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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