebook: December 11, 2009

- It appears some significant hurdles are about to be cleared on the road to building a casino on the former site of Great Lakes Downs. The Muskegon Chronicle reports the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is nearing an agreement with the township and county governments over municipal services for the proposed building. The agreement outline services including law enforcement and fire protection, and how the tribe would pay for it. From where that money would come appears to be one of the major points of debate still on the table.

After an agreement is reached, the document will be put in front of the Fruitport Township Board, the Muskegon County Board and the tribal council for approval. The tribe will also require approval from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Michigan’s governor (whomever it may be at the time) for the land to be put into trust in order for it to be used for gambling.

- Speaking of Great Lakes Downs, Google Reader kicked up an interesting note this morning regarding a mention of the track in a handicapping book. In fact, an entire chapter is dedicated to the defunct Muskegon oval in “Small Track Betting: Pick More Winners Using This Sure-Fire Eight -Point System of Race Analysis” by C.N. Richardson.

In the chapter, titled “Great Lakes Downs”, Richardson outlines the track’s history and that of Michigan racing in general.  The chapter also discusses the 2006 race fixing scandal that forced seven riders off many of the nation’s tracks, including GLD regulars T.D. Houghton, Joe Judice and Jose H. Delgado. Richardson continues to discuss race fixing to cash exotic tickets, then gives an overview of the track’s trainer and jockey colonies. He finishes by handicapping a few races on a GLD card.

The book was written in 2007, and considering the manner in which the author breaks down the track, it must have hit the shelves before the track shut its doors. There are a few grammar and continuity errors (It’s Terry Houghton, not Timothy; some misspelled horse names; occasionally referring to the track as “Great Lake”, which is surprisingly common throughout all turf writing), but it is always interesting to see Michigan tracks become the focus of an author’s pen (or in modern times, his or her keyboard). The only other instance of GLD playing a significant role in a book that immediately comes to mind was in “Horseplayers: Life at the Track” by Ted McClelland. The author traveled to Muskegon with infamous racetrack bucket-lister McChump and gave a less-than-favorable review. Otherwise, it is a very fine read in its own right.

All things considered, “Small Track Betting” is officially on the Christmas list.

To purchase “Small Track Betting” from Amazon, click here.

To read the chapter on Great Lakes Downs, click here.

- Crain’s Detroit Business reports Pinnacle Race Course is one of Michigan’s top economic investments of the last two years. Pinnacle ranked 25th among companies receiving MEGA/brownfield incentives in 2008-09, with an investment of $142 million. Additional consideration was given to each company’s ranking among the state’s largest construction projects of 2009 (Pinnacle was #14).

The largest investment on the list came from Clairvoyant Energy Solar Panel Manufacturing Inc. and Xtreme Power Inc., who are putting in $1.33 billion to build a renewable-energy park on the former site of a Ford assembly plant in Wixom.

- Jockey DeShawn Parker, son of Michigan steward Daryl Parker, was named a finalist Wednesday for the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. According to the Blood Horse, the award “honors and recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.” Other riders nominated for the award  include Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Randy Meier and Gallyn Mitchell.

Parker is a regular rider at Mountaineer in West Virginia and recently began taking his tack to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. This is his first time being nominated for the award. For more information on Parker and his career, the Blood Horse wrote a good piece about him following his 3,000th win, which can be read here.

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Digging up the past

I’m cooking up something special for this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, so hang loose for a little while as I finish it up.

Until then, check out this blog I stumbled across focusing on the former Great Lakes Downs property as it transitions from a racetrack to a proposed casino. It has not been updated since March, and the posts are pretty intermittent, but it provides some informative articles for those curious about what has been happening with the land since the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians bought it from Magna Entertainment Corp. last summer.

If anything else, there are some neat pictures of the track from Google Earth and from the apron during the races.

Also, for those who have not already browsed it, Equibase now offers a free horse search on its website. An account with the site is required, but there is no cost to set one up.

Users can search for any Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse or Arabian with at least one start and will receive information on the dates and locations of its starts, as well as the horse’s lifetime record. If available, the results will also include charts of the races and video replays.

I have lost several hours scheduled to be used productively because of this search. It is fun to walk down memory lane and follow the career paths of the horses I grew up watching. I have learned quite a bit about the history of racing in Michigan just from the short time the feature has been available.

These links ought to suffice until I roll out my Breeders’ Cup post(s). Enjoy!

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Tribal casino proposal hits close to home

The Detroit Free Press reports the Upper Peninsula-based Hannahville Indian Community has resubmitted an application to build a $300 million casino in Romulus, including a 200-room hotel and retail space.

The city of Romulus is about five miles from Pinnacle Race Course in New Boston. Pinnacle, along with the state’s four other pari-mutuel racetracks are working toward obtaining their own casinos through a 2010 ballot issue.

This news also comes on the heels of the recent announcement that Michigan may cease live and simulcast horse racing indefinitely on Nov. 5 following cuts to the Office of Racing Commissioner.

The Free Press reports the Hannahville tribe’s application to the U.S. Department of the Interior was rejected last year, but Chairman Ken Meshigaud told the paper he feels “more confident than ever” that the project will get the go-ahead this time around. The group has been eyeing a casino in Romulus since 2004.

The tribe also operates the Chip-In Island Resort and Casino, located west of Escanaba in the state’s Upper Peninsula.

One key factor standing in the way of this development is the small fact that there isn’t any tribal land for miles around Romulus. According to the Free Press, the tribe plans to get around this by “asking the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to place a portion of a 27-acre site at Vining and Wick into trust — allowing tribal members to own the land and use it for gaming, as a sort of extension of their 5,500-acre reservation near Escanaba.”

In a similar case, the Manistee-based Little River Band of Ottawa Indians purchased the site of former Thoroughbred track Great Lakes Downs in 2008 with the intention of developing a casino. The property is about 75 miles from the tribe’s reservation and far from any other Native American land. The area has been cleared, but its status in regards to building a casino remains in limbo.

A tip of the hat goes out to to Twitter user @ThoroFan for sniffing out this story.

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Signs of the times

My never-ending quest for Michigan racing memorabilia yielded an interesting find. Have a look at what I found at the Burley Park flea market a couple weeks ago…

Photobucket

It’s a sign from the now-defunct Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon. It is somewhat ironic that a sign I frequently ignored at the races managed to grab my attention in the outside world.

I saw it lying in a wicker basket and thought to myself “I’d recognize that font and color scheme anywhere.” Just to make sure, I asked the vendor where he found the sign, and he told me he got it from a Muskegon scrap yard. Jackpot. The sign was soon in my possession.

After a series of auctions stripped GLD of little souvenirs like this and scattered them across the state, and likely across the nation, it has been hard times for the memento collector in me (aside from a pad of paper from the racetrack kindly given to me by a couple of former members of the Office of Racing Commissioner after reading the above post). A recent article and photo essay further confirmed that nothing will be left standing of my old favorite track when it’s all said and done.

That said, something as small as a “keep off the fence” sign totally made my day.

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The Alternative Scene: Part Two – ADW, Card Rooms, etc.

The question of what forms of alternative wagering fall under the restrictions of Proposal 04-1 continues to plague Michigan racing as it looks to expand its product. Tizzy's Prospector is led to the Pinnacle winner's circle with Alex Estrada aboard.

The question of what forms of alternative wagering fall under the restrictions of Proposal 04-1 continues to plague Michigan racing as it looks to expand its product. Tizzy's Prospector is led to the Pinnacle winner's circle with Alex Estrada aboard.

Though slot machines got the winner’s share of my recent poll, they are by no means the only method racetracks are trying to expand their product.

Many tracks are taking their game online with advance deposit wagering, while others are expanding on the casino concept with card rooms or instant racing machines.

Though all three (and throw slots in there, too) are completely different ways to get action, Michigan appears to be stonewalled in terms of implementing any of them by Proposal 04-1.

The brilliantly written (by tribal/casino interests) proposal requires any interest outside of the tribal and Detroit-based casinos to pass local and statewide referendums before getting the go-ahead to install video lottery terminals. Though it was sold to the public in the 2004 election as a way for them to control gambling in the state, the ballot issue instead gave the casinos free reign to expand while handcuffing their competition – the racetracks.

But, like Mark McGwire, I’m not here to talk about the past. What I am here to talk about is how the proposal’s vague language affects the present and future of racing in Michigan. 

Because of the ballot’s less than specific wording, it could, and has, been argued that any of the aforementioned forms of alternative wagering fall under Prop 1′s umbrella. The amount of money and labor required to get such an issue on two ballots has hindered efforts to get any kind of expanded gaming off the ground in Michigan. 

Obviously, this takes millions of hypothetical dollars out of the pockets of the Michigan racing industry. However, according to Michigan HBPA Executive Director Gary Tinkle, it is holding back tens of millions of actual dollars as well.

In an email exchange with Tinkle, he said over $50 million was wagered by Michigan residents through ADW services in 2008 despite their illegality in this state. While some online wagering services allow users to play Pinnacle or Hazel Park, Michiganders are not legally allowed to bet on races in their home state (or anywhere else, for that matter) unless it is at the track itself or by simulcast. Tinkle said because these wagers are not  legally recognized, Michigan’s tracks, the state, and the horsemen do not get a cut from the monies wagered as they would from a simulcast bet.

The situation is further complicated by the actual location of the wagers. Though the person placing an online wager may reside in Michigan, the hub in which the bets are actually placed is in a state where online wagering is allowed (I keep hearing about this hub in Oregon. Must do good business). This brings about the dilemma of where the bet actually originated.

