Tag Archives: Race Dates

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…

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Horsemen, racetracks react to cuts

Yesterday’s announcement from the Office of Racing Commissioner cutting a combined 101 race dates from Michigan’s five Thoroughbred, Mixed Breed and Standardbred racetracks has, not surprisingly, drawn response from the various factions of the racing industry.

This came out today from the Michigan HBPA…

INCORRECT REPORTS: June 2nd offered several incorrect reports on the restoration of days. The governor has not approved an additional 15 days. The restoration of days depends on an agreement between the HBPA and MTOBA. A meeting between the groups and Pinnacle will take place Thurs. June 4th to develop a proposal for each board of directors to approve respectively.

The number of days restored will depend on how many overnight races are eliminated to offer revenue to the ORC for staffing additional days. Senator Brown has indicated he will not support any transfer until an agreement is reached.

I guess this would qualify as the “actual days still under negotiation” mentioned in yesterday’s press release. What this means in terms of how many dates will actually be run at Pinnacle, I am not sure. It seems we may find out by the end of tomorrow.

Either way, this situation is becoming frustratingly tangled. I am starting to run out of fingers counting the times I have heard one group say something then having another group say the exact opposite. While it is understood that everyone has their money and interests to protect, at the rate things are going, they may find themselves left with nothing to defend.

Would it kill the racing industry and Lansing to come together with one straight unified answer as to what is going on here? Because not doing so is killing both. 

Here are a few more stories on the situation…

Pinnacle Race Course General Manager Mike Mackey told the Detroit Free Press he would fight to restore the dates lost by the cuts. With cards already starting to draw in Detroit, he will have to act quickly.

Here is a Morning Sun article on the local reaction at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

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Michigan’s race dates officially slashed

This was released by the Office of Racing Commissioner earlier today…

LANSING – Racing Commissioner, Christine C. White, today signed orders eliminating 101 live race dates for the remainder of the 2009 fiscal year ending September 30, 2009. 

The budget for the Office of Racing Commissioner (ORC) was reduced by $1.4 million in the Governor’s Executive Order issued on May 5, 2009. The budget for the ORC during fiscal year 2009 was set at $3.8 million and has been reduced by $1.4 million with only four months remaining in the fiscal year.   

 “This was the last thing we wanted to do,” Commissioner White said, “but our hands are tied. There is insufficient funding to get us through the fiscal year.” 

While the actual days are still in negotiation, the thoroughbred industry that includes Pinnacle Race Course will see a reduction of 42 days out of its original 82 days. Mount Pleasant Meadows will lose 18 of its 37 days. The harness industry will see reductions in two tracks.  Hazel Park will lose 38 days and Northville Racing Corporation will be cut the three days scheduled for this fiscal year. 

Obviously, this is the day Michigan’s racing industry has feared for a long time. I have already said my piece on the situation as a whole, so I will not rehash myself here. However, I do have some thoughts on this press release…

- According to this release, Pinnacle will get 40 days, as opposed to the 25 days the initial projections were reporting. However, ORC Information Director Liana Bennett said those lower figures were not official. The Detroit News reports Pinnacle owner Jerry Campbell met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm at Mackinac Island over the weekend and got some funding restored, which could explain the matter. However, a story today from Crain’s Detroit Business and Campbell’s reaction to the cuts makes me wonder what really happened up north…

Campbell said he met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and offered to have the state’s horse industry give up two days of racing and use the purse money from those days to fund the state track officials.

The racing commissioner said it needs $154,000 to staff the race days, Campbell said, which could be offset by the purse money from two days.

The governor listened but made no commitment, he said.

- Crain’s Detroit Business

The release also says Pinnacle is still in negotiation for dates, which may or may not have something to do with the two aforementioned stories. I am unsure if this means the actual number of race dates could fluctuate or if the issue is with how the 40 days will be disbursed throughout the season.

- Make no mistake, these cuts are bad. But with the average field sizes Mount Pleasant Meadows has been putting out so far, I am not sure if the track would have had the horses on the grounds to run more than one day a week anyway. The number of entries and races have both been rising steadily since opening day, but there are still too many four-horse fields to imagine an additional day of racing per week filling fields with any consistency. Ontario’s Ajax Downs opens in the coming days, meaning the influx of Canadian-based horseflesh leaving the gates could slow to a trickle, which would drive the number of entries even further downward. On the plus side, with half a season’s worth of purse structure now just sitting there, Mount Pleasant might be able to put up a few purses big enough to bring some horses back from Indiana.

- The release is vague regarding when the remaining dates will be run. When news of the cuts was first announced, the plan seemed to be to run Pinnacle from June to July and lay everyone off for the rest of the fiscal year (another part of the proposal that Bennett said was unofficial). It is not clear whether running 40 dates will expand the schedule into later months or if the track will be live for more days per week during the two months originally planned.

I’ll ask around and see what else I can find out. Keep checking back to this post as I get more information and turn my initial speculations into facts.

Until then, here are stories on the situation by the Thoroughbred Times and the Blood Horse.

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Are the cuts to Michigan’s race dates illegal?

The Michigan HBPA reports the horsemen’s organization, the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and Pinnacle Race Course have asked Brighton-based attorney Paul Burns, one of  authors of Michigan’s Horse Racing Law of 1995, to offer an opinion on the Office of Racing Commissioner’s cut in race dates. 

The former MI-HBPA lawyer sent a letter to Racing Commissioner Christine White May 27 outlining why he thinks the proposed reduction in race dates, including a 63% drop at Pinnacle, lacked legal grounds.

In the letter, Burns said the cuts were “not legally permissible and contrary to the purpose to the Act.” Burns also opined there is “no legal basis for a suspension or revocation of a portion of the race meeting license.”

Also, the method in which the notice was issued, Burns said, “violated due process” and caused “irreparable harm to the horsemen.”

The HBPA’s announcement did not specify what exactly made the cuts “not legally permissible,” so after reading this, I printed out a copy of the Horse Racing Law of 1995 to get a better feel for the ground rules of this situation and see what exactly the recent cuts violate, if anything, regarding the law (yes, I have a lot of time on my hands). I did not notice anything in the document or the state’s “Rules of Racing” specifically mentioning a scenario like this or whether it was a legal move. Then again, my legal expertise is miniscule and I am not the one who helped write up the law, so there is more than a good chance I missed something.

As always, I’ll keep my eyes open and my ears to the ground for new developments. 

Until then, have a look at this news segment on Mount Pleasant Meadows by Channel 9 news out of Cadillac. I’m a little upset no one bothered to interview me (couldn’t get the media’s attention on Great Lakes Downs’ last day either), but it does a pretty good job of getting the story across, and at the very least reminds people that there is a track there. 

Here is the latest from the Blood Horse as well.

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Media attention

Slowly but surely, the news of the proposed catastrophic cut to race dates in Michigan is starting to spread throughout the local media outlets. 

Official word has been pretty quiet as of late from the horsemen’s groups as to the status of negotiations except to say they are still working to restore most, if not all, of the race dates. Fortunately, the original Friday deadline for the Racing Commissioner to submit her plan to the Governor has been extended to try to work things out.

Until then, here are a few more stories that have caught my attention regarding the issue. If anyone should find any other good stories, feel free to mention them or post a link in a comment and I’ll put it up on this post.

Pinnacle Race Course owner Jerry Campbell took to the airwaves again yesterday, this time speaking to radio host Paul W. Smith. One thing I like about Campbell is he’s great at making analogies that can make situations like this easy to understand for those not familiar with the industry. Definitely worth a listen. Click here to go to the webpage, or click here to download the interview.

The latest from the Blood Horse 

A quick NPR brief
– Featuring Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association General Manager Daniel Rakieten.

An uninspired AP story published in the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun
– The fact that the Morning Sun picked up this cookie cutter story off the wire (which, despite the title and lead’s suggestion, isn’t at all about Mount Pleasant Meadows) when the track is just a few miles up the road just gives further ammunition to the argument that local newspapers are no longer relevant and it’s their own damn fault…but that’s another rant for another day.

A much better locally done Morning Sun story
–  Perhaps someone at The Morning Sun reads this thing. Consider my big mouth shut. On a peculiar note, the photos for this story were taken last Sunday before news of the cuts came out. I wonder what their initial intentions were?

Don’t forget, Mount Pleasant’s Spring Fling is tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

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Michigan race date reduction update

The media is beginning to pick up on the crisis the Michigan Racing industry is facing.

Michigan HBPA Executive Director Gary Tinkle went on the Frank Beckmann radio show this morning and delivered an informative and well-spoken description of the industry’s current situation. It is recommended listening for anyone with a stake in the Michigan racing business or those who are new to, or under-informed on, the issue. 

The interview’s webpage can be viewed here, or it can be directly downloaded by clicking here.

Big thanks to readers LK and Ragman for pointing me toward this interview. 

The Blood Horse put up a story on the cut backs which can be read here. Thoroughbred Times also produced this story.

As for new business, I have been told all sides will meet again in the near future to further discuss matters and hopefully find a more reasonable solution. Other than that, the details of the situation remain somewhat sketchy. As always, I’ll keep my ear to the ground for new information.

UPDATE: Here is another Frank Beckmann radio interview, this time featuring Pinnacle Race Course owner Jerry Campbell. View the page here or download the interview here.

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ORC approves more dates for Pinnacle, fewer for MPM

I’m a little behind on this story, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.

Anyway, on October 31, the Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner issued race dates for the state’s seven racetracks. Because my focus is on Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing, we will take a look at two tracks in particular…

After conducting an abbreviated meet in its inaugural year due to construction, Pinnacle Race Course is slated to run 82 live dates in 2009. Opening day at the Detroit-area racetrack will be June 5, with getaway day scheduled for October 24. The track will continue with its four days a week setup, hosting live races on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

Mount Pleasant Meadows saw a major drop in race dates for the 2009 meet, going from 57 days in 2008 to 37 next year. However, it must be noted that Mount Pleasant declined to utilize all of its allotted dates this year. After originally being scheduled for three days of live racing per week, the track ended up running on its usual Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes only scheduling one card per week. Though I have no official statements to back this up, it appears the additional dates were intended to make up for the days lost while Pinnacle was under construction. The track will continue running most Saturdays and Sundays, excluding three days for the Isabella County Fair. Racing will begin on Kentucky Derby day, May 2, and conclude on September 27.

The ORC also denied an application for live racing dates from Silver Stallion Development Corporation to supposedly host races inside or in the vicinity of the Pontiac Silverdome. I had heard some rumblings about this venture in the past, but figured it was nothing but a pipe dream. From the looks of it, Silver Stallion applied for 110 race dates. With Pinnacle still in its early stages, giving the track competition so close to home would be a pretty horrible idea. Besides, in the current state of racing, Michigan can barely support one thoroughbred-exclusive racetrack, much less two in the same city.

However, the fact that this Silver Stallion group seems to have its act together enough to start asking for dates is somewhat intriguing. I will have to do a little research on this company and their plans. If I find anything interesting, you’ll find it here first. Actually, being as though business has come to a screeching halt since Pinnacle called it a meet, I will probably put some information up regardless of whether it is interesting or not. Keep your eyes open.

Sources:
Michigan Racing Commissioner issues 2009 Thoroughbred horse racing schedule
Michigan Racing Commissioner issues 2009 mixed breed racing schedule
ORC Racing News: September 2008

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