Monthly Archives: October 2009

House passes ORC, industry funding bill

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to partially restore funding to the state’s racing industry, including $2.5 million to the Office of Racing Commissioner.

The bill will next be put before the Senate where, if approved, it will likely do away with the announced statewide halt on live and simulcast racing on Nov. 5.

The deadline was announced following Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s veto of a previous bill to fund the ORC through licensing fees from the three non-tribal casinos in Detroit. In the current bill, the funding will come from the Ag Equine Fund, supported by a 3.5% tax on simulcast wagering and other racetrack-related income. The Associated Press reports Granholm supports the change.

Other items restored by the bill include $3.9 million to industry programs such as purse supplements, Sire Stakes purses and breeders’ awards. An additional $989,500 was allotted to “Horse Racing and Producer Security”, which supports the grain elevator industry and its suppliers.

HB 4288 passed by a margin of 105-1. For more information on the vote, click here.

According to the Michigan HBPA website, the Senate will have its first opportunity to act on the bill on Nov. 3, following a required five-day period between chamber actions.

For analysis of the bill from the House Fiscal Agency, click here.

For more information on HB 4288 and to track its progress through Lansing, the bill’s webpage can be found here.

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Tribal casino proposal hits close to home

The Detroit Free Press reports the Upper Peninsula-based Hannahville Indian Community has resubmitted an application to build a $300 million casino in Romulus, including a 200-room hotel and retail space.

The city of Romulus is about five miles from Pinnacle Race Course in New Boston. Pinnacle, along with the state’s four other pari-mutuel racetracks are working toward obtaining their own casinos through a 2010 ballot issue.

This news also comes on the heels of the recent announcement that Michigan may cease live and simulcast horse racing indefinitely on Nov. 5 following cuts to the Office of Racing Commissioner.

The Free Press reports the Hannahville tribe’s application to the U.S. Department of the Interior was rejected last year, but Chairman Ken Meshigaud told the paper he feels “more confident than ever” that the project will get the go-ahead this time around. The group has been eyeing a casino in Romulus since 2004.

The tribe also operates the Chip-In Island Resort and Casino, located west of Escanaba in the state’s Upper Peninsula.

One key factor standing in the way of this development is the small fact that there isn’t any tribal land for miles around Romulus. According to the Free Press, the tribe plans to get around this by “asking the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to place a portion of a 27-acre site at Vining and Wick into trust — allowing tribal members to own the land and use it for gaming, as a sort of extension of their 5,500-acre reservation near Escanaba.”

In a similar case, the Manistee-based Little River Band of Ottawa Indians purchased the site of former Thoroughbred track Great Lakes Downs in 2008 with the intention of developing a casino. The property is about 75 miles from the tribe’s reservation and far from any other Native American land. The area has been cleared, but its status in regards to building a casino remains in limbo.

A tip of the hat goes out to to Twitter user @ThoroFan for sniffing out this story.

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Filed under Commentary, Great Lakes Downs, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Michigan breeding totals plummet in 2009

In a stark indicator of racing’s status in the state, early reports indicate the number of Thoroughbred mares bred in Michigan dropped 40.5 percent from 2008 to 2009.

The information is based on the recently released Jockey Club 2009 Report of Mares Bred.

The report encompasses mares bred reports received through Oct. 13, 2009. The Jockey Club notes: “The annual statistics include the number of mares bred to each stallion and represent approximately 92 percent of the mares that eventually will be reported as bred in 2009. According to historical trends, The Jockey Club expects to receive RMBs representing an additional 4,000 to 5,000 mares bred from the 2009 breeding season.”

According to the Jockey Club, 50 Thoroughbred stallions bred 404 mares in 2008. In 2009, those numbers fell to 34 stallions covering 240 mares. The average book per sire also dropped from about eight mares to slightly over seven.

Of the 29 sires who covered mares in both of the last two years, only six saw an increase in their books. The biggest gainer was Diamond Strike, who covered four more mares in 2009 for a total of 13.

Only two sires covered more than 20 mares this breeding season; Meadow Prayer (27) and Equality (21) – down from five in 2008.

One obvious cause for the decrease in mares bred is the success and lure of nearby states with casino gaming and other alternative wagering. While the breeding industry faced a downward national trend, Pennsylvania’s program surged to a 29.6 percent gain in 2009. Indiana is another racino states within a close proximity to Michigan that has seen its mare population spike in recent years.

With slots-enriched purses and lucrative breeding programs, many Michigan horsemen who have stalls at tracks in racino states also take their mares to capitalize on state-bred incentives.

Another less tangible reason for the steep decline could be a lack in confidence following the release of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 2010 Executive Budget in February. In the budget, Granholm proposed major cuts to the Ag Equine Development Fund, most notably slashing all owner’s and breeder’s incentives.

An announcement of that caliber, made in the heart of breeding season, could justifiably make breeders think about looking elsewhere or simply letting their mares go empty for a season until things shake out. The funding was partially restored later (though it still remains in limbo), but by then breeding season had already come and gone

The effects of what will likely be a historically small foal crop in Michigan will first be felt at the yearling sales. Two years from now, when today’s statistics are tomorrow’s yearlings, the pool to fill the catalog will be smaller than ever. This year’s sale was half the size of last year’s. One can only imagine what the catalog might look like with a fraction of the yearlings to draw from.

In the long term, the small crop could have implications on future field sizes at Pinnacle Race Course. Restricted two and three-year-old races, especially the Sire Stakes, will likely be harder to fill. This may, however work to the advantage of those who decided to breed and buy Michigan-breds, as the competition for purse money will be thinner than ever. If, by some divine stroke of luck, the racino issue passes, these people will be in on the ground floor to immediately benefit. The demand may also drive up the sale value of foals in this crop as well.

Clearly, it would be hard to consider the staggering drop in mares bred to be anything but a negative sign. When business is good, people get their mares bred. When business is bad, they don’t. It will be interesting to see how this crop will affect the racing industry in the coming years and how the breeding industry will respond next year.

For more information on the decline in mares bred, I have compiled a spreadsheet focusing on Michigan sires over the last two years. The Jockey Club doesn’t have a “sort by state” function, so I have done all the hunting for you.

Mares Bred by Michigan Sires, 2008-09

For more facts and figures regarding Michigan’s breeding program in recent years, I have compiled another spreadsheet with data from the previous two breeding seasons. I was saving it for another post that was in the works, but it fits here just as well.

Michigan Breeding Statistics, 2007-08; 2008-09

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Michigan Notebook: October 23, 2009

Things have been, and will continue to be, pretty hectic due to midterms, so here are a few links to interesting stories to keep you occupied until things calm down…

– The Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association announced Thursday live and simulcast racing will cease on Nov. 5. The organization stated on its website the move is in response to an executive order by Gov. Jennifer Granholm moving the racing industry under the umbrella of the Gaming Control Board and the Governor’s veto of racing-related line items in the State Budget. For more information, click here.

UPDATE: Since this was first posted, the Michigan HBPA has also put up the announcement on its website. It adds that the stoppage is due to total layoffs in the Office of Racing Commissioner stemming from the Governor’s line item veto of funding to the ORC. This means the halt in racing activities will, in fact, reach across all five of Michigan’s tracks.

UPDATE TWO: Here is a story further explaining this situation from WJRT ABC 12 News. The piece focuses on local harness track Sports Creek Raceway.

– When the news came out about the petition get the casino issue on the ballot, one of my first thoughts was whether the recently-closed Jackson Harness Raceway would get in on the action. This blog post from Jackson Citizen Patriot columnist Brad Flory answers that question. Short answer: They’ll have to buy their way in.

– Many in Michigan’s racing industry believe the Gaming Control Board is a poor fit as a governing body. This story in Crains Detroit Business (who seems to cover Michigan’s racing industry better than any other publication in the state) outlines that discontent, further elaborates on the terms of the transition to the Gaming Board, and describes the industry’s plans to protest the decision.

– Pinnacle Race Course announcer Matt Hook named his divisional award winners after the conclusion of the 2009 meet. Hook’s selections coincided with the six winners of the Sire Stakes races, so I will not dedicate a post to rehashing the information. To find out who else received honors, a Daily Racing Form story can be found here.

– This story comes from Illinois, but I’m counting it because it needs to be considered in Michigan. Here is a very informative Q&A piece about Advance Deposit Wagering. It does a better job of explaining the complicated ADW subject in plain English than any source that immediately comes to mind, including myself. It seems ADW suffered from the same “gray area” status it currently does in Michigan.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Top Touch, Sahmmy Falls prevail in Michigan Juvenile Championships

Sahmmy Falls stuns in Michigan Futurity

Sahmmy Falls battled in the stretch and shocked the field to win Saturday’s $62,000 Michigan Futurity at Pinnacle Race Course.

The Sahm colt broke with a crowded lead pack, fronted by post time favorite Hour By Hour on the rail. Hour By Hour opened up a half-length advantage heading into the turn, with Meadow Magic and Prince of Paulie giving chase heading into the backstretch. Meadow Magic pressured the leader from the outside, but Hour By Hour pulled away to a comfortable lead. He was pressured again heading into the final turn by Prince of Paulie, Meadow Magic and Sahmmy Falls, the latter of which quickly backed off his charge.

Hour By Hour rapidly gave way in the turn, which left the lead to be contested by Meadow Magic and Prince of Paulie. The rail also opened up for Sahmmy Falls to come back into contention. The trio locked up through the stretch, with Sahmmy Falls on the rail, inside Meadow Magic and Prince of Paulie. Sahmmy Falls took his momentum to the front with a furlong to go and drove to the wire under strong left hand urging by jockey Godofredo Laurente. He prevailed by a neck over a gaining Prince of Paulie. Dream Victory rallied six-wide to take third place. Hour By Hour faded to eleventh.

Sahmmy Falls completed the one mile race in 1:42.98 over a fast track at bank-breaking odds of 49.30-to-one.

Sahmmy Falls is homebred in Michigan and trained by Shane Spiess. The Michigan Futurity was the colt’s second win from six starts, and his first in stakes company. His career earnings now total $47,760.

For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.

3 – Sahmmy Falls (Godofredo Laurente) 100.60 / 90.00 / 25.80
11 – Prince of Paulie (J.J. Delgado) 7.20 / 4.80
6 – Dream Victory (Augusto Marin) 8.00

One Mile
Time: 1:42.98

Top Touch wins stretch duel in Michigan Juvenile Fillies

It was a rough going in the stretch, but Top Touch got the best of rival De La Crem to win Saturday’s $56,000 Michigan Juvenile Fillies at Pinnacle Race Course.

The Touch Gold filly contested the early lead from the outside with Maximimi and Electric Venus. Maximimi took command heading into the clubhouse turn and opened up a length and a half advantage after a quarter mile. She maintained her lead across most of the backstretch, but Top Touch kept with the pressure on the outside and eventually drew even as they approached the final turn. De La Crem also began to approach the front.

Top Touch overtook her rival in the turn, as Maximimi gave way. De La Crem moved up to challenge Top Touch on the outside and held a slight edge as the pair hit the top of the stretch. The rivals stuck tight to each other and made contact on several occasions throughout the stretch drive. However, Top Touