Category Archives: Polls

Photo of the Year: 2010 – Results Show

The Michigan-Bred Claimer 2010 Photo of the Year is "Affection", featuring Horse of the Year Zenyatta and her groom Mario Espinoza.

Horse of the Year Zenyatta can add another title to her lengthy resume as the subject of the shot voted the 2010 Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year.

The photo depicts the champion mare sharing a moment with her groom, Mario Espinoza, outside her stall in the days leading up to her second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

As discussed in my Breeders’ Cup retrospective, this shot came to be when I was allowed to tag along with Thoroughbred Times editors Tom Law and Ed DeRosa for a chat with trainer John Shirreffs. While they interviewed the conditioner, I got a golden opportunity to snap away. The chance to photograph such a special horse was memorable by itself, but what really stuck with me during my time in the Shirreffs barn was that behind all the hype, security and cases of Guinness, the legend of Zenyatta ultimately boiled down to a horse in a stall and the people who care for her – just like any other horse at any other track in the world.

Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on this year’s Photo of the Year poll, and especially to the horses, riders, connections and tracks for providing amazing subjects for me to photograph. A special shout-out goes to those kind enough to grant me and my camera special access for sweet angles and scenarios, including the staff at Thoroughbred Times, Churchill Downs, River Downs, Hoosier Park and Ellis Park.

Hopefully, 2011 will bring with it new tracks and new adventures. I look forward to providing you all with the view from my spot on the apron or elsewhere at all points along the way.

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Let’s have a look at how the votes shook out…

Total Votes: 43

1. “Affection” (Zenyatta) – 10 Votes
2. “Lens Flare” (City Girl Jesse) – 7 Votes
3. “Fond Farewell” (Zenyatta) – 6 Votes
4. “Hello Rachel” (Rachel Alexandra) – 5 Votes
4. “Rolling Fields” (Keeneland Race Course) – 5 Votes
5. “Rocky Start” (Yellowstone Downs) – 3 Votes
6. “Downtime” (Emanuel Cosme & Edgar Paucar) – 2 Votes
6. “Head In Front” (RFR The Iceman) – 2 Votes
7. “Hard To Handle” (Little Shimmer) – 1 Vote
7. “On Display” (Juan Delgado) – 1 Vote
7. “Playing In The Mud” (Oscar Delgado) – 1 Vote
8. “A Leg Up” (Lee Gates, Jose Beltran & HQH Dashing Zorro) – No Votes
8. “Classic Backdrop” (Evening Jewel) – No Votes
8. “Crowd Pleaser” (Arlington Park) – No Votes
8. “Gallop Out” (Beduinos Cat) – No Votes
8. “Indiana Nights” (Sharmona) – No Votes
8. “Payouts” (Arturo Perez) – No Votes
8. “Post-Race Interview” (Martin Garcia) – No Votes
8. “Preparation” (Victor Lebron) – No Votes
8. “Testimony” (Wilkin Ortiz & Gabriel Lagunes) – No Votes

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Photo of the Year: 2010

This photo of Zenyatta and super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell is probably the photo of the year, but for the sake of competition, it gets a free pass.

As it was mentioned in previous discussions, 2010 was a big year.

I visited a lot of places, I took a lot of pictures, I’ve seen a million faces and I rocked ‘em all.

Okay, perhaps that last line is a wee bit exaggerated, but two and a quarter years of operation on this site is too long to go without a Bon Jovi reference.

The first two parts of the statement, however, are completely true. The last year afforded me the opportunity to visit racing venues and big events around the country, and I have tried my best to bring my readers along for the ride with my tales and photos.

That brings us to the annual display of my favorite memories from those travels: The 3rd Annual Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll.

Truth be told, my best photo is all but certainly the one shown above of super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell and Zenyatta the morning after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, titled “Consolation”. That projection is supported by the photo’s third-place showing in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest. If I have not said it before, allow me to take this opportunity to thank everyone kind enough to throw a vote my way. We’ll get ‘em next year.

For the sake of competition, we’ll consider that one the winner by default and conduct the poll as usual to determine a reserve champion. Unlike the TBA contest, this is one vote I can’t lose.

All of the photos included in this poll were shot with a Kodak EasyShare Z980.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, voting and otherwise being a part of what was a huge 2010. I look forward to providing a front row seat to my adventures in 2011 and beyond.

Behind the jump are the 20 photos I have handpicked as my favorites of 2010. Have a look, then vote for your favorite in the poll on the left side of the page. Comments are always welcome, too.

And now, without further ado…

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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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A friendly reminder

With your help, my photo of Zenyatta and super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell, “Consolation”, made it to the final round of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest. Now, I need your assistance one more time to finish the job.

