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…

Racing Secretary/Announcer Robert “Butch” Berryhill discussed how he puts together the day’s races.

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.

Jockey Nate Alcala spoke about his riding career, spanning from Texas to Michigan, and showed off his tools of the trade.

Alcala displays his saddle to the crowd. Depending on his weight assignment, Alcala said his saddles can be as light as one pound.

One of the number “1” needles used to tattoo the upper lip of racehorses.

Alcala saddles one of trainer Tony Cunningham’s stable ponies, a former racehorse, in front of the audience before starting it from the gates.

And there they go.

Tattooer Ryan Maxum shows the crowd the tattoo of the outrider’s horse, another former runner.

After the gate demonstration, the group was brought out onto the track to get an up-close look at the contraption.

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.

Starter Bob Williams talks about the starting gates and the challenges of getting everything out of the way before the horses come back around during a race.

Oh yeah, and I guess there were some races too…

A field of Thoroughbreds kicks off the day.

Mike Holmes and Busheler take a comfortable lead in the stretch.

Holmes and Fairmount Park shipper Busheler in control of the race.

Holmes and Busheler step into the winner’s circle.

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?

A field of Arabians makes its opening moves in the second race.

SA Mariah Z and Julie Veltman pull away from Juan Delgado and WMA Cherub.

Veltman (who has been on fire at MPM since her return from a 1 1/2 year layup last week) and SA Mariah Z get ready for their photo op.

Tinyrons Game runs away with the third race under Nate Alcala.

One of Mount Pleasant’s top Arabians, Need For Speed, wins the fourth race easily with Nate Alcala aboard.

Trainer Nicole Holst sends out Osaykanyousi with Lee Gates in the irons.

Whos My Daddy and Julie Veltman hold off Zanthus Fury with Juan Delgado aboard.

The cluttered conclusion to the Mount Pleasant Meadows Spring Sprint Final, won by #2b, Hez Flyin With Class.

A better look at your winner, Hez Flyin With Class, ridden by Oscar Delgado, who came back from a foot injury earlier in the day to win the $15,000 race.



Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Stakes Races

2 responses to “Spring Fling at Mount Pleasant Meadows

  1. Elizabeth

    That sounds like a really great event. Even though I’ve been following racing for over 20 years, I would have enjoyed attending that. Getting a close up look at the starting gate would be cool. Thanks for another great set of photos. Your shots make it feel like I was actually there!

  2. mibredclaimer

    It was a good time indeed. I too have been in this game a while and still found myself learning a thing or two.

    Glad you liked the pictures. I’m working on saving up for a new camera, so hopefully you’ll see a boost in photo quality in the near future.

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