Tag Archives: Hoosier Park

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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Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Polls, Racetrack Visits

Making the most of 2010: A look back on the year

The days leading up to New Year’s Eve offer a time for reflection on the year gone by.

For most, doing so may conjure up a roller coaster of memories, recollections, emotions and perhaps scars. Some will find they have made the most of the year, while others might discover that they have done very little with the last 365 days.

After doing some searching of my own, I have no problem staking my claim in the former group.

I often carry massive stacks of photo albums and other mementos in my vehicle because I always assume people do not believe me when I tell them the stories of my adventures. To save time and space, I have compiled some of the highlights of my 2010 into a handy bulleted list of links to posts of those stories.

Even after putting it into an itemized list, it boggles my mind that I experienced all of this in a lifetime, much less in one year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a lucky son of a gun.

Let’s have a look at some of the things that have gone down since this time last year.

In the year 2010 I…

- Said goodbye to the man who got me into this whole mess in the first place.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates.
Checked two tracks off my wish list.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates again.
Was told to get out of Michigan by Chris McCarron at Keeneland Race Course.
Followed a colt with Michigan ties through the Keeneland Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
Gave out 20-1 winner Exhi in my ThoroFan Handicapper’s Corner preview of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes.
Drove off the beaten path to chase the Fortune 6 wager at Beulah Park…And was promptly dumped out by the second leg.
Wrote some haikus for Claire Novak’s NTRA blog.
Lost a Kentucky Derby pin collecting contest against Dr. Sale Guru Emily.
Got pelted by a flying mint julep on Kentucky Oaks day.
Roamed the backstretch to gather quotes after the Kentucky Derby.
Went to Mount Pleasant Meadows a lot.
Hosted racetrack bucket-lister Tom Miscannon during his visit to Michigan.
Suited up in the box seats at Arlington Park.
Broke down a Pick 4 while waiting in line for a cage fight, then did a phone interview about my selections during an intermission for Claire Novak’s Youbet On-Track podcast.
Watched the next generation of Michigan-breds go through the sale ring.
Ate, bet and drove my way through Hoosier Park, Ellis Park, Riverside Downs, The Red Mile and River Downs, which earned the attention of Jennie Rees’ blog.
Severely underestimated the popularity of racing in Montana at Yellowstone Downs.
Played blackjack and the Quarter Horses at Prairie Meadows.
Live blogged the Indiana Derby on-site at Hoosier Park.
Partied with Bo Derek, Toby Keith. Encountered Kentucky’s governor. Visited champion mare Zenyatta in her stall.
Witnessed one of the greatest races in the history of the sport – The Breeders’ Cup Classic – Even if the outcome wasn’t what we had all hoped.
Got to pet Zenyatta, cover breaking news in the Churchill Downs press box.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis…Stay thirsty, my friends.

Okay, perhaps that last statement is not entirely accurate, but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time.

Later today, my travels will take me to Turfway Park. Once there, I will have been to every still-active track I have ever visited within the 2010 calendar year…If that makes any sense. Turfway was the last track I visited in 2009 as well, so it is fitting to bring everything full circle.

This year has been, without a doubt, the most memorable ride of my life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who shared in my adventures over the last 12 months at the races, in the press box, in meetings, at parties, on the road, on this site and all points in between. You are the ones who make all these stories worth telling, be it as a reader or an active participant.

Now let’s try to carry some of this good mojo into 2011, shall we?

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Filed under Commentary, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Story Time, Triple Crown

2010 Indiana Derby card live blog

3:09 p.m. After some issues with the wireless connection, I am coming to you live from the makeshift Hoosier Park press box. I’ll be keeping you posted with check-ins, updates and photos for the rest of the Indiana Derby card, or until I get too busy to write stuff.

We are coming up on the eighth race, so here is a quick update of what has been going on so far…

- The rain has been heavy and steady through the afternoon. The apron is sparsely populated, but the grandstand is packed. That many people in a fairly tight space can generate a pretty good sound as the field comes down the stretch.

