Monthly Archives: May 2009

Preparing for Pinnacle

Mrs. Murphy had another workout this morning…

This notice is to inform you that one or more of your horses has worked out. 

Mrs. Murphy

Your Comment: 

Date: May 30, 2009
Distance: Five Furlongs
Time: 1.06:00 Breezing
Track Condition: Fast
Surface: Dirt
Rank: 16/23

This workout was a step up in terms of distance and not finishing behind everyone else – both of which I consider to be positive signs.

Opening day at Pinnacle Race Course is next Friday, which means it is time to start looking through the condition book for spots for her second start, and her first in Detroit. My guess is she will probably be entered in restricted maiden claiming events until she either breaks her maiden or proves she can hang in Maiden Special Weight company.

With that in mind, here are some of the maiden claiming races for fillies coming up in the near future. If she’s ready to go, I figure we’ll see her in one of these spots.

Day 2: June 6 – Purse: $5,800 Fillies & Mares 3yo & up, Six Furlongs, Claiming Price: $6,250
 * This is a sub race, so it might not see the light of day.
Day 3: June 7 – Purse: $6,000 F&M 3&up, 5f, Tag: $12,500
 * Another sub race
Day 7: June 14 – Purse: $5,800 F&M, 3&up, 5f, Tag: $6,250
 * Yet another sub race. One of these has to make the live card, right?
Day 8: June 16 – Purse: $5,800 F&M, 3&up, one mile, Tag: $6,250
 * Surprise, surprise. Another sub race. Doubt she’d get put in at a mile anyway.
Day 10: June 20 –  Purse: $6,600 F&M, 3&up, 5.5f, Tag: $12,500
Day 11: June 21 – Purse: $5,800 F&M, 3&up, 6f, Tag: $6,250
  * A sub race
Day 13: June 26 – Purse: $8,100 (includes $2,000 supplement) MI-bred F&M, 3&up, 5.5f, Tag: $8,000
 * A sub race, but don’t be shocked to see this one make the card. 

That’s about it for the first condition book. Hopefully some of these races make it on the card and Mrs. Murphy can get off the snide quickly in case the racing dates dry up. Keep it here for the latest.

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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.


Filed under Commentary, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Spring Fling at Mount Pleasant Meadows

 Jockey Nate Alcala shows off one his whips to the crowd during Mount Pleasant Meadows' Spring Fling event prior to the day's races.

Jockey Nate Alcala shows off one his whips to the crowd during Mount Pleasant Meadows' Spring Fling event prior to the day's races.

After a week where bad news seemed to come in from Lansing on a daily basis, last Sunday brought a welcome bit of diversion.

Mount Pleasant Meadows held its Spring Fling event in the reserved section of the grandstand to introduce fans to the sport and the people behind it.

The event featured members of the track’s staff telling the crowd of about 50 about their jobs and what happens behind the scenes at the central Michigan track. Guests were also given a tutorial on how to read a racing program and place bets.

The day began with Great Lakes Quarter Horse Association Vice President Carolyn Bay describing what goes into a racehorse’s feed bin (with baggies of trail mix as examples!) before yielding the floor to her husband, track president Walter Bay, who welcomed everyone to the event.

A notable person in attendance was State Representative Bill Caul, and I believe Rep. Tim Moore was in the crowd as well. With so much of Michigan’s racing’s future resting in the State Legislature’s hands, it was nice to see members of Congress appearing at events like this. Hopefully they walked away from the event realizing how important the industry is to the state and will encourage their fellow congressmen and women to work toward aiding the efforts to keep racing alive in Michigan.

After the introduction, the track’s employees were given their time to talk to the audience and answer their questions. Speakers included:

– Racing Secretary/Announcer Robert “Butch” Berryhill
– State Steward Billy Lee Williams
– Starter Bob Williams
– Paddock Judge Jolene Sweet
– Clerk of Scales Randy Dunlop
– Mutuel Manager Chris Christensen
– Tattooer Ryan Maxum
– Jockey Nate Alcala

After the presentations, the crowd was taken down to the track where Alcala was saddling a former racehorse spending its retirement as a stable pony. The starting gates were brought in front of the grandstands  and after a brief warm-up trot, the horse and jockey were loaded and left the gates similar to a workout.

Once the horse was unsaddled, the group was brought out on to the track to get a closer look at the gates. As I made my way through the winner’s circle and out onto the racing surface, I realized I have spent more time standing on the dirt at Churchill Downs than I have at the track closest to my home. I doubt this was as much a security issue as much as it was just never having a need to be out there. Regardless, I picked up a handful of the sandy loam surface and kicked myself for not having a storage container in my possession. Someday…

After the gate demonstration, newcomers to the game were treated to a handicapping tutorial, decoding the past performances and the various ways to place a wager.

