Saturday was not an awesome day to be a longshot at Pinnacle Race Course.
Of the six divisions contested in the 2008 installment of the Michigan Sire Stakes, four winners left the gates as the people’s choice. The longest priced horse to cross the wire first went off at odds of 4.80 to one.
Needless to say, it hard to make a buck at the windows. After whiffing on two exacta boxes, I scored on a dime super to put me two dollars in the black, tying my personal best at Pinnacle. I can’t seem to crack the place.
However, this number could have changed drastically had I not been shut out on multiple occasions. Though many of the bugs that riddled the track’s opening day have since been resolved, Pinnacle still suffers from a horrid bettor-to-window ratio, especially on the grandstand side.
For those of you unfamiliar with the setup of Pinnacle Race Course, the frontside is essentially divided into two areas separated by the paddock: the pavilion and the grandstand. On the pavilion side, there are at least two live tellers under a tent and at least five betting machines, supplemented by the occasional free-range teller and more windows inside the pavilion itself. While there was an occasional wait, the lines were normally no longer than six deep at the live windows and three deep at the machines; fairly manageable.
Where the problem lies is on the grandstand side. Because the area is the expected future site of a massive clubhouse, everything in the grandstand area is temporary, including the three-window betting shanty. Even on slower days, these three windows have a hard time keeping up with the demand of the betting public. On busy days, such as the Sire Stakes, placing a wager on a race with less than 10 minutes to post is wishful thinking.
This is a serious problem for two reasons. First, it means there are a lot of people standing in line waiting to hand the track money that are being turned away. I have heard from many sources that Pinnacle has not come close to meeting its projected handle figures, and one can not help but look at all the people who got turned away on big days and wonder how much free money they are turning a blind eye to just because no one is there to take it. The more money people wager, the more the track makes.
Second, to put it in political terms, the grandstand area is the racetrack equivalent of a swing state. From what I have seen, this is where the parents take their kids, where the first-time spectators stand to watch the stretch drive, and where the regular horseplayers’ wives shop at whatever completely non-racing-related booth is set up for the weekend. The people in the pavilion area – the horsemen, the pack-a-day simulcast players, the rich people, me – would pass through the gates every day if someone spit in their face upon entry. For a new racetrack without the tradition or tourism value of a Keeneland Race Course or Churchill Downs, Pinnacle can not afford to turn new, impressionable patrons off to the only product it currently has to offer: gambling. On opening day, I heard many people say they were not going to come back until the track was finished, if ever. That is an awful lot of lost wagering dollars, not even counting what could stem from these dejected racegoers’ word of mouth.
Simply put, if Mount Pleasant Meadows can’t handle that many people with three windows, it sure as hell can’t be done in the biggest city in the state.
Because constructive criticism is just bitching without the “constructive” part, I have a solution. All it would take to ease the burden on both the horseplayers and the tellers in the betting shanty is a single free-range teller wandering about the grandstand area taking bets. The lines would shorten at the windows and the employee designated to the position would easily pay for his or herself with the extra handle generated. Plus, with Michigan’s dismal employment rate, giving one more person a job looks that much better in the public eye.
But enough talk. Let’s look at some races…
Older Fillies and Mares
Campbell Stables’ Valley Loot cemented her resume as Older Filly of the Year with a sweeping victory in the older females division of the Sire Stakes. The four-year-old Demaloot Demashoot filly was held tight early by jockey Mike Allen watching early pacesetters She Could Be Good and Let’s Get Creative from fourth. After an easy trip across the backstretch, Valley Loot made her move in the final turn, going four wide and distancing herself in the stretch, crossing the wire 3 1/4 lengths ahead of runner up She Could Be Good. Trained by Ronald Allen, Sr. and bred by Marilyn McMaster, Valley Loot continued her success in the Michigan Sire Stakes, having won last year’s three-year-old fillies division at Great Lakes Downs on her way to clinching Michigan Horse of the Year.
3 Valley Loot (Mike Allen) 3.00 2.20 2.10
7 She Could Be Good (Paul Nolan) 5.20 2.80
2 Lets Get Creative (Tommy Molina) 4.40
1 1/8 miles
(All statistics provided by Equibase)
Owner Lisa Campbell notched her second Sire Stakes victory of the afternoon with Wave Pool’s driving win in the three-year-old fillies division. The homebred Sea Legs filly ran third on the outside with early leaders Clever Idea and Crimson Bucky. Under jockey Federico Mata, Wave Pool then took over the top position heading into the final turn, with post time favorite Clever Idea giving chase on the inside. After exchanging bobs of the head coming out of the turn, Wave Pool pulled away in the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Trained by Ronald Allen, Sr., Wave Pool found the winner’s circle in her second stakes race of 2008, having won the Regret Stakes on July 19 at Pinnacle Race Course.