Is the stay-at-home Michigan handicapper in the wrong if he plays a race out-of-state and his money never has to enter his own state limits? Apparently yes, but there are so many gray areas to Michigan’s ADW laws that the definition of what is and isn’t kosher might depend on who you ask. Either way, things would be much less complicated (and I would be more likely to actually know what I was talking about) if Michigan were just allowed to legalize ADW already.

Another alternative wagering option that has found its way into some racetracks are card rooms. With the World Series of Poker and movies like “21″ bringing card games into mainstream consciousness, tracks like Canterbury Park in Minnesota are capitalizing on the popularity.

Though Proposal 1 explicitly outlaws “table games” at the racetracks, Great Lakes Downs played host to poker games for two or three years before it shut its doors in 2007. The defunct Muskegon track apparently found a loophole by hosting charity poker games with the proceeds going to some worthy cause instead of the purse pools. To my knowledge, the only money the track got out of the deal was a fee for renting the space – a far cry from the money brought in from established card rooms.

The one flaw that hurts the viability of card rooms is it’s the only alternative wagering option that can be done just as well without having to go to a casino or racetrack. Though some games are dependent on dealers, such as blackjack, the current big-ticket game, poker, is played for real money in garages, basements and game rooms around the world. One can grab a beer, go to the weekly poker night in his buddy’s basement and lose 20 bucks just as easily as he can go to the local racetrack’s card room, and he doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about his personal conduct.

An interesting option gaining steam both nationally and in Michigan is instant racing. The machines allow users to wager on stripped-down versions of previously run races on a device resembling a self-service terminal. Oaklawn Park in Arkansas was the early adopter of the new form of wagering and saw its purses and field sizes rise. An interesting piece on instant racing can be found on The Thoroughbred Brief, written by guest poster John M. Lockwood, Esq. outlines some facts and issues surrounding the games.

The challenge facing instant racing machines is state Supreme Courts don’t seem to know what to make of them. As Lockwood’s editorial notes, some states have ruled them as pari-mutuel wagering the same as the actual live races and gave them the go-ahead. A recent push to get instant racing legalized in Michigan banked on rulings like this, but so far, little has come from it. Other states have labeled them a closer relative of  the slot machine and treated them as such.

Of the three alternative wagering options discussed in this post, instant racing would appear to have the least immediate drawing power. People know what poker is and most can wrap their minds around online wagering. Not much explanation needed. Putting a sign out front that reads “Instant Racing”, however is not quite the slam dunk. Some advertising or other form of public education would probably be needed to get the person on the street both aware and interest in what instant racing has to offer. The risk seemed to work in Arkansas, other racetracks might not be so lucky.

Like slot machines, there is still a sense of trial and error associated with these forms of alternative wagering. In most cases, the results appear promising, but the permanent effects of expanded gaming on the racing industry remain to be seen. When a track can perfect the balance between the races and the alternative wagering without making one of them a sideshow, that operation stands to make a good deal of money.

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Michigan Notebook: July 6, 2009

Send Cash comes back from a race at Pinnacle Race Course with Federico Mata aboard.

Send Cash comes back from a race at Pinnacle Race Course with Federico Mata aboard.

- Brandon Meier, one the subjects of Animal Planet’s reality show “Jockeys,” is scheduled to take the saddle aboard a few ship-ins Tuesday at Pinnacle Race Course. Unless someone else has been sneaking mounts while I haven’t been paying attention, this is the first time one of the show’s stars has come to a Michigan racetrack to ride since the series aired. Not a bad draw for a Tuesday afternoon card.

- Speaking of reasons to go to Pinnacle, the track has some non-racing related events in the coming weeks to attract audiences:

1) On July 13 at 1 p.m., Pinnacle will host a dog show featuring world-renowned dog trainer, and Pinnacle employee, John Flowers. Admission is free. Flowers has appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman four times with his dog, Spencer. He has also appeared on the Animal Planet show Pet Star five times, winning the competition in 2005. Flowers is a cancer survivor and all donations received from the dog show will go to the American Cancer Society.

For a video of Flowers and Spencer’s winning performance on Pet Star, click here. From there, click on the seventh dog in the row of pictures.

 2) The Budweiser Clydesdales will be at Pinnacle on July 17 from noon to 4 p.m..

- For those curious about how the demolition is progressing at Great Lakes Downs, someone posted some photos from the edges of the grounds on Flickr. They are from the middle of May, so things are almost certainly further along now, but I just found them, so they’re new to me. The photographer does not appear to have too much knowledge about the nuts and bolts of racing (he thinks the grooms’ dormitory is a hotel for visiting jockeys), but they give a good, if a tad depressing, look at what’s left of the place.

- While we are looking at pictures, I also found a few photos from another defunct Michigan Thoroughbred track, Detroit Race Course. For a blast from the past, click here.

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