Monthly Archives: June 2009

Michigan’s Racing Commissioner Resigns

Big news on the Michigan HBPA wire today…

COMMISSIONER RESIGNS: Racing Commissioner Christine White notified the ORC staff June 30th that effective “at the end of this week” will resign the position as Commissioner to accept a position in the US Department of Agriculture. Position with the US Dept. of Agri. will begin Monday, July 6th. 

There had been some chatter about this move happening for several months, but now it’s official. No word has been made on potential candidates to replace Commissioner White on an interim or permanent basis.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports White’s new position will keep her in the Lansing area as Michigan’s Executive Director for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. White has held several positions with the USDA prior to becoming the state’s Racing Commissioner in 2005. 

This is still somewhat breaking news, so as soon as I find anything else out, you’ll see it here.

In the meantime, I hope Gov. Jennifer Granholm carefully considers her options when appointing the next Commissioner. Her actions regarding the racing industry as of late suggest the best interests of the sport may not be served, but I hope I am wrong on this. Michigan’s racing industry has suffered from a void of leadership in Lansing for quite some time and the time is now to put someone in the captain’s chair who can right the ship.

Five bucks says the new commissioner’s last position was at a casino.

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

Though the news is fairly breaking, I have already heard word of some preparing their resumes for the newly vacant position. I considered sending in mine, but I don’t think my last two positions as “Thoroughbred Times Intern” and “Amateur Racetrack Opinionator” are going to be enough to get me over the hump.

However, the intrigue surrounding this open position has given me an idea. 

As part of the coverage following the appointment of the new Racing Commissioner, I am opening up my blog to guest posts from serious applicants to the position. 

If you are submitting an application to become the next Racing Commissioner and would like the public to know why you are the best person for the job, this is your chance. Granted, the position is appointed, not elected, but public support  is never a bad thing when shooting for a job in government.

Interested parties should email a 500-word or less statement outlining their plans for Michigan racing and what makes them the prime candidate for the position, along with a profile photo. Also, to confirm the legitimacy of the submission, please send a copy of your resume and cover letter, which may also be published with the submitting party’s consent. Submissions will be posted on a first-come-first-serve basis.

I look forward to reading the submissions and hopefully getting a vision of Michigan racing’s direction for the future.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Politics

Mata featured in Detroit News story

Federico Mata is a fan favorite rider at Pinnacle Race Course, shown here aboard Banning.

Federico Mata is a fan favorite rider at Pinnacle Race Course, shown here aboard Banning.

Pinnacle Race Course and one of its high-profile figures garnered some media exposure on Monday when jockey Federico Mata was made the subject of an in-depth profile piece in the Detroit News.

The article follows Mata through a day’s work at Pinnacle, from the morning workouts to the final race of the day about 12 hours later.

Having seen so many stories about racing that claim to go behind the scenes, but then dumb things down to “introductory pamphlet” level, it was refreshing to see a non-Kentucky-based newspaper story really get into the daily lives of the people at the track. Peeks behind the curtain of the race day are rare, even with Animal Planet following Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland through their routines, so to see a story done well like this makes for good reading and helps draw interest to the sport. Hopefully it leads to more stories of a similar theme in the future. Detroit Free Press, I’m looking in your direction…

When I was starting out as a handicapper at Great Lakes Downs, one of the first lessons I learned was a horse with Mata on its back was rarely a throwaway. Mata was the leading rider at the now defunct Muskegon racetrack in 2000 and was rarely far from the top spot most years, a trend he has continued at Pinnacle. He rode my grandpa’s horses on occasion at GLD and was the focus of many winner’s circle photos aboard them, rarely missing the board. 

Last year, on Pinnacle’s opening day, the audience was sprinkled with people wearing Freddie Mata T-shirts from back in the day at Detroit Race Course. With that kind of local name recognition already established in the Detroit area, Mata was the natural and correct choice among Pinnacle’s current jockey colony for a story like this.

The online version of the story also features a 30-photo gallery of Mata’s day from beginning to end and a short video following him through his routine on the backstretch, on the track and in the jock’s room. 

