Tag Archives: Race Dates

Michigan Gaming Control Board: Eight days left

From the Michigan HBPA website

LIVE HORSE RACING DESTROYED: The Michigan Gaming and Control Board (MGCB) advised the Michigan horse racing industry that the additional 20% will only permit regulation of EIGHT (8) live race days for the remainder of the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010. The simple explanation was that the budget only allowed funding for 104 live race dates and 96 have been run including 11 at Pinnacle last October 2009. The current message does not even come close to that issued to the industry by MGCB in early March. MGCB has indicated that Pinnacle will only be regulated for 3 days during the balance of the fiscal year.

Attempts continue to bring some sanity to this issue, unfortunately, the industry has not had any significant support from the MGCB to determine how daily regulation increased from $4,300 per day to $5,923 in 2010. They gave us a bill and refuse to itemize it. At this point, any restored days will need to come from our diminishing purse pool. The current decision has taken away 62 race days or 95.4%. The cost to restore all 62 days @ $5,923 is $367,226.00 that will devastate our purse pool. The HBPA board is scheduled to meet Wed and continue to address the issue.

…Whoa.

Nothing else has come out regarding this announcement, but if there is a shred of truth to it, something seems very illegal about this whole situation. The constant shell game of race dates to be regulated and the cost to make up the ones that have been dropped makes the powers that be appear as genuine as an 1850s sharecropper.

Keep an eye out for updates.

UPDATE: The actions of the Gaming Control Board and the rest of the Michigan state government could set a frightening precedent for jurisdictions in other states. Regular commenter on this site Pacingguy further elaborates on the issue on his blog, View From The Racetrack Grandstand. Definitely a recommended read.

The Daily Racing Form has also put up a story about Pinnacle’s potential three-day meet, which can be read here.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

House passes bill to restore race dates

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill on Mar. 18 to restore some race dates taken away by the Michigan Gaming Control Board on March 3.

The bill, HB 5407, proposes to transfer $308,688 from the Purses and Supplements line item of the Ag Equine Development Fund to the Office of Racing Commissioner to help fund the regulatory body. According to the House Fiscal Agency’s analysis of the bill, an additional $36,458 would be kicked in by “private funds from the horse racing industry”.

The analysis projects this additional funding to the ORC would help restore 46 race dates that were taken away by the cuts. The total number of days reduced in the Mar. 12 announcement by the Gaming Control Board was 112.  It is not specified how the dates would be distributed between the four racetracks affected by the announcement.

Also included are a few interesting boilerplate items that suggest the State Legislature may be looking for some answers from horse racing’s new regulators. Among the items listed is a request for a status report from the MGCB regarding the transfer of the ORC into its jurisdiction. However, the highlight of the boilerplate items is the third item as seen below in the Fiscal Agency’s “Cliff Notes” version…

3. Cost of Conducting Race Dates
Requires the Michigan Gaming Control Board to use actual cost data in determining regulatory costs of conducting horse racing dates, and requires reporting.  Requires refund if costs charged to certified horsemen’s organizations is more than determined actual costs.

As many who follow Michigan’s racing industry know, the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has been investigating the reasons behind the jump in required funding for the ORC from last year. In 2009, the horsemen’s organizations paid $4,700 per additional race date to keep the ORC going at the tracks. This year, the fee has jumped $5,923 per race date.

The bill passed in the House by a vote of 106-2. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Tuesday. To track the bill, and all its changes, through Lansing, click here.

One of the two “No” votes came from Representative Justin Amash (R – Kentwood) from Michigan’s 72nd House District.

From Amash’s Facebook Page…

“Just voted no on HB 5407, which makes supplemental appropriations related to horse racing (we were told that money is just being “moved around”). Leadership pushed the bill onto the floor to resolve an alleged “emergency” with respect to racing dates. Legislators were given only minutes to read and analyze the bill. It passed 106-2.”

Thanks to Ragman for pointing that out.

Considering it was read and revised three times, I am surprised Mr. Amash was not made aware of the bill earlier. I will give Mr. Amash the benefit of the doubt, as he may not have enough knowledge about the racing industry to make an informed decision, which would be a shame for everyone involved. If that is the case, there are many fine people in this state, probably even in his own district, who would be happy to educate him.

