Tag Archives: Great Lakes Downs

Pinnacle Race Course assets to be auctioned?

The Southgate News Herald published a story Tuesday suggesting that some assets from Pinnacle Race Course may soon be up for sale.

The story focuses on the appointment of a new Huron Township deputy clerk, but the last few paragraphs are of particular interest….

So far, the department collected more than $55,000 in late taxes. Currently, it is preparing to auction off assets from Pinnacle Race Course and Simply Dave’s.

The township placed orange stickers, dated April 1 and signed by Spangler, on the clubhouse doors at Pinnacle, 18000 Vining Road, for nonpayment of taxes. The Thoroughbred track, owned by Post-It Stables of Jackson, did not reopen for the 2011 season and stopped simulcasting races Nov. 3, 2010.

As of May, Pinnacle owed just under $265,000 to the township for personal property taxes, water bills and state “breakage fees” and just over $1.5 million to Wayne County for real property taxes.

Obviously, there is not a lot of detail there about what would be auctioned off, when it would happen or how likely it is to actually happen. Any speculation on what the auction might entail is just that – speculation – given the half-sentence of information we have. However, if those “assets” include the things necessary to put on the show, like the stripping down of Great Lakes Downs in 2009, that would be a hard setback to overcome on the road to opening the doors once again.

Keep an eye out for future developments.

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Five reasons why Michigan’s Thoroughbreds should look west

As of right now, the Thoroughbred racing business in the state of Michigan is an industry without a home track to call its own.

While the clock ticks down to the summer racing season, the state Attorney General’s office is taking its sweet time deliberating on whether Pinnacle Race Course is worthy of its conditional racing license. Meanwhile, any immediate alternative (Mount Pleasant Meadows, one of the state’s three harness tracks) will take time to build up into the kind of facility needed to host a meet of the Thoroughbreds’ caliber. Until a decision is made, it is difficult for the decision-makers in Michigan’s racing industry to pull the trigger on either option.

From this writer’s perspective, Pinnacle is at best a 50-50 proposition for opening its doors in 2011. The Detroit-area track closed down all of its operations at the end of last year’s meet under a mountain of debt from municipalities, tax collectors and simulcast providers. Even the track’s website has been offline for over a month, now. A recent story by Crain’s Detroit Business about a looming job-creation audit by Wayne County only heaps more on the pile.

Perhaps it is too soon to simply give up on Pinnacle as a long-term home for Thoroughbred racing, but with the track’s unstable past, present and future, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to consider an alternative.

On the Michigan-Bred Claimer Facebook page, I asked readers where they thought the 2011 Thoroughbred meet would be held, where they would like to see it held and where the long-term future of racing may rest. When presented with the options currently available, the conversation quickly shifted to building a new track in a centrally located area – Grand Rapids or Lansing. Looking at the current situation, it is not hard to agree.

Clearly, this idea is little more than a pipe dream. Pulling it off would mean convincing another wealthy investor that horse racing in Michigan is worth the risk, which at this point is admittedly a hard sell. This, along with a litany of other factors, would make the idea difficult-to-impossible. The following discussion is strictly hypothetical. However, if done correctly, a move west could help drastically improve the health of the state’s industry.

Another aspect discussed in the Facebook conversation was combining the breeds at said centrally located track. From an exposure standpoint, the harness tracks are doing just fine in Detroit. Keeping them there keeps the simulcast dollars flowing in their area. However, it would not be difficult to transition the Quarter Horses and Arabians to this imaginary track, as well.

Before I continue, I realize this plan flies in the face of my 3,000-word manifesto against the contraction of small tracks, effectively shuttering the two tracks I was trying to defend. Don’t worry, I have a plan.

Pinnacle and the proposed track cancel each other out, so there is no loss there. Mount Pleasant would be gutted with the loss of Quarter Horses and Arabians. However, the track represents the only pari-mutuel outpost in central and northern Michigan, so it is important to keep around. Plus, with the track suddenly much closer, there may be more interest to watch the races via simulcast in Mount Pleasant by those who can not make it to the live races every day, but want to play and keep tabs on the track.

To keep the simulcast going, the new track would split itself into a spring/summer and a fall meet, divided with a short mixed breed meet at Mount Pleasant to coincide with the Isabella County Fair. Mount Pleasant gets exposure at a time when the most patrons are on the property, the simulcast can stay open all year, and there is incentive to keep the track up to code to use as a training center. Damage is minimized and everybody wins.

Want to keep Pinnacle in the mix? Give Pinnacle and the new track each one of those meets, then either give Mount Pleasant back the mixed meet horses to run their usual schedule or keep the county fair plan. That way, Pinnacle can continue to stay in business, it gets some time off to ease the cost of hosting a live meet and perhaps it can finally work on finishing the “Phase Two” construction.

Both Grand Rapids and Lansing are viable and acceptable options for such a venture, but there are a few factors that make the state’s capital city particularly attractive in this scenario. To illustrate this, I have outlined five reasons why a move to Lansing might be in the best interest of flat racing in Michigan.

Keep in mind, this is not a call to shut down any track, but simply a scenario to consider in the wake of current events. It’s always better to have a plan than not.

The five reasons why Michigan should consider a racetrack in the Lansing area can be found behind the jump.

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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.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

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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An evening at Hoosier Park

Fans of the former Great Lakes Downs will find a lot to like in Hoosier Park.

Frequent visitors to this site have likely picked up on how much I miss Great Lakes Downs.

The Muskegon track was where I learned many of the nuances of the sport, and where interest became infatuation as I followed my grandpa’s racehorse, Royal Charley.