As of the time this was posted, the photo was sitting in third place, well back of the two leaders. It’s going to take some doing to catch up, but it all starts with one vote – Yours.

To vote, just follow the link here, go to the bottom of the page and select “Joe Nevills – Consolation”. Then, click “Vote” and get on with the rest of your day knowing you have my deepest thanks.

Voting for the TBA photo contest ends Dec. 31, so don’t delay!

In case you are not familiar with the contest or my entry, here it is one more time…

"Consolation" - Zenyatta nuzzles against Jamie Newell the morning after the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Also, don’t forget time is running out to decide Michigan’s Thoroughbred of the Decade.

Four-time Sire Stakes winner Meadow Vespers continues to hold a commanding lead heading into the poll’s final days. This poll will close sometime Jan. 1 once the dust settles from the previous night’s happenings. The choices can be found on the left side of the page.

Just check a few boxes for me and I promise I won’t ask you to do anything else for the rest of the year.

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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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Photo of the Year 2009: The Results Show

The Michigan-Bred Claimer's 2009 Photo of the Year: Del Mar Storm and jockey Azael De Leon wait in the starting gate prior to a race at River Downs. Date Taken: July 16, 2009.

Riding a wave of support from fans of jockey Azael De Leon, the photo entitled “Caged Animal” was the leading vote-getter in the second annual Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote and comment on my photos. Your kind words were greatly appreciated. It was a ton of fun to shoot these photos, and with another year of experience with my new camera, the shots that document 2010 ought to be better than ever. Hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Now let’s take a look at how the votes shook out…

Which is your favorite photo of 2009?

11 Votes – 26%
#9 – “Caged Animal” (Del Mar Storm/Azael De Leon)

Five Votes – 12%
#2 – “Waiting” (Leonard Frazzitta, Jr.)

Four Votes – 9%
#10 – “Stumbled Start” (Orieal/Lee Gates)

Three Votes – 7%
#3 – “Acting Up” (Buffalo Bill Cole)
#6 – “Tucked Down” (Christmas From Mom)
#16 – “Natural Ledge” (Keeneland Race Course)
#18 – “Into The Tunnel” (Surely Bird)

Two Votes – 5%
#1 – “Paddock Inspection” (Island Chancellor)
#12 – “Victory in the Rain” (Bush Hog)
#15 – “Stretch Duel” (Im A Corona & Lucky’s Rambler)

One Vote – 2%
#5 – “Lighting up the Board” (Send Cash)
#7 – “Admiration” (Funny Cide)
#11 – “Shoot to the Lead” (Waltz Across Texas)
#14 – Follow the Leader (Toagule/Lee Gates)
#17 – “Call to Post” (Bucky Sallee)

No Votes – 0%
#4 – “Load ‘em Up” (JJ Delgado)
#8 – “Pea Patch Parade” (Revival Ridge)
#13 – “Blanket Finish (Mt. Pleasant Meadows)
#19 – “Grabbing the Spotlight” (Backtalk)
#20 – “Masked Man” (Teetee’s Tapit)

Now I’ll work on getting up that countdown clock looking ahead to opening day at Pinnacle Race Course. Be on the lookout.

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Photo of the Year: 2009

Last year's winning photo: Oscar Delgado talks things over with the stewards following a race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

As my readers may or may not have noticed, I did not fare so well in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest.

My goal was to get one of my three photos out of the first round, but it wasn’t to be. That said, thank you very much to the seven or eight of you who cast your votes for my shots.

That brings us to the annual stroking of my ego that is my own “Photo of the Year” contest. It’s pretty hard for me to lose this one.

Just about every photo you see on this site was taken with yours truly at the helm (except for the photo of myself on the “about” page, where I set the ten-second timer and ran really fast). Over the last year, I have taken thousands of photos at tracks across the Midwest and filled a towering stack of photo albums with scenes from my travels.

This year brought an upgrade to my equipment, when I finally retired my tiny point-and-shoot and graduated to a Kodak EasyShare Z980. All of a sudden, I had 24x zoom and could fire off a ludicrous number of shots in only a few seconds. The quality and quantity of my photos skyrocketed, and I’d like to think it improved the quality of this blog dramatically. If anything else, it made me feel more professional.

Behind the jump are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken from the last year. Hopefully you will enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

To vote for your favorite, simply consult the poll on the sidebar to the right. I haven’t set any kind of deadline at the moment, but there will be fair warning when I get ready to close the poll.

And now without further ado…

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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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The Alternative Scene: Part One – Slot Machines/Racinos

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering.

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering like slot machines, but can the good times last?

