The Phase 2 results show

The future site of the Pinnacle Race Course grandstand.

The future site of the Pinnacle Race Course grandstand.

The people have spoken.

According to the readers of this remote internet outpost, the two Phase 2 projects Pinnacle Race Course should focus the most energy on are building a permanent grandstand and installing a turf course.

For a little background information on the topic, click here.

Let’s have a look at the results…

Which “Phase 2” addition to Pinnacle Race Course is your highest priority?

Four votes (36%)
– Completed Grandstand/Clubhouse
– Turf Course

Two Votes (18%)
– Track Lighting

One Vote (9%)
– Other (not specified)

No votes
– Completed Paddock
– Permanent Tote Board
– Backstretch Expansion
– Additional Betting Windows
– Expanded Parking

Thanks to everyone that voted. Look for a new poll question in the coming days. 

As for my thoughts?

Building a permanent grandstand is obviously near the top of the list no matter what way you look at it. The chances of long-term success in Detroit will get slimmer with each passing year without some kind of non-temporary, or at least covered, building in the stretch and at the finish line, even if it is not as grand as the original plan called for.

People dealt with what they had this year because the track management did a good job explaining that it was still a work in progress. However, that card can only be played for so many hands before the casual fan gets tired of the inconveniences of construction and heads back downtown to the casinos. Even if it is not completely finished, it is imperative that Pinnacle construct something inhabitable by the first quarter of next year’s meet.

I must say I was surprised that so many people chose the turf course as the most important addition. Turf courses are nice and add variety to the condition book, but they are far from necessary for the well-being of a fledgling racetrack.

When I spoke to Pinnacle’s owner Jerry Campbell and general manager Alan Plever over the summer, they said the turf course would be planted in 2009 for use in 2010. I have not heard if the new turf is on the list of delayed plans, but either way, it will be a while before we see grass racing in Michigan.

While all of the options selected would make Pinnacle a better place to see a race (unless the person who chose “other” meant something crazy like instituting a “bring your chainsaw to the track day”), I was a little bummed to see that my highest priority addition did not receive a single vote.

What would that be, you ask?

As you may remember from the DRF article (don’t remember? the link’s at the top of the post), Plever said the track would definitely be adding barns for next year, which is absolutely the right thing to be focusing on.

Considering the time constraints, the barns were very nice. There just weren’t enough of them. This led to some problems – the biggest of which was a difficulty filling fields.

The track relied on a lot of ship-ins to fill the condition books, which quickly dried up when Hawthorne Park and Hoosier Park opened up late in the meet. Also, the abundance of out-of-state horses meant that Michigan’s horsemen had a harder time making money. Michigan has been a poaching ground for lower mid-tier Chicago horses for quite some time, but they seemed to come out of the woodwork this year. More barns means more Michigan horsemen get more stalls, which in turn should equate to bigger fields.

This brings me to my second point. Everything that happens on the frontside is a direct result of what happens on the backside. The lack of stalls meant smaller fields, which meant less attractive races to play, which could potentially damage handle.

It is important that the horsemen are happy, or at least not unhappy, with their surroundings so they are not inclined to pack up and take their business elsewhere. If the racetracks in Michigan can not give the horsemen a good reason to stick around, then they will leave for the greener pastures of nearby Indiana and Pennsylvania that are fertilized with slot money. If even a few of the major operations make a large troop withdrawal and the track starts consistently putting out four or five horse fields, that state-of the art grandstand and lush, green turf course won’t mean anything because no one will be there to appreciate it. One domino topples the next until nothing is left standing.

In terms of the Phase 2 additions (bigger purses would help people stick around more than anything, but that’s a whole different discussion), this all starts with the place the horsemen see the most; the backstretch.

Along with additional barns, the backside would likely benefit from the addition of permanent administrative buildings and groom’s quarters. During the inaugural season, local hotels gave discounts to trainers who needed a place for their help to stay. Though I do not have any figures to compare the rates at the hotels to those of a a track-based dormitory, one would have to speculate that based on convenience alone, having living quarters on the grounds would be an improvement. Then again, I have not heard any complaints or praise about its absence, so perhaps this is not as pressing of a need as I would have figured, or maybe I’m just not listening well enough.

A good backstretch also goes a long way in defining the reputation of a racetrack. Though I just got done discussing the issues with out-of-state shippers, the barn area could also be used as a recruiting tool to bring in outsiders and perhaps get them to establish a home base there.

Again, purses are the ultimate “if you build it, they will come” factor here, but assuming purses are about equal (I know we’re not there yet. Play along for now), the deciding factor for a nationally-based stable could come down to something like the quality of the barn area. While bringing in the 15th-ranked conditioner from Arlington may not be particularly beneficial, drawing a major trainer to stable a small platoon of horses at your track (think Steve Asmussen at Presque Isle Downs) brings with it the potential for growth.

Big names eventually bring big horses, which bring big money. While getting an Eclipse contender into the gates might be asking a little too much at this point, landing a Kentucky Derby also-ran in an open stakes race might generate a little public interest, leading to higher attendance, bigger handle and more hot dogs sold. This will find its way back to the Michigan horsemen in the form of higher purses in both open and state-bred races.

I’ve wandered a little off course, but as you can see, a healthy backstretch can potentially go a long way in securing the stability of a young racetrack. The brass at Pinnacle are right on the money for putting this on high priority. I just hope they go at this full-heartedly and make the backside of Pinnacle Race Course as “world class” as Jerry Campbell promises the frontside will be.

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Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Polls

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