The final nail

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.   

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.

On the last night of live racing at Great Lakes Downs back in November of 2007, I asked a security guard if I could step onto the track after the night’s card had concluded and scoop up a baggie of dirt so I would have a souvenir of the track where I fell in love with the sport of horse racing. I was denied.

This Thursday, I have the opportunity to get my redemption.

The second installment of the two-week auction of anything of value at the former Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon gives bidders the opportunity to buy the actual dirt that hosted Michigan’s finest Thoroughbreds for the better part of this decade.

This auction has been in the making for nearly a year. The property was sold to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians last July and the tribe has expressed little interest in keeping it a racetrack, instead opting to work toward building another casino. Might as well get as much money out of what’s there before getting rid of the rest.

They are literally pulling things off the walls for this sale. Last week’s installment stripped down the bar where I celebrated my 21st birthday along with the rest of the plant itself. Each and every window looking out to the track was put up for bids, and as a track with its entire grandstand indoors, that is a lot of glass. Every chair, every handrail, every coffee maker…if it wasn’t bolted down, it appears it was being sold – and if it was bolted down, the buyer is responsible for removal, so it’s their problem.

Looking at how the track has deteriorated in the year and a half since the last horse passed the wire is painful, almost post-apocalyptic. The racing surface is full of weeds, as is the paddock and winner’s circle. They’re selling off the staircase I would bound up before the races  and would more cautiously climb down at night (not drunkenly, the steps were just unevenly proportioned) while going over the events of the evening with my friends and family. Memory Lane isn’t such a great place to be when everyone on the street has been evicted. Just looking at things as inconsequential as a certain section of fence or the perpetually unmanned guard shack by the jock’s room make me feel like I was just there. I was just there. It hasn’t been that long, but a little neglect can make a place change in a hurry.

Here are a few other items offered this week and last you’ll only find at a racetrack liquidation sale. Some of these items have already been sold, so be sure to check their availability if you covet such objects. I wish I had the space for some of these things. I would have the coolest backyard around.

The shell of the Great Lakes Downs tote board
Camera towers
Backstretch pole barns
The stalls under the pole barns
Highway signs advertising the track
The paddock stalls
Leftover GLD Memorabilia (I wanted this so badly. If the buyer of this lot is reading this, contact me. I’ll double what you paid for it.)
Various track signage
The turnstile at the front entrance
A crapload of Kentucky Derby glasses
Old-school S.A.M Autotote betting machines (If you bought a single-machine lot, the double offer goes out to you as well. I have no practical use for an inactive S.A.M., but it would be pretty cool just to say I have one.)
GLD trash cans (There was one trash bin by the jock’s room that was from the old Detroit Race Course. I am curious as to its whereabouts.)
The scale house
The inside rail

The meticulous nature of the items being offered in the sale all but confirms that Great Lakes Downs will never again host another race. In fact, the complete stripping of the property suggests the plant and surrounding area will likely be leveled to clear room for the tribe’s proposed casino. Simply put, this is a damn shame.

I regret having missed the first auction. Had former Turf Linker Andrew not alerted me to them, I probably would have missed the second one as well. This is what happens when final class projects keep me from checking Google Alerts. I miss important things like this.

I would have greatly enjoyed getting myself some keepsakes from the track where I spent some of the happiest days of my life. While the second auction primarily focuses on the backstretch, apron and other outdoor areas of the property, I am going to keep my eye on a few items that may not be immediately identifiable with the track, but will have sentimental value.

If anything else, going to pick up the items means I’ll get one last chance to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll finally get the chance to sneak out on to the track and get that baggie of dirt.

I miss my racetrack.

For more information on this weekend’s auction, click here.

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12 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Great Lakes Downs

12 responses to “The final nail

  1. John

    A sad but interesting post, something I won’t read in my local paper.

    Thanks

  2. Getting denied by security to take a clump of dirt has to be the biggest douche move in all of history. Wow. What a supreme asshole that guy clearly was. Unbelievable.

  3. Thanks for documenting this. Are they allowing people on the grounds for the auction? I wonder if you could sneak on for one last look and maybe some pictures.

    I have never been to Great Lakes Downs but you made me sad to see it go.

  4. mibredclaimer

    John,
    Thanks! Glad you liked it. I noticed a few news outlets covered it, but most of them seemed fixated on the fact that they were auctioning off toilets.

    EJXD2,
    It gets better…Upon denying me access to the track, the security guard called me some kind of belittling title like “Chief” or “Champ” or “Boss.” Kind of put a damper on the rest of the night.

    Kevin,
    According to the auction’s website…

    “Items May be Previewed in Person on Wednesday and on Thursday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM at Great Lakes Downs at 4800 Harvey St. Fruitport Twp. (Muskegon). Bring a Flashlight!!!”

    I have exams today and will be in Lansing for a racing-related House Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, so a visit diring the viewing hours is unlikely.

    However, if I manage to win someting, I’m going to photograph the hell out of the place and you’ll see them here first.

  5. Andrew

    What a depressing end to another chapter in Michigan racing. I’ll never forget the last time I went to live racing, during the ’07 MI Sires Stakes. The place was so alive. I guess we have to enjoy what we have while it is still here.

  6. Mary Pitt

    GLD had a small but very loyal following in Britain when it was being shown on TV there. Never got there. Wish I had. Looked like a fun place.

  7. Josh

    Oh man, this article was depressing. I remember going to Great lakes Downs one time. I grew up in MI and was introduced to the sport via harness racing at Jackson Harness Raceway. With that track closing last year, I can only hope that Pinnacle does well. If I were you, don’t sneak out on the racetrack to get some dirt………jump the rail in front of everyone!!!

  8. mibredclaimer

    Andrew,
    No doubt. I had to miss the Sire Stakes to cover a story for the school paper, and I regret it. If it was anything like the track’s closing day though, I’m sure it was a blast.

    Mary,
    That’s very interesting. It’s hard to imagine such a small-time track having an international following, but it’s neat that it did. It was indeed a fun place.

    Josh,
    I’ll see what I can do. By the time I get there, the rail might already be sold and removed, though, so I’ll have to start coming up with some backup plans.

  9. jim

    Was vey sad to see gld go.Filled in as track announcer there for 3 years in 01-03 and enjoyed every minute i have lots of pictures from my time there to remember it by

  10. Laurie

    I know exactly how you feel — the same thing happened with my beloved Ak-sar-ben track, right down to the auction. But at least I was able to get a handful of racetrack dirt immediately after the last race was run.

  11. Mary Pitt

    Your line about Memory Lane is superb. The main reason GLD became so popular with British racing fans is the man in the booth now at Churchill Downs. Mark Johnson was one of the hosts for the American racing program over there (I was an occasional guest) and he was always singing its praises (and tipping a lot of winners there, too). He never got there, either, unfortunately.

  12. mibredclaimer

    Jim,
    Glad to see someone from GLD’s upstairs share their memories. I remember being up in the booth with Matt Hook a few times and he’d be watching The Simpsons in between races. It was a hoot.

    Laurie,
    Must be the Ak-Sar-Ben security wasn’t as strict as GLD’s. I have a feeling a lot of people will be sharing similar stories about their local tracks going under in the coming years. We should start up a support group.

    Mary,
    Thanks for the complement. I’ve heard that Great Lakes Downs was a surprisingly popular simulcast track, but to get a shining recommendation from Mark Johnson is really something else. If I ever speak to him in person, I’ll be sure to mention GLD.

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