In a poll that went about three and a half months longer than planned, the readers of this blog voted convincingly that slot machines are the most important form of alternative wagering for the long-term health of the racing industry. 

The voting was neck-and-neck between slots and advance deposit wagering in the poll’s early goings. As time wore on, slots pulled away to an insurmountable lead. 

Let’s have a look at the results…

Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?

Slot Machines – 58% (123 votes)
Advance Deposit Wagering – 22% (46 votes)
We don’t need no stinking alternative wagering – 8% (18 votes)
Instant Racing – 6% (13 votes)
Card Rooms – 3% (6 votes)
Other – 3% (7 votes)

Total votes: 213

“Other” answers (some of the answers could be placed in one of the categories above, but because they were placed in “other,” I am keeping them here):
- “table games, that’s what they want, only slots is not the answer”
- “telephone/Internet wagering”
- “All of the above”
- “exchange betting”
- “Simulacast”
- “Racino”
- “nothing we’re dooooooooomed”

There is no question slots have had an impact on the racing industry, and will continue to do so. Just look at the career path of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. 

The classic winner started his career at Woodbine, enjoying slots-enriched purses on his way to nabbing the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top juvenile. His earnings in Canada alone were enough to secure him an invitation to the big dance at Churchill Downs, which removed the pressure from taking the road to Louisville going through New Mexico.

Mine That Bird worked his way through the Derby preps at Sunland Park, which would have been a laughable strategy only ten years ago, and is unorthodox at best today. With the help of alternative wagering (mainly casino-style gaming) in 2009, the Sunland Derby offered a purse of $900,000, among the biggest prizes offered to three-year-olds in the country.

The race was not graded, and Mine That Bird finished off the board, but his eventual win in the Kentucky Derby put New Mexico in a position to become a legitimate path on the Derby trail. The little Birdstone gelding that could’s success has spearheaded the campaign to get the Sunland Derby designated a graded stakes race, officially making it more than a cash-grab race for Derby wannabes.

Simply put, without casino-style gaming, Mine That Bird is clunking around the California allowance ranks, Calvin Borel doesn’t tearfully celebrate his biggest upset on national television, Sunland Park still runs cheap Quarter Horses, West Side Bernie wins the Kentucky Derby and nobody goes home happy.

The story doesn’t end there. Just recently, the connections of Mine That Bird spurned the Haskell Invitational, and a rematch with Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, to challenge the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. If Mountaineer were still in the slums of the racing hierarchy, as it was before the implementation of slots, a trip through the hills of West Virginia wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of team Mine That Bird (even if the gamble did blow up in their faces, leaving with a third-place finish).

Alternative wagering, slots in particular, does not only give gamblers more options at the racetrack. It also leads to horsemen having the option to try their charges in spots previously considered no-man’s land for horses with any class. Mountaineer landed a Kentucky Derby winner. Charles Town landed Commentator for the Charles Town Classic. Last year, Hoosier Park enticed Pyro, once considered one of his crop’s heavyweights, to enter the Indiana Derby. There is a $1 million race in the middle of Pennsylvania for crying out loud.

Even if for a brief moment, racinos can draw the big horses to come to your local track and thrust it into the national spotlight. If a few curious onlookers become serious followers of the sport, the track will be ahead for the day – and all thanks to a room full of retirees mindlessly hitting the “spin again” button.

However, the honeymoon between racing and slots may soon be coming to an end.

Many racino tracks are still struggling to find an identity for themselves, especially when the quality of racing has yet to catch up with the caliber of purses being offered.

Despite becoming a beacon for horsemen from non-racino states (just take a look at all the Michigan-based connections racing at Presque Isle Downs), Pennsylvania still faces issues with keeping the balance between the racetrack and the casino. Further complicating the situation is the radical discrepancy between the money the live handle kicks into the purse structure versus the purse money generated by the slots (as high as 20-to-1 at Presque Isle). According to the article linked to in this paragraph, Pennsylvania racing’s heavy reliance on the slot machine dollar paired with its difficulty generating its own funds could be seen as a sign of blood in the water by other groups looking to profit from gambling monies.

Though it has been confirmed at Prairie Meadows, an Iowa racino, that live racing actually boosts the slots revenue, the track plans to restructure its schedule for next year, with plans to jettison standardbred racing and ask for fewer Thoroughbred dates. While purses have steadily risen, live handle has steadily dipped despite being one of the first racetracks to adopt casino-style gaming.

The racetracks of today are the lab rats in the study of the miracle cure known as slot machines. Tracks with slots get the medicine – tracks without get the placebo. Early returns appear positive, but the side effects are still being discovered. Little is known about the long-term effects slot machines will have on the racing industry because they have only been around for the short-term. Proponents say slots will bring racing to an even playing field with competitors and will encourage the breeding of better competitors, while others worry the bottom line will eventually drive the “Rac” in “Racino” to become a full-blown “Cas”.