At the end of the event, guests were each given $2 vouchers for the day’s races (which for me went promptly back into the track’s bank account on my way to an absolute beating at the windows).

In terms of drawing in new fans and educating them on the sport, this is exactly what the track needed to do. It was a great way to showcase the facility, and the free program and voucher gave visitors a reason to stick around and get excited about the upcoming races after getting the rundown on how to bet. The crowd may have been a bit smaller than I would have liked to have seen, but things like this will turn newcomers into repeat customers and generate good word of mouth. If this becomes an annual event, I expect the number of attendees to double next year. If I’m still around, I’ll sure be there. Whoever came up with the idea deserves praise.

Here are a few scenes from the Spring Fling and the races afterward…

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Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Stakes Races

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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A dark day for Michigan racing

This just came in regarding the meeting between Pinnacle Race Course, the horsemen’s associations and the Office of Racing Commissioner. The news isn’t good…

From the Michigan HBPA website…

HUGE CUTS: Racing Commissioner Christine White has issued the reduction in days to comply with the budget cuts in the May 5th Executive Order. Pinnacle Race Course has been cut 63% which equals 39 days, leaving only 25 days to be run in June and July only. There are no days approved for August and September. This has basically eliminated Michigan Thoroughbred Racing. There may be some adjustments possible and efforts will continue to somehow restore enough days to provide a decent meet. The commissioner needs to submit her budget cuts this Friday. Any change will be posted as soon as possible.

The worst day pari-mutuel racing has ever faced.

MHHA @ Hazel Park were cut 65% and Mt. Pleasant Meadows 68%

Before I go on, let me state that I understand times are tough and there were going to have to be some sacrifices. Also note that I am commenting only on what I have seen and heard in the last few hours, which is likely a fraction of the whole story. 

That being said, I find it hard to believe such a drastic reduction of dates was the best possible answer to the crunch left behind from Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s executive order taking a good chunk of the racing-related monies to patch up the budget deficit. 

When a state has thousands of state-bred horses and only one viable Thoroughbred track (Love Mount Pleasant Meadows, but it has more stakes races for Paints than Thoroughbreds), that track can not afford to only run a short boutique meet. It is the mid-to-low level tracks running longer meets that prop up the Keenelands and Saratogas of the world and make it worthwhile to breed horses in those states. Saratoga has its Aqueduct, Keeneland has its Ellis and Turfway Parks and Del Mar has its fair circuit.

Only a small percentage of the horses at the major tracks will travel to the next big-money gathering. The rest don’t just vanish into the ether until next year’s meet. They go back to the local tracks and reap the benefits of their state-bred programs.

All Michigan has is that local track. Once it shuts down, there is nowhere else for the average Michigan-bred to go to earn a decent living. With half the year being lost to winter, the window for making money in Michigan is small enough as it is.

With the decrease in race dates, there will be no time to work a horse who has spent the winter in the pasture into shape. At the absolute most, horses will get four, maybe five, starts in during the abridged racing season. Even with a stakes win or two (assuming the stakes races are worth any more than a good allowance race), it will be near impossible for horsemen to get close to breaking even in 25 days, especially if the purse structure takes a hit along with everything else.

I have been told this change may only affect the current fiscal year , so perhaps racing will return for a while in October and perhaps November. That might net Pinnacle a few more dates later in the season, but it appears it will come after a several-month break.

As regular readers of this site know, one of my big mottos is “never give people a reason to leave.” This would qualify as one hell of a good reason. I will be curious to see if enough people stick around to fill the cards. Indiana and Pennsylvania are looking better by the day. 

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of questions about the details surrounding this announcement. I’ll do my best to get the answers and send the information along. Until then, hope for the best.


Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Michigan Notebook: May 20, 2009

Mount Pleasant Meadows is one of the few racetracks east of the Mississippi River to offer Arabian racing. Nate Alcala brings Bush Hog to the winner's circle following a win last Sunday.

Mount Pleasant Meadows is one of the few racetracks east of the Mississippi River to offer Arabian racing. Nate Alcala brings Bush Hog to the winner's circle following a win last Sunday.

– There is some good news and some bad news on the state budget/executive order front.

The Michigan HBPA and the Blood Horse report Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s initial figures, completely slashing the $1.4 million available to Thoroughbred programs, have been altered, leaving $670,000 for this year. Clearly, this is far from the ideal situation, but at least it will allow the tracks to keep the lights on for the time being. That’s the good news.

The bad news is this reduction will almost definitely come at the expense of race dates for the upcoming meet at Pinnacle Race Course, scheduled to start June 5, and the state’s already hurting Michigan-bred and Sire Stakes programs (the Blood Horse says only $150,000 will be left to fund stakes purses. Not good). A meeting was held this afternoon between the track, the horsemen and the Office of Racing Commissioner to discuss reducing Pinnacle’s scheduled 82 racing date in order adapt to the latest events. I’ll have updates as the situation develops. 