Also, as someone who has eyes on a U.S. Senate seat in November, it is easy to posture oneself as someone who “takes a stand” to voters with a vote like this. However, given the circumstances Amash provides, if he truly did not have the time and background knowledge to make an intelligent decision on the issue, the ethical thing to do would have been to abstain instead of trying to make a statement, and toying with the fates of the state’s horsemen, with a “no” vote.

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Gaming Control Board slashes Michigan racing dates

The Michigan HBPA website reports…

MICHIGAN GAMING AND CONTROL BOARD MEETS WITH INDUSTRY: On Wednesday, March 3, 2010 the MGCB indicated the number of race days that will be reduced for the balance of the 2009-10 fiscal year due to budget cuts. Attendees were told that the approved dates of 261 for racetracks will be reduced to 112 or 57%.

Pinnacle Race Course days reduced for the 2009-10 fiscal year ending September 30, 2010 are 34(52%) leaving 31 race days from June 4 to August 13…Friday, Saturday and Monday. At this point, no racing between Aug 14 to Sept. 30, 2010.

Efforts are underway to challenge the cut and amount stated as cost per to regulate a live race day by ORC staff. More details will be made available as soon as possible.

UPDATE: The Michigan Gaming Control Board has come out with a slideshow outlining the changes in race dates for each track and the fiscal reasons for the announcement. For those of you too busy to peruse the presentation (though I suggest you do it anyway), it shows downward trend after downward trend in race dates, handle and governmental “give-a-damn” followed by an execution-style bullet to the back of the head in the form of massive cuts in race dates.

Here is the breakdown of the cutbacks by track…

Pinnacle Race Course
Before (Dates initially allotted): 84 days –  June 4 to September 30
After: 31 days – June 4 to August 13
Change: -53 days

Mount Pleasant Meadows
Before: 23 days – May 15 to September 25
After: 11 days – June 6 to August 29
Change: -12 days

Hazel Park Raceway
Before: 61 days – April 30 to August 6
After: 29 days – April 30 to September 18
Change: -32 days

Northville Downs
Before: 18 days – February 12 to April 24
After: 11 days – March 5 to March 27 (some dates have already been run)
Change: -7 days

Sports Creek Raceway

Sports Creek has already conducted all of its race dates for the 2010 fiscal year and will not be affected by the Gaming Control Board’s announcement.

Clearly, this is bad news, but Michigan has been in this spot before. That said, if this goes through as it was drawn up, it is hard to imagine this year being anything less than devastating to the state’s racing industry. Check back for updates as more information becomes known.

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ORC approves Pinnacle’s 2010 schedule

From the Michigan HBPA website…

2010 RACE DATES ISSUED: Commissioner Lockwood approved the following dates for  Pinnacle Race Course’s 2010 season at 84 days.

June 4 – June 27 Friday, Saturday and Sunday

June 29- October 31 Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday

The 84 race dates approved by the Office of Racing Commissioner is an increase of 12 days from the 72 live dates conducted by the New Boston track in 2009. Pinnacle was originally scheduled for 83 dates in 2009, but cuts to the ORC by Gov. Jennifer Granholm prior to the start of the meet forced the track to cut dates and use the purse money to fund the regulatory organization.

For more information on the approved dates, as well as quotes from trainer Bob Gorham and HBPA Executive Director Gary Tinkle, a Blood Horse story can be found here.

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Crisis averted?

Some good news came from the Michigan HBPA website on Wednesday…

TRANSFERS APPROVED: Today both the House and Senate Appropriation Committees approved the transfer of funds to the ORC to continue operations until the end of July 2009. The ORC is expected to rescind the June 26 lay-off notices.

 Both bodies also approved the transfer of funds to the ORC to add an additional 38 days to the current 25 for total number of race days at Pinnacle of 63 to be run during the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009. These funds were approved by the HBPA board of directors and will come from the simulcast purse pool revenue used for overnights. This has been a difficult challenge, but that was the only way to have a racing season of 74 days total. The amount approved and needed is $178,600 or $4,700 per day to assist the ORC daily expenses.

After a scary few weeks where the number of race dates Pinnacle Race Course would end up hosting varied day by day and conversation by conversation, it seems this news may offer some needed stability. It is a shame the purse pool will suffer for it, but at least they are putting horses in the gates. It will be tough, but running a few less days than planned is better than not running at all. The racing industry is far from “saved” in Michigan because of this, but at least it keeps the life support plug in the wall for the time being.

