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…
Mutuel Manager Chris Christensen told the audience about the money that goes through the windows on big days like the Kentucky Derby and how that money is split between the track, the state and in the case of simulcast wagers, other tracks.
You know, I’ve been coming to this track since I was four years old and I never noticed that the track’s name was right there. Granted, it is impossible to see the sign from any point in the grandstand, but you’d think I would have spotted this somewhere along the line.
Oh yeah, and I guess there were some races too…
Julie Veltman gets a leg up aboard Amy’s Talent from fellow jockey Lee Gates. This is what I love about this track. When is the last time you saw Garrett Gomez give Rafael Bejarano a boost into the saddle?