– Mount Pleasant Meadows is holding a spring Fling this Sunday at 11 a.m. According to the poster, race fans will get the opportunity to meet and take pictures with the Mount Pleasant jockey colony, as well as speak with racetrack officials, outriders, and gate crew. Questions will also be answered on aspects of the sport including how to read a program. If anything else you get a free program for the day’s races out of the deal, so it’s definitely worth it to be there.

I plan on being in attendance, so one perk that’s not advertised on the poster is the chance to meet Joe Nevills, the Internet’s Michigan-Bred Claimer. If that’s not a selling point, then I’m plumb out of ideas. Hope to see you there.

Interested parties should RSVP to Mount Pleasant Meadows at (989) 773-0012 0r (989) 386-7316. The track also requests participants to call one of the numbers the day before the event to confirm attendance.

For more information on the Spring Fling, click here.

– Here are some notable workouts from the recent past:

May 19:
Three Furlongs
Wolverine Stakes winner It’s a Ego Thing – 38.00b, 13/39

Four Furlongs
Michigan Oaks winner Clever Idea – 47.60b, 1/60
2004 2yo Male of the Year Demagoguery – 48.20b, 5/60
2008 2yo Male of the Year Mr. Conclusive –  52.40b, 57/60 
2008 3yo Filly of the Year Wave Pool – 47.80b, 3/60

Five Furlongs
2007 2yo & 2008 3yo Male of the Year Hot Chili – 58.40b 1/9 

May 15:
Three Furlongs
2007 2yo Filly of the Year Equalitysdebutante –  3680b, 3/11

– Now, here are are a few looks at last Sunday’s live card at Mount Pleasant Meadows. Enjoy!

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Back on the work tab

Got this in the inbox earlier today…

This notice is to inform you that one or more of your horses has worked out. 

Mrs. Murphy

Your Comment: 

Date: May 19, 2009
Distance: Four Furlongs
Time: 56:80 Breezing
Track Condition: Fast
Surface: Dirt
Rank: 60/60

Okay, so last out of 60 isn’t exactly the sexiest number on paper, and that time is downright crawling, but a return to Michigan gives me reason for optimism. Even at its lowest maiden claiming levels, Chicago can be a tough place for a Michigan-bred to start out compared to like-priced maiden claimers at Pinnacle. She’s probably got a while before her next start (Pinnacle’s meet doesn’t open until June 5), so she can afford to be brought along at a slower pace. Just as long as she goes all out when they start to count, that’s all that matters.

If anything else, at least I’ll be able to get some pictures of her this time around.

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The Haiku Handicapper: Preakness Stakes Recap

The filly did it
Top two proved they are legit
Who wants a rematch?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Something to note: In a race that’s purpose, as defined by Rachel Alexandra’s former co-owner Dolphus Morrison, is “to showcase the future stallions of our industry,” the top two finishers were a filly and a gelding. Nice.

While looking through Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra’s pps, I noticed she  finished second in last year’s Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs, a race I saw in person. I quickly searched my photo archives and found I had a couple pictures of her. Neither of them are exactly Eclipse-quality, but it is the first time to my recollection that I photographed a horse before he or she broke through to the big time. Enjoy!

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Filed under Pictures, The Haiku Handicapper, Triple Crown

The Haiku Handicapper: The 2009 Preakness Stakes

The Crown’s second jewel
Most Rachel drama since “Friends”
Should make good watching

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

#1 – Big Drama
Does well off long breaks
Will duel for lead, but can last
Shooter with a shot

#2 – Mine That Bird
Historic upset
Best horse or opportunist?
No Borel, no chance

#3 – Musket Man
A pleasant surprise
Answered class, distance questions
As live as any

#4 – Luv Gov
Best name in the field
Took ten starts to break maiden
Would be a huge shock

#5 – Friesan Fire
Derby’s biggest bust
In-race hoof woes a concern
Has he recovered? 

#6 – Terrain
Wisely skipped Derby
Globetrotter on eighth new track
An exotic threat

#7 – Papa Clem
Off two big efforts 
Almost always a factor
Is a bounce looming?

#8 – General Quarters
A minor letdown
Rough trip in race, ride to track
Was Blue Grass his peak? 

#9 – Pioneerof The Nile
Hey, he handles dirt!
Great trip, ran into buzzsaw
Will be tough to beat 

#10 – Flying Private
Crossed the wire last
Lane’s End now an afterthought
Doesn’t look likely 

#11 – Take The Points
Passed on the big dance
Second tier on the west coast
Middle of the pack 

#12 – Tone It Down
A local entry
Could draft Mine That Bird on rail
Too much here to beat 

#13 – Rachel Alexandra
The filly phenom
Stallion showcase gains intrigue
Talent should trump post

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Who cashes tickets?
Zayat only needed one
Place: thirteen, Show: one

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