Still, I can not help but feel a little skeptical about the announcement. Though this appears to give a definitive answer to the race date question, the road to get there has had so many pitfalls and land mines that I just get the feeling this will not be the last word on the situation; for this year’s meet at least. What to do for next year is a whole new can of worms. I hope I am wrong about this.

Either way, a tip of the hat goes to the horsemen’s organizations for managing to save the season before everything went dark.

I am not sure how this announcement will affect the schedule at Mount Pleasant Meadows – whether it means only Pinnacle will get the ORC’s services beyond July 31 because the Thoroughbred people footed the bill, or if Mount Pleasant will still run its scheduled Sundays until the end of September as planned. If I get an answer, you’ll see it here.

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Total ORC layoffs could end Michigan’s racing season, simulcasting

The Michigan HBPA website reports…

SERIOUS HIT: Racing Commissioner White today issued lay-off notices to all the Office of the Racing Commissioner Staff effective Friday, June 26, 2009. That means thoroughbred racing will run less than 25 days and it also includes the closing of ALL simulcasting statewide. It is reported, Michigan treasurer indicated without funding for the ORC it will not continue to pay the bills effective June 26, 2009. State law requires all employees are given at 15 days notice for any lay-off.

Someone, please make sense of our governments idea to help with jobs and generate revenue you shut down a revenue producing industry. Our industry produces its own money for funding the ORC. Through May 31, 2009 the industry has produced an excess of 3 MILLION DOLLARS MORE THAN ENOUGH TO PAY ALL THE ORC EXPENSES FOR 2009! Our horsemen have paid for and deserve stability, something non-existent at the present time. If this stays in effect, this industry will disappear to other states at a much faster rate than currently.

One can only conclude our competitors are winning, get us gone. Unfortunately, with our elected officials help! We  have been Lansing over and over again, talking to the legislature and Governor, the more  we fight for life, the closer we are to death. “Action speaks louder, than words.”

On the line, over 12, 000 jobs and over $400 million in economic impact. Michigan does not have the luxury to eliminate any revenue producer, it should be, how can we help them produce more. I guess, therefore Michigan’s national reputation. How sad.

Facts:

2008 State Income from pari-mutuel racing:……………………   $8,130,580

2008 Office of Racing Comm. Expenses:… ……………………….3,227,848

2009  State Income from pari-mutuel racing thru 5/31/09:……..3,172,400

Now, someone explain the infinite wisdom being offered by our leaders in Lansing. We have the products for growth, Lansing says no the importance of our jobs and money. It makes no sense, we bring revenue to Lansing and now they are indicating we do not want it. What is up with that? Racing is only one small activity for Lansing, and look at the mess.

THANKS LANSING, It has been a great 75 years!

The Office of Racing Commissioner’s website has not posted anything confirming or denying the layoffs, but if there is any truth to the report, this is armageddon. It’s all over.

Clearly,this is very much a developing story. If I find out anything else, you’ll see it here.

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A second chance for a first impression

The Houghton/Gorham connection cashed many handicapper's tickets on opening weekend. T.D. Houghton heads to the winner's circle aboard Gunsight Mountain.

The Houghton/Gorham connection cashed many a handicapper's tickets on opening weekend. T.D. Houghton heads to the winner's circle aboard Gunsight Mountain.

I’m a little overdue on my look back at opening day, but the priorities of rooting for the home team kind of took precedent. Let’s jump into the wayback machine to last Friday, shall we?

Standing on the rail in between races, I overheard Pinnacle’s founder Jerry Campbell telling an anecdote about his concerns before the start of his track’s second season.

Before concluding a phone conversation with VP of Racing/Racing Secretary Allan Plever earlier in the day, Campbell requested if he could ask him one more question.

Plever replied, “Yes, we checked the starting gates.”

Clearly, the memories of last year’s opening day being delayed by 30 minutes due to a gate malfunction were still fresh in Campbell’s mind.

Fortunately, every new year brings with it another chance to make a first impression. The track’s first year produced several points of improvement, so I was just as curious to see how the track reacted to them as I was to see the races themselves.

Before the races started, the satellite radio channel broadcasting over the PA system played “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band. Can’t get off to a much better start than that.