Props to reporter Gregg Krupa, photographer David Coates and everyone else who helped put this story together. Very nice work.

To read the story, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Great Lakes Downs, Pinnacle Race Course

Yawm Estoora pulls the upset in Larkspur Handicap

On paper, Saturday’s $50,000 Larkspur Handicap at Pinnacle Race Course looked like a homecoming romp for 2008 Michigan Thoroughbred of the Year Valley Loot.

Apparently, Yawm Estoora did not get that memo.

The six-year-old Dayjur mare battled for the lead on the rail before riding tactics by jockey Angel Stanley helped Yawm Estoora chip away at pacesetter Dublin Dutchess’ lead and eventually put a nose in front to win the six furlong race in 1:12.97 on a fast surface.

Dublin Dutchess took early command of the race and was quickly pressured on the lead by Yawm Estoora on the rail. Dublin Dutchess steadily began to separate from her rival heading into the turn and had a full length’s advantage at the top of the stretch. Early in the stretch drive, Angel Stanley took Yawm Estoora off the rail, angling to the outside of Dublin Dutchess. The two battled to the wire as Dublin Dutchess’ lead slowly vanished and Yawm Estoora got the good side of a head bob finish to win the Larkspur at odds of 11.30-to-one.

One-to-two post-time favorite Valley Loot suffered from a wide trip  in the early goings and finished an even-running third, a half-length ahead of rapidly closing stablemate Wave Pool.

Homebred by Twin Cedars Farm, Yawm Estoora earned her first career stakes win in the Larkspur, increasing her earnings on the year to $39,690. She is trained by Ronald Inman.

For a chart of the race, click here.

1 Yawm Estoora (Angel Stanley) 24.60 / 10.40 / 6.60
6 Dublin Dutchess (Augusto Marin) 21.60 / 7.80
9 Valley Loot (Federico Mata) 2.40

Six Furlongs
Time: 1:12.97 

Sorry gang, it seems I don’t have any photos of Yawm Estoora in my collection. I couldn’t make it to the track on Saturday, so you’ll just have to use your imagination on this one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Stakes Races

Granholm continues to disrespect racing industry

Sometimes, you just have to look at your government and shake your head…

The Michigan HBPA reports…

GOVERNOR STOPS HB4311: Governor Granholm has asked the legislature to not take any action on HB4311. The bill would have replaced the $2.4 million in cuts from the Ag. Equine Development Fund. These funds supported our programs such as Breeders Awards, Supplements, Stakes and Owner Awards. Her request has ended the opportunity to restore the funds, HB 4311 is done.

Once again, action in Lansing has a negative impact on our industry, as mentioned these funds are generated by the 3.5% tax on simulcasting which produces more than enough to fund our programs. It is difficult to understand a decision to stop a producer for the state. This action was anticipated based on prior action in Lansing when it comes to supporting an industry with a 75 year history  and at least 12,000 jobs.

The HBPA Board realized that this could be the outcome. In anticipation, they decided to use purse pool funding to restore our dates to 74 and support the stakes program. The decision was costly when 8 days were reduced and all the starts that will not take place, but the meet had to be saved. One can only wonder how much influence our decision to support ourselves impacted the Lansing decision. The total amount to support the ORC and Programs is $463,600. Without support from the HBPA, thoroughbred racing in Michigan would have been over. 

See? I told you this whole ordeal wasn’t over. If a happy ending is to be had, someone in Lansing will crush it.

But seriously, Gov. Granholm’s constant antagonism of her state’s racing industry is downright laughable (in that “laugh so you don’t weep” kind of way). I can’t help but look at the public support Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, and Ohio’s head of state, Ted Strickland, give to their states’ racing programs (or at least a willingness to sign the right legislation) and wonder what we as a state did to deserve such an enemy of the industry in office.

The frustrating thing about Granholm’s disregard for pro-racing congressional action is that, unless I missed something, she has failed to justify any of it. There has been no public explanation for her actions as far as I can tell. The fact that she does not seem to be held accountable by anyone for this, or any of her previous atrocities against the industry, is a frightening notion. At this point, I would even be appeased by some neutral political doublespeak; just give me something.