- Michigan trainer Bob Gorham has been on a tear today, with two stakes wins on the card already. He saddled Perfectly Candid to victory in the $84,000 Miss Indiana Stakes with Leandro Goncalves aboard. He then followed up by giving Fernando De La Cruz the leg up aboard Bellamy Jones in the Indiana Futurity. Gorham. Both are owned by Mast Thoroughbreds, LLC. The pair will send Shakaleena to the post in the Indiana Oaks (G2) later in the evening.

- The track classed up the restaurant area for the big day, and there is a silent auction near the entrance. The thing about racing industry silent auctions is they are normally conducted among the wealthy owners, so I get blown out of contention early. Still, some pretty nice stuff there.

- Wandering around the grandstand are, in no particular order: Hoosier Buddy, the Hoosier Park mascot, a jockey on stilts and a handstanding Charlie Chaplin impersonator. The latter is easily the most awesome. Because I am here for you, I will try to get photos of all three of these figures doing something awesome. So far, I am one for three…

The aforementioned jockey on stilts, in all his glory.

Look for more check-ins as things get crazier. Until then, here are a couple more photos…Click to enlarge.

The Hoosier Park press box/dining table/press table. Among those pictured are Ed DeRosa, Molly Jo Rosen, Bruno DeJulio and superstar freelancer Claire Novak.

Oh yeah, and there is some racing, too. A muddied Benson returns to unsaddle under jockey Derek Bell.

4:35 p.m. After nine races, I’m finally on the board. I hit the exacta in the Hoosier Breeders Sophomore Stakes for a respectable payout, largely thanks to a big stretch drive by Northern Candyride and rider Leandro Goncalves.

Goncalves and Northern Candyride helping me cash a ticket.

The sun has come out just in time for the big boy/girl races and the rain has slowed for the time being. Hopefully it lasts for the main event. The apron is becoming more and more populated as time goes on. I’ll be curious to see how full it gets.

Two down, one to go. I’m coming for you, Charlie Chaplin…

Hoosier Buddy, the Hoosier Park mascot, photographed by an onlooker.

5:03 p.m. This is way more fun than I imagine my five-year high school reunion would have been. Just saying.

I just realized the tickets for Indiana Derby day feature a smiley face. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

I was going to post a picture of Shakaleena in the paddock for the Indiana Oaks for regular commentator Ragman, but I just looked up at the simulcast feed and she has been scratched. Boo-urns.

The Indiana Oaks is up next. Until then, here are a couple more photos to tide you over.

Francisco Torres heads back to the jock's room after unsaddling from Nomorewineforeddie.

Orlando Mojica describes his ride after guiding Differentkindagreat.

6:47 p.m. Bob Baffert didn’t ship to the middle of Indiana to come home with anything less than two graded stakes wins. Fortunately, his charges held up their end of the bargain.

The California-based trainer took the first half of the Derby/Oaks double courtesy of a front-running trip by Always a Princess and jockey Martin Garcia.

The start of the Indiana Oaks.

The thrilling conclusion of the Indiana Oaks, with Always a Princess comfortably in the lead.

I wanted to poke in between the big races to throw the Oaks photos up, but the crowd became so dense around the paddock for the upcoming Indiana Derby I knew I had to get down there or risk missing the whole thing.

The crowd was was easily five deep when I arrived, all to see Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky. One particular fan holding a sign declaring herself “Lucky’s No. 1 Fan” drew the attention of owner Michael Pegram, who promised the girl a spot in the winner’s circle should his horse pull it off. That was cool. Racing needs more of that.

It took some elbowing, but I managed to get to the gate and into the paddock (with an assist to Claire Novak and Pegram). I then worked my way over to the grass island that became the refuge for turf writers and photographers…and pretend turf writers alike.