Though not at the saturated level of last year’s opening day, the attendance for this year’s first live card was fairly robust. Considering I had not seen too awful much advertisement for the track in the local media (unless the Pinnacle execs were counting all the media coverage on the happenings in Lansing as promotional material), I was not disappointed by the turnout. Pinnacle is a pretty spread out place and because admission is free, there are no official attendance statistics, so I am mostly basing my judgement on how long I had to wait in line to place a bet. I was shut out at least once, which to me says there was an unusually large crowd there.

Cosmetically, Pinnacle hadn’t changed much from last season. Funding uncertainties and the generally unstable state of racing in Michigan slowed Pinnacle’s Phase Two of developments to a halt. Same paddock, same pavilion, same toteboard where racegoers have to stoop over to see the odds on the #5 horse (PLEASE just boost it up one extra foot. That’s all it needs). The only significant change from the 2008 meet was in the grandstand area, or lack thereof. Where there was once a set of temporary bleachers now sits a large tent with tables, TV screens and betting windows underneath. After suffering the worst sunburn of my life on opening day last year when the only shade near the finish line was a small tent for the concession stand, this tent was a welcome addition. Whoever made that call has my kudos.

Aside from providing some much needed shade the grandstand area, the tent also gave relief to another glaring weakness of the track’s east side. Last year, my biggest complaint about the track was the frustratingly low number of mutuel clerks on that end of the grounds. The only place to put down a wager on the grandstand side was a three-window shanty, which became overworked in a hurry, especially on big days. The addition of the tent brought with it three more betting windows and four TV screens. Though I have yet to see all six of the available windows open on the grandstand side, the addition of just one more clerk has helped move things along at a much quicker pace (I know I’m going on way too much about a stinking tent, but anyone who spent time at Pinnacle in the grandstand area understands how huge this is).

Just about every conversation I found myself a part of began with a comment about the state’s curious situation regarding the number of live days its tracks will run. Though rumors were abound speculating how long Pinnacle would have to showcase its product, most agreed that the only day we had guaranteed was the one we were at right now. Even track announcer Matt Hook did not have a solid answer for when to expect live racing at Pinnacle, frequently reminding patrons to check back for any changes in the track’s live schedule, currently running three days a week.

I have always been a fan of Matt Hook’s work, back to his days at Great Lakes Downs when I would go up in the booth to watch him call races. In between races, he would switch his monitor from the GLD simulcast feed to a local channel showing a rerun of  The Simpsons. Since then, I have always considered Hook to be a pretty cool guy.

The thing I like best about Hook’s racecalling style is how he keeps the audience in the know. For example, as the horses were leaving the paddock for the first post parade of the meet, he noted that last year’s leading jockey, T.D. Houghton, will likely not be a regular rider at Pinnacle this year, citing success at West Virginia’s Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort as a bigger draw. So far Houghton has only ridden in Detroit for opening weekend and does not appear be booked there again until this Saturday, which suggests he may come back for stakes races, such as the upcoming Lansing Stakes.

Also notably absent was 2008’s third leading rider Tommy Molina, who appears to now be hanging his tack at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows. An already rather thin jockey colony has become even smaller because of alternative wagering opportunities in other states.

However, these openings in the jockey colony have cleared the way for some newcomers to the Detroit racetrack. New for 2009 are Chicago-based rider Men Chen (who rode Mrs. Murphy in her first start at Hawthorne), Turfway Park jock Godofredo Laurente and journeyman/occasional GLD rider J.J. Delgado. The latter of the group has already established himself among the leading riders at Pinnacle in the opening days of the meet, winning several races.

Do not be mistaken, Pinnacle Race Course has a long way to go before it becomes a first-class racetrack. There are still many things that could stand a tweaking (or in some cases a downright pinch) and something has to be done about the deafening noise of the planes from the nearby Detroit Metro Airport taking off and landing overhead of the racetrack (Turfway and Keeneland are right next door to airports and don’t have nearly the noise problem). However, considering the track is still in its larval stages, it has made enough little improvements for me to at least let it slide for a while longer without being finished.

I still stand by my belief that the long-term health of Pinnacle Race Course depends on getting the project as close to complete as possible, but with the high wire act Michigan’s racing industry is currently stuck in, I’m just glad they are putting horses in the gates.

Here are a few pictures from opening day in case you missed it…

Continue reading

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