From the HBPA’s report, it seems Pinnacle’s season won’t be affected by this bill dying. It appears those who depend on the supplemental awards will get the shaft (myself included), but at least they’ll still be putting horses the gates. However, I am not sure how this will alter things at Mount Pleasant Meadows or the state’s three harness tracks. I’ll ask around at Mount Pleasant this Sunday and see what I can find out.

On a slightly more optimistic note, it appears some state congresspeople are holding another brainstorming session in the near future (thanks, Otis). I don’t know how much good it’s going to do if the Governor is, in all likelihood, just going to shoot it down like everything else, but at least they’re still trying to figure something out.

I really don’t like it when my posts get this politically charged, but my frustration with the Governor, and a good chunk of Lansing for that matter, is reaching its boiling point. I promise the next time we meet, it will be about things that happen on the racetrack and not at the Capitol Building.

5 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Valley Loot headlines Larkspur Handicap

Without a doubt, Valley Loot will be the one to beat in Saturday's Larkspur Handicap at Pinnacle Race Course.

Without a doubt, Valley Loot will be the one to beat in Saturday's Larkspur Handicap at Pinnacle Race Course.

In last year’s race to decide Michigan’s top older female, it was Valley Loot and everyone else.

Valley Loot will take her first step toward defending that title this Saturday when she makes her first start of the year at Pinnacle Race Course in the $50,000 Larkspur Handicap.

A field of nine will enter the gates for the six furlong race, including four former Sire Stakes winners. 

The favorite will almost certainly be 2008 Michigan Horse of the Year Valley Loot. The five-year-old Demaloot Demashoot mare won last year’s installment of the Larkspur by 2 3/4 lengths and enters the race off a front-running victory in the June 16 Golden Sylvia Stakes at Mountaineer Race Track and Casino. Federico Mata will get the assignment in the saddle for owner Lisa Campbell and trainer Ronnie Allen, Sr.. Not surprisingly, Valley Loot is the field’s highweight.

The second half of the Campbell/Allen contingent is fellow Sire Stakes winner Wave Pool. The four-year-old Sea Legs filly won the three-year-old female division of last year’s Sire Stakes en route to earning the crop’s top honors. Wave Pool comes off a second-place finish in an allowance race at Pinnacle on June 12. Ivan Gonzalez will take the irons.

A two-time Sire Stakes winner and top horse in her division in 2006 and ’07, Nell’s Enjoyment will look to get her stakes career back on track this Saturday. The six-year-old Quiet Enjoyment mare was well beaten in her three tries in stakes company in 2008, but turned things around in her last start of the year at Pinnacle, closing from the clouds to win a stakes-caliber allowance race against the likes of fellow Larkspur entrants Wave Pool, Dublin Dutchess and Silent Sunset. She enters off a fifth place finish in a June 1 allowance race at Indiana Downs. Nell’s Enjoyment is owned and trained by Shane Spiess and will be ridden by Ricardo Barrios.

Also entered is the only horse to beat Valley Loot in a Sire Stakes race, Dublin Dutchess. The five-year-old Native Factor mare defeated Valley Loot during the 2006 installment of the two-year-old division’s Sire Stakes at Great Lakes Downs. Dublin Dutchess ran second to Valley Loot in last year’s Larkspur. Owned by Mast Thoroughbreds, LLC and trained by Bob Gorham, Dublin Dutchess will have the services of Augusto Marin in the saddle.  

Here is a list of the entries for Saturday’s Larkspur Handicap…

#. Horse / Jockey / Trainer / Odds
1. Yawm Estoora / A.O. Stanley / R. P. Inman / 10-1
2. Nell’s Enjoyment / R Barrios / S. M. Spiess / 15-1
3. Tillie The Hunn / G. Laurente / L. R. Uelmen / 20-1
4. She Could Be Good / J. Skerrett / R. M. Gorham / 5-1
5. Wave Pool / I. R. Gonzalez / R. D. Allen, Sr / 8-1
6. Dublin Dutchess / A. A. Marin / R. M. Gorham / 12-1
7. Silent Sunset / G. W. Mayhew / J. A. Lewis / 25-1
8. Candy Cane / J. J. Delgado / J. C. Rupert / 3-1
9. Valley Loot / F. Mata / R. D. Allen, Sr. / 6-5

2 Comments

Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Stakes Races

She just might make a runner yet

Her pictures look even better when she runs well. Mrs. Murphy comes back from her second place effort under Angel Stanley.