7 Wave Pool (Federico Mata) 11.60 4.00 2.60
2 Clever Idea (Ricardo Barrios) 2.60 2.10
5 Crimson Bucky (T.D. Houghton) 2.60
1 1/16 miles
Your winner, Wave Pool; Federico Mata, up.
Three-Year-Old Colts and Geldings
After a year that saw him finish dead last on national television in the April 12 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park, Bipolar Express finally found redemption, tallying his first stakes win in the three-year-old males division of the Michigan Sire Stakes. The homebred Equality gelding held on to the rail in fourth until about the halfway point of the backstretch, when jockey T.D. Houghton took his mount four wide to chase down leaders Portage Creek and Equally Good. Bipolar Express swept even wider coming out of the turn and took over the lead at the top of the stretch under steady urging to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Rhythm In Motion and 2007 two-year-old of the year Hot Chili staged late rallies to finish second and third respectively. Owned by Gene and Phyllis Gilmore and trained by Gerald Bennett, Bipolar Express eclipsed $100,000 in earnings with his victory in the Sire Stakes.
1 Bipolar Express (T.D. Houghton) 5.20 3.00 2.40
2 Rhythm in Motion (Octavio Bernal) 11.80 4.40
8 Hot Chili (Mary Doser) 2.40
1 1/16 miles
Your winner, Bipolar Express; T.D. Houghton, up.
Skyine Star started fast and finished fast enough to win the two-year-old fillies division of the Michigan Sire Stakes. The Meadow Prayer filly quickly took the rail coming out of the gate and was stalked on the outside by Oh Fiddlestix. After fighting off her initial challengers, Skyline Star was pressured by a hard-charging Hakuna Matata, who angled out to the three path after passing her rivals on the rail. However, the move was too late to overtake Skyline Star, who held on to prevail by a neck under jockey T.D. Houghton. Hakuna Matata finished second, and post time favorite Ittybittymeadow recovered from a bumped start to come in third. Owned by Mast Thoroughbred LLC and trained by Bob Gorham, the Sire Stakes was the first career victory for the homebred Skyline Star.
5 Skyline Star (T.D. Houghton) 7.20 3.60 2.40
2 Hakuna Matata (Angel Stanley) 5.60 3.40
11 Ittybittymeadow (Ricardo Barrios) 2.40
Two-Year-Old Colts and Geldings
Mr. Conclusive produce conclusive results for himself and his sire in the two-year-old males division of the Sire Stakes. The Elusive Hour colt broke alertly, quickly assuming a small lead in the 12-horse field. After briefly surrendering the lead to fellow Elusive Hour colt Weepster, Mr. Conclusive regained the lead at the top of the stretch and streaked away on the rail to win by nine lengths under jockey T.D. Houghton. 41-1 long shot Meadow Wise finished second, with yet another Elusive Hour colt, Juggle, rounding out the trifecta. Owned by Charlie Williams, trained by Sandra Adkins and bred by Jay and Lu Hall, the undefeated Mr. Conclusive notched his second career stakes victory in the Sire Stakes, coming off a six-length victory in the September 22 Patrick Wood Stakes. The win also went a long way in deciding two end of the year awards, likely securing two-year-old male of the year for Mr. Conclusive and just as likely wrapping up Freshman Sire of the Year for his sire, Elusive Hour, who had four foals start in this division.
5 Mr. Conclusive (T.D. Houghton) 4.00 2.60 2.10
11 Meadow Wise (Octavio Bernal) 19.80 14.00
3 Juggle (Tommy Molina) 5.20
In all the commotion, it appears I neglected to get an individual shot of your winner, Mr. Conclusive. Boo-urns.
Older Colts, Geldings, and Horses
Meadow Vespers continued his success in the Sire Stakes, tallying another win in the older males division of the Sire Stakes. The six-year-old Meadow Prayer gelding watched the race on the rail from the last in the early going under jockey Ivan Gonzalez as Speedy Media and It’s A Ego Thing set the early fractions. Meadow Vespers held his position until the field headed into the turn, when Gonzalez began to ask him for some run. After swapping some paint with fellow outside charger Rockem Sockem, Meadow Vespers drove clear with under a furlong to go, shaking loose to win by two lengths. Early front runner It’s A Ego Thing yielded to second and Rockem Sockem closed for third. The victory celebration was delayed briefly by an objection by the rider of Rockem Sockem, but the finish stood, much to the relief of trainer Richard Rettele. Owned by J. Mack Enterprise, Inc. and bred by Arnold Farms, Meadow Vespers extended his Sire Stakes winning streak, having won every Sire Stakes race he has entered since his three-year-old campaign.
5 Meadow Vespers (Ivan Gonzalez) 5.00 2.20 2.10
2 It’s a Ego Thing (T.D. Houghton) 3.40 2.60
6 Rockem Sockem (Mary Doser) 2.60
1 1/8 miles
Your winner, Meadow Vespers; Ivan Gonzalez, up.