While Lookin At Lucky was the star of the show, St. Maximus Gato acted like he owned the crowd. The gray gelding from Calder Race Course posed for any lens that looked in his direction. This was his first big effort, but he looked more than ready.

St. Maximus Gato looking awesome in the paddock.

I am still on the lookout for the Charlie Chaplin impersonator. I have crossed paths with him on several occasions, but every time I get my camera in place, he stops doing whatever cool thing he was doing. A picture of Charlie Chaplin just standing around is no good to any of us.

It’s time to go piss away my earnings in the casino. I’ll wrap it all up later tonight.

10:28 p.m. Okay, where were we?

The field made its way through the post parade, with Lookin at Lucky as the overwhelming favorite. I watched on from the winner’s circle with the press box contingent pictured somewhere above. Turf writers have the most interesting conversations. If you follow enough of them on Twitter, you likely know this first hand, because they love to quote one another when someone says something interesting or witty.

The race was mostly spent watching Lookin At Lucky get mud thrown in his face and wondering if and when he was going to make a move. Because I am a Michigan guy all the way, my inner Matt Hook was shouting “Lookin At Lucky needs to move and he needs to move now.” Lookin at Lucky was too wide, too far back and too covered with mud to make any noise at the top of the stretch, but he responded to jockey Martin Garcia’s urging and willed his way past Thiskyhasnolimit.

Meanwhile, St. Maximus Gato appeared primed to move up the rail and also overtake the leader. With a 6-9 exacta box ticket sitting in my pocket, this was a sight I was overjoyed to see. However, the part of the exacta that did not have an Eclipse Award on the mantle back home came up empty and finished third. Lookin at Lucky crossed the wire to win by a length.

Lookin At Lucky powers by Thiskyhasnolimit to win the Indiana Derby.

As soon as the race concluded, the crowd packed the area around the winner’s circle even deeper than they had in the paddock. Camera shutters clicked for the also-rans, but became more frequent when the winner approached.

Lookin At Lucky gets a quick wipe-down before getting his picture taken. Martin Garcia stayed muddy.

Pictures were taken, trophies were handed out, hugs were administered, then the media swarmed. First the TV networks got the winning connections, followed by the print media. As Baffert finished up with the TV crews, the reporters interviewed a still-muddy jockey Martin Garcia.

Garcia answers questions from the media following the Indiana Derby.

After Garcia was released from the media’s clutches, the swarm turned its attention on trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert, never at a loss for words smoothly fielded the questions. When asked if his charge had the chops to compete against super-mare Zenyatta in a potential Breeders’ Cup matchup, Baffert simply replied “Let’s find out.” Afterward, Baffert signed autographs and had pictures taken well after the last reporter left. I got tired of watching him sign programs before he got tired of signing them. It’s good to see a major horseman interact with the fans that came out to see him and his horse instead of treating the day like the smash-and-grab it ultimately was.

Baffert answers questions from the media following the Indiana Derby. I am too short to pull this shot off effectively.

This is where I picked up in my previous update. Baffert got his two trophies and the fans went home happy – even moreso after Zenyatta’s routine miracle victory. That horse is magic.

I never again ran into the Charlie Chaplin impersonator after stating my goal in the last update. Take my word for it. He was awesome.

Following the races, my group splintered off and grabbed a bite to eat, then splintered off again. My now smaller group headed back to Hoosier’s casino. In my first spin of the slots, I hit for $15. This put me in a small moral dilemma. Do I quit after one spin like a badass, but sacrifice the rest of the night, or do I risk blowing it all just to keep my somewhat rare casino visit going for a while longer?

I didn’t feel like going back to my hotel just yet so I chose the latter. In the short term, it was a bad decision. I ended up losing most of it in a combination of unforgiving slots and a cruel roulette wheel. After finishing ahead of the game at Prairie Meadows, I really wanted to play blackjack, but the the tables never opened up. Just as I was thinking about calling it a night with less than I came, a Breeders’ Cup slot machine opened up. Within a few spins, I was back to $16 above my starting point. I love horse racing. With my bankroll back to where it was after my first spin, it was finally time to quit while I was ahead like a badass.