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but as it stands right now, there is only one way to find out.

A poll running this long deserves a post just as lengthy. To help preserve your eyes and attention spans, I am splitting it up into two separate entries. The next post, examining some of the poll’s runner-ups, will be up whenever I get around to writing it. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Exploring the alternatives

The implementation of alternative wagering would likely speed up the construction process at Pinnacle Race Course. Caught In Traffic is led out of the paddock with Federico Mata aboard.

The implementation of alternative wagering would likely speed up the construction process at Pinnacle Race Course. Caught In Traffic is led out of the paddock with Federico Mata aboard.

The proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube.

The number of states seeing their purses skyrocket from slot machines and other casino gaming is growing with each passing year. 

Just as many racetracks, if not more, are going online for new sources of handle, offering advance deposit wagering for those of us who like to play the races but fear natural sunlight.

With so much competition for the gambling dollar from casinos, lotteries, neighborhood poker games and elsewhere, it appears the days of racing being able to thrive on its own product alone are becoming numbered.

Even Kentucky, the Thoroughbred capital of the world, is working toward legislation to implement slots into the state’s racetracks. 

The implementation of alternative wagering is also widening the gap between functional racing facilities and ones that struggle to keep the lights on.

Michigan, for example, has no alternative wagering options outside of simulcast and is suffering because of it. 

In 2004, a ballot proposal, largely funded by the state’s Native American tribes and three casinos in Detroit, was convincingly approved forcing the state’s racetracks to jump through a ridiculous and costly number of hoops to even get a chance to install slots or table games. In the same proposal, the tribes and Detroit casinos included a clause making themselves immune to the restrictions and free to expand their gaming operations in any manner they wish. To put the final nail in the coffin, the proposal was retroactive, killing a Video Lottery Terminal bill that was making its way through State Congress when the proposal was written.

The proposal was marketed as a way to empower the people of Michigan, allowing them to control where new gaming could and could not go. As any good Snake Oil salesman will attest, the first step in manipulating the masses is giving them a false sense of empowerment. Despite what a federal judge said earlier this year, a fast one of epic proportions was pulled on the people of Michigan in 2004.

Online wagering on Michigan tracks is also prohibited to its populace. Michigan residents are allowed to set up accounts and send their money to tracks across the globe, but can not wager on the ones in their own state. A person who lives on the other side of the Ohio border just a few miles from Pinnacle Race Course can fire up their Xpressbet account and play the races in his or her underwear. Meanwhile, the Michigan racing fan living in the state’s upper peninsula, a good eight-to-ten-hour drive from New Boston, is out of luck. There is something backward about outlawing something to the group that could benefit from it the most.

Through all of this, the number of tribal casinos in Michigan has swelled to 17, with at least two more in development. This does not include The Great Lakes Downs property recently purchased by the Little River Tribe of Ottawa Indians in 2008, which currently sits in administrative purgatory while the Tribe attempts to get a gaming license on non-tribal land.

The Michigan Lottery has also expanded quite freely, and since its inception in 1972 has ballooned to over 20 different drawings, Club Keno, Pull Tabs and countless instant ticket games; all of which are allowed to expand their presence into gas stations, bars, restaurants and elsewhere. The Michigan racing industry is literally being regulated by its competition.

Racing in the state of Michigan can not be expected to survive it is not allowed the same rights of expansion as other gaming outlets in the state and other racetracks in neighboring states. 

Because of the state’s unwillingness to provide its racing industry with the tools it needs to compete on a level playing field, Michigan’s horsemen are leaving in droves. With Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs and two recently slots-enriched tracks in Indiana so nearby, many horsemen are sending their mares to foal in those states to take advantage of their generous breeder’s incentive programs. Others are simply pulling up the stakes and moving their entire operations to states with alternative wagering.

It is sad to see them go, but when a $7,500 claimer can run for double the purse elsewhere, one can hardly blame Michigan’s horsemen for going where the money is. If Kentucky approves slots, it will only give them another place to race for lots more money than they could here. The effects the massive loss of horsemen in this state could have is staggering.

I will now step down from my soapbox and allow you to step up onto yours for the next poll question: Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?

Though I use Michigan as an example, the question applies to the sport as a whole.

Slots make the purses nice and big, but is it just a bubble that will eventually burst? Account wagering allows players to wager from anywhere, but could it someday render live handle obsolete? Is there something out there no one has considered?

Personally, I think Michigan could use whatever it can get.

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