Now it’s an empty lot.

I’ve spent a lot of time and gas miles trying to recapture the magic I felt at GLD, only managing to find it in small doses – usually when the lights come on for night races.

No track will ever fully re-create the Great Lakes Downs experience, but a night at Hoosier Park is about as close as it gets. In fact, with its adjacent casino, Hoosier provides a look at perhaps what could have been if slots had been allowed in Michigan before the track was sold to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and knocked down.

The Anderson, Ind. plant is an enclosed structure split into four sections. The entrance is at the top landing, housing the gift shop, restaurant, a bar and a couple mall-style food stations. From there, patrons can choose one of two paths down to the apron. On the right is the dining area, which sits on several levels down the stairs. As I did at GLD, I imagine the wait staff, who has to climb up and down those stairs to serve their customers, must have calves of steel. The left side held the grandstand seating. At the bottom sat some concession stands and betting windows.

The similarities to GLD continued as I made my way out to the apron. The track surface is raised at the end of the apron to about shin-to-knee level. Hoosier managed to improve on this setup by putting an eye-level opening in the fence, which made the viewing experience much easier than watching the field go by through chain link.

The apron area is a little more spread out than Muskegon, but the paddock is more scenic. A fountain overlooked the saddling area, which led into a nicely landscaped walking ring.

I spent the day with my former Thoroughbred Times traveling companion Jeff Apel and grade school chum Niki. For my first time visiting the track, they were far from the only people I knew. While sitting at one of the trackside picnic tables, I heard someone call my name from the track. It was another friend from school working as an outrider. Small world. Of course, there were also plenty of transplants from Pinnacle Race Course and Mount Pleasant Meadows looking to take advantage of the sweeter pots. There is no doubt this increased my comfort level with getting used to a new track.

The effects slots have had at Hoosier Park are apparent in the quality of horses the track sends to post. On that particular night, the card featured large fields highlighted by the third place finisher in last year’s Sanford Stakes (G2) and a fringe Kentucky Derby trail horse from this year’s race. That is more than most tracks in the Midwest can boast.

My luck at the windows dwindled with the setting of the sun, and I was already staring down an 0-fer. I scanned through my program with a sense of optimism when I noticed three Michigan-breds entered in the sixth race, but none of them could put up much of a fight against the previously mentioned fringe Derby trail contender.

As night fell on the track, the Quarter Horses came out to play. The card was divided up into nine Thoroughbred races and three Quarter Horse races, for a total of 12 races overall. If the Thoroughbred races were robust, the Quarters were downright juicy. Full fields (before scratches) entered the gates for each race to run for an average purse of $23,833 for the evening. That’s a spicy meatball.

Despite my familiarity with the various Mount Pleasant connections competing in the races, I continued to whiff on the Quarter Horse portion of the card. However, Mount Pleasant trainer Tony Cunningham and jockey Juan Delgado did manage to score in the nightcap with Cant Tell Me Nothing, so if I wasn’t going to get paid, at least someone I knew was picking up the slack.

With the races in the rear view mirror, Niki and I hit up the casino. Like Indiana Downs, everything that is not a straight up slot machine is digital. The table games are arranged similar to the real thing, but players place bets and recieve their cards on a monitor. While some bemoan the lack of actual table games, I prefer the digital versions because no one else has to see how big of a coward I am being with my bets.

Despite my relative ineptitude in most casino games, I actually found myself about $30 ahead near the end of the night. Then, as we were heading out the door, the roulette wheel caught my attention from the corner of my eye and begged for some of my time. Roulette and I have a strange relationship – like that one friend everyone has that can be lots of fun to be around, but taxing on the wallet. Even though it is a complete game of chance, I still find it fascinating. It can be broken down statistically, even though doing so is a useless venture. It can hit random hot and cold streaks with numbers and colors, then blow them up without warning. Every plan and superstition is absolutely right and absolutely useless at the exact same time; kind of like horse racing.

Unlike most of the faux table games, the roulette wheel is real, but automated, so a human being is not needed to spin the wheel or deal with the ball. However, the terminals were still there, so no one had to see I was only putting a dollar on red or black with each spin. When you play with as small a bankroll as I had though, hitting a cold streak can add up. After zigging when I should have zagged a few times too many, I decided to cut myself off while I was still up by a reasonable amount (something in the $20 neighborhood) and call it a night. I had some driving ahead of me in the morning, anyway.

Now that I have visited both of Indiana’s racetracks, there will inevitably be comparisons. The main thing to keep in mind when discussing Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs is that Hoosier was in place long before slots became a reality, whereas Indiana was essentially built with a racino in mind.

As a place to watch races, Hoosier is the better of the two. The overall racetrack experience is more vibrant and practical. For all the fuss about racino tracks not being able to draw fans to the racetrack side of the action, the crowd was reasonably robust for a Friday night card, and the bar stayed busy hours after the last horse crossed the wire.

The casino at Indiana, on the other hand, is a little better – at least in the eyes of someone who has been to three casinos in his life, with two of them being in the focus group. The games themselves were about on par with each other, but it just felt there was more going on at the Shelbyville casino. With that said, each is a worthwhile destination for someone looking for action.

Instead of waxing poetic one last time about how much Hoosier Park reminds me of the good times at Great Lakes Downs, I will instead note that I like the track so much, I intend to return for the Indiana Derby on Oct. 2. While I will never forget the fun I had in Muskegon, I intend to create my share of new memories at Hoosier Park in due time.

Behind the jump are some pictures of my visit to Hoosier Park.

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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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