Her pictures look even better when she runs well. Mrs. Murphy comes back from her second place effort under Angel Stanley.

Hay season has put me a little behind schedule in terms of writing things, so let’s go back in time a little bit, shall we?

Last Saturday, Mrs. Murphy had her third start. After a third-to-last effort in her debut and a fading last in her encore, her racing career had so far left much to be desired. Her trainer was optimistic that her form would come around, but she had yet to show it on the racetrack.

Regardless of her performance, a horse with my name on it is more than enough of an excuse to justify a trip to Pinnacle Race Course.

Mrs. Murphy was in the second race. Though having a horse in a race early in the card can create the occasional time crunch getting to the racetrack, it is nice to get all of the jitters out of the way and be able to enjoy the rest of the day’s races without feeling like a spring about to uncoil (maybe that’s just me…). Plus, the earlier the race, the sooner one can get his or her win picture if the day should warrant it.

As the horses walked over from the barns, I started looking for that big white star right above the eyes that set Murph apart from the rest of the field. The group of horses and their handlers all came by – no star.  After making another sweep through the field, I noticed the silver and blue blinkers of the Russell stable covering her face. Bingo.

As usual, Mrs. Murphy looked spectacular, but there was something about her that looked different. She seemed leaner, more fit. After her last start, her trainer said she was still coming around in terms of conditioning. It seems she had progressed by leaps and bounds in the last eleven days, which was definitely a good sign.

Remember during Murph’s last race when I noted how well-behaved she seemed despite her bloodlines suggesting otherwise? It appears she got the memo.

Shortly after her handler was given his yellow #4 smock before entering the paddock, Mrs. Murphy went up on two legs, nearly flipping all the way over on her back. She came down a loose horse with her shank wrapped around one of her front legs. 

This could have gone downhill very quickly. She could have fled the scene and taken a few practice laps on her own – Best case scenario: she’s quickly wrangled and brought back to saddle, but not before tiring herself out and removing herself from serious contention. Worst case scenario: she bolts and that tangled shank causes her to go down and never get back up. Either way, I would have spent an awful lot of time on the road to see a non-starter.

Instead, she stood calmly and allowed herself to get scooped back up by her handler and taken to the paddock without further incident. My blood pressure eventually returned to its normal level.

Mrs. Murphy saddled and left the paddock without causing much of a ruckus and calmly went through the post parade and back to the gates under jockey Angel Stanley.

Meanwhile, I hurried to the betting window to place my Standard Unproven Murphy Horse Wager (TM): $2 across the board. During the glory days of Royal Charley’s racing career at Great Lakes Downs when he was a threat in just about every start, that number would jump to $5 across and five more to win, but Murph has a long way to go before things get to that point (and yes, I know that’s still relatively chump change. I’m a college student. Not much money to play around with). When the gates opened, she was giving 12-1 – the longest shot on the board.

The horses were loaded without much fuss and were released just as quickly. 

Mrs. Murphy took roughly the same spot in the early goings as she had in her last race, right in the front pack just off the leaders. She didn’t have the lead this time, but she was in the discussion. Murph kept her position heading into the turn when the leader, Kindasweet, began to pull away. From where I was standing, it looked like Mrs. Murphy was beginning to lose steam again, the same as her last race. I began to wonder if she just wasn’t cut out to be a racehorse and prepared my new, expensive camera (more on this at a later time) to photograph the eventual winner as she made her closing strides.

Just then, I heard announcer Matt Hook exclaim something like “Mrs. Murphy is making another move.” I focused in my camera to see a rider with blue silks and a yellow cap making a move toward the leader on the outside. She was actually doing it! I set my camera on “Burst” and held the shutter button down as Murph inched closer to the leader. However, in my excitement as the two got closer to the wire, I became more concerned with watching the race and ended up with a bunch of pictures of the top of the riders’ heads. I haven’t yelled that loud in a long time.