So what can we take away from all of this?

Saturday’s Indiana Derby was a prime example of what can happen when things go right for the industry. The crowd came out, despite the rather miserable weather, to see arguably the best three-year-old in the country who came to town to cash in on a purse infused with casino steroids. Money barreled through the betting windows, and later the casino. The champ came back a winner and everybody went home happy. The weather could have been nicer, but all things considered, the day had to be considered a success.

When I look at what Hoosier Park has done with the Indiana Derby, and the state’s program in general, I believe Michigan is capable of becoming something close to the same thing, assuming it is allowed the tools to do so. There was a time when Michigan and Indiana were on similar ground in terms of their racing industries. Then Indiana went in one direction and Michigan went another, far less pleasant way.

Granted, the competition, both economically and politically, of tribal and Detroit casinos may dilute the effectiveness of expanded gaming in Michigan, but even if it helped purses jump from mediocre to above average the state is better off than it was before. The Indiana Derby shows that the formula can work, and it gets more apparent with every horseman that leaves the state to see for themselves. Heck, they got me down there.

To quote Family Guy patriarch Peter Griffin: “Why aren’t we funding this?”

Thanks to everyone at Hoosier Park, the media war table, my traveling companion Niki and everyone else that made my first Indiana Derby an interesting one. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and observations throughout the raceday and afterward. If I find myself at a major event and lacking something to occupy my time again, perhaps this might become a regular thing. But we’ll burn that bridge when we cross it.

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Filed under Commentary, Pictures, Racetrack Visits, Story Time

The Haiku Handicapper: 2010 Indiana Derby

I am going to be attending Saturday’s Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park so it seemed like an opportune time to bring the Haiku Handicapper out of his summer hiatus and get him back to work. Whatever races you decide to watch this weekend (and there are a lot of big ones), and wherever you decide to watch them, may you enjoy one of the better weekends of racing on the calendar.

Now let’s get to work.

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

Hoosier’s marquee race
Champ overshadows rivals
Let’s look at the field

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

#1 – Dabossman
Mid-country claimer
Last won for $15k tag
Not gonna happen

#2 – Thiskyhasnolimit
Smarty Jones winner
Kicked around the state derbies
He might prefer sprints

#3 – Worldly
Comes off two tough beats
Might need longer than he’ll get
Should be in the hunt

#4 – Uareoutlaw (Brz)
Brazilian import
Grade one champ in native land
How will it translate?

#5 – Indy Bull
Local graduate
Breakout in first Hoosier start
Is he this good? Doubts…

#6 – Lookin At Lucky
Once and future champ
Back on track after rough spring
The class of the field

#7 – Litigation Risk
Lightly raced front speed
Got creamed in other stakes tries
Not much to excite

#8 – Nacho Friend
Summered in Jersey
Solid in mid-level stakes
Exotic tickets

#9 – St. Maximus Gato
Two huge Calder wins
Raw gelding makes first stakes try
Front runner intrigues

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

Picking the winner
Hoosier daddy?  It’s Lucky.
Followed by three, nine

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Filed under Stakes Races, The Haiku Handicapper

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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Filed under Pictures, Racetrack Visits, Story Time

Michigan Notebook: August 26, 2010

Jockey Oscar Delgado has found success at tracks across the country, including Mount Pleasant Meadows.

- Crain’s Detroit Business has been monitoring the situation surrounding Pinnacle Race Course’s sale of a parcel of land to the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the ensuing controversy it has generated in the local government. The publication has published several updates since the deal was publicly announced, outlining Pinnacle’s economic situation, tax snafus by the Huron Township government, and concerns by local leaders about the handling of Pinnacle’s incentives to purchase and build on the property.

Here is a list of stories published on the site in recent days. There are some inaccuracies in a few of the details (most notably suggesting the racetracks themselves are footing the bill for additional State regulation when it is actually coming from the horsemen’s purse pools), but the general idea paints an unsettling picture of the relationship between the track and local government.

8-25 – Text of Wayne County Commission’s concerns about Pinnacle Race Course

8-25 – Commissioners weigh legal issues of Pinnacle land deal

8-24 – Tax bill snafu puts Pinnacle in arrears, Racecourse fights assessments, battles other financial problems

- Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley discussed the state government’s treatment of Michigan’s horse racing industry in his column on Thursday. Finley notes the hypocrisy of offering movie studios hundreds of millions in breaks and incentives to film in Michigan, while leaving horse racing, an industry that generates money for the state and provides jobs without the massive state investments, out to dry. Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Patti Dickinson and Pinnacle Race Course owner Jerry Campbell are quoted in the piece, as is spokeswoman for Governor Jennifer Granholm, Liz Boyd.

- Hoosier Park put out a news item on Aug. 12 about Quarter Horse jockey Oscar Delgado, also a regular at Mount Pleasant Meadows. The piece profiles Delgado’s life and racing career, where he has won riding titles at Mount Pleasant and the inaugural Quarter Horse meet at Hialeah Park. He also discusses racing against his brother, Juan, who is among the leading Quarter Horse riders at Mount Pleasant and the Indiana circuit. Oscar Delgado currently hangs his tack at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa.

- The Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Yearling Sale is this Sunday at the Michigan State University Pavilion’s south barn. The yearling show begins ay 9 a.m. followed by the sale at 1 p.m.. For an online catalog of the sale, click here. To view this site’s preview of Sunday’s sale, click here.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

My racetrack wish list

With the snow beginning to melt and warm weather slowly starting to find its way into the forecast, my itch to hit the road is beginning to return once again.

Plans are in the works for a trip to Keeneland Race Course in April, so that will ease my road trip jones for the immediate future. However, one of my goals for 2010 is to add some length to the list of tracks I have visited.

Below is a list of ten tracks I would like to cross off my list sometime in the future. Some of them are very plausible to hit in the coming year, while others are more likely to be long-term projects. The tracks range from tiny harness and Quarter Horse bullrings to the host of the last two Breeders’ Cups, so there is plenty of variety. Some of my selections may appear less than ambitious, but there is a reason for each, and any of them would be a huge “get” for my list.

Before we get too deep into this, the premise for this post was lifted from a great post on Equispace. A little while back, Thoroughbred Times News Editor Ed DeRosa also listed some of the tracks he has yet to cross off his impressive list.

The top ten tracks are listed in alphabetical order, followed by some honorable mentions. Let’s have a look…

Ajax Downs
I only became aware of this small Ontario track early last year, but from the sounds of it, I was missing out. Before getting approved for slots, Ajax Downs was a quirky, little Quarter Horse track that ran for tiny purses and was shaped like a “J”. Cindy Pierson-Dulay of Horse-Races.net described the track as “a 440-yard straightaway ending in a sharp right hand turn for the runout.” Since the slots, the track has remodeled into a five furlong oval and boosted its purse structure enough to draw the attention of some Mount Pleasant Meadows-based horsemen. If anything else, the track’s website is among the most impressive and comprehensive I have seen from a track of any size.

Bluegrass Downs
Where, you ask? In a past life, the Paducah, Kentucky track was a popular destination for horses and people from Mount Pleasant Meadows. Today, Bluegrass Downs is a standardbred-exclusive track. Harness racing isn’t exactly my bag, but from the description of racetrack bucket-lister McChump, the track’s too-small-for-its-own-good atmosphere is right up my alley.

The remaining tracks on my wish list can be found behind the jump. Did your home track make the list? Click the link below to find out.

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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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