Mrs. Murphy ran hard, but could not get past the leader and finished second by a length. As a breeder, I do not get a paycheck, unless she wins, but considering her first two starts, this was as good as a victory. She showed she could compete on the racetrack and last longer than four furlongs; something her mother struggled with her entire career.

I got $14 and change for the place and show bet payoffs, so even though she did not win, I did come out ahead for the race. After this race, it is doubtful she will demand 12-1 odds for her next few starts. Regardless, I am incredibly stoked to see if she can finish the job in her next go-round.

Though she did not finish the day in the winner’s circle, the race offered hope that doing so was a realistic goal. Though the breeder’s check is an obvious reason to root her on, the main reason I want Mrs. Murphy to succeed is to keep the Echo Hills bloodline going and show it can still compete in Michigan. Murph’s granddam, Janies Echo, still lives at my grandpa’s farm (she’s 26 years old) and I would love to see her family tree keep going strong for generations to come. 

Make no mistake, Mrs. Murphy is not my horse. But there are so many ties back to my family, from the name to the bloodlines to my grandpa and I being named as her co-breeders, it still feels as though she were running under our own colors.

For a chart of the race, click here.

Behind the jump are some of the pictures I took of Mrs. Murphy’s day at the races…

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Pictures, Pinnacle Race Course, The Family Business

Time to speak up

Two weeks ago, the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun posed a question in its Sound Off! column that caught the eye of owner/breeder Rick McCune. 

First, a little background information – Sound Off! is a part of the paper’s Opinions page where readers call or write in response to a question posed at an earlier date.

The question was something along the lines of “Should the State of Michigan continue to subsidize horse racing?”

As anyone familiar with with the state’s racing budget situation will attest, state funding for racing is generated by the tracks themselves and redistributed back to them. The money that goes toward racing is not a government handout.

Here is where the story gets interesting…

The next day, McCune called Morning Sun Executive Editor Rick Mills to inform him of the faulty wording of the question, note its potential damaging effect on the public image of the Michigan racing industry and fill him in about where the money really comes from. Mills was so interested in McCune’s side of the story that he sent a reporter and photographer to take record of it.

The story made the front page of last Sunday’s paper.

The readers of the Morning Sun, many of whom likely knew little of the perilous state of Michigan horse racing or had been misinformed by other sources, are now aware of what is going on and where the money to fund the racing industry really comes from – the racing industry. There is little doubt the cause for keeping the sport alive gained at least a few followers from the article.

We need more of this. 

We need more Michigan horsemen and women to reach out to the local media and tell them about the challenges they face in order to keep the lights on from day to day – that this is not a game and livelihoods are at stake. Also, they need to let the public know that the only way their money goes to fund horse racing is if they send it through the mutuel windows themselves.

The public’s interest in the plight of the racing industry is as high as it has been in years. Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to give the public the information it is looking for and correct any misconceptions they may have about the state’s role in funding horse racing. An informed public will put in some extra thought before voting against any future racing-related ballot issues and perhaps may reach out to their people in Lansing in support of the industry. It is amazing how things can get done when a few of the right people read a newspaper article.

The more people that call in, the more editors will realize how important an issue this is. Even if only half the inquiries make it into print, that is a significant number of people exposed to this information. Perhaps one of the stories might be in a paper that lands on the Governor’s desk?

As a journalism student, I am willing to volunteer my services to anyone serious about contacting his or her local publication. Though no two papers or reporters will be the same, I have spent a good amount of time on the other side of the interview table and would be glad to assist in preparing for interviews, information gathering or any aspect that might be helpful in getting the key points across. I can’t make the call for you, but I can give advice on what to do after the call. Just send me an email and I’ll see how I can help.

Behind the jump is a list of Michigan newspapers from across the state, along with the contact information of an editor who might be in charge of a story like this or can direct inquiries to someone who can field the request.

Owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys, grooms, racetrack employees and anyone else who makes a living through horse racing in Michigan; I encourage you to look at the list, find the paper closest to you and give it a try. Your job could depend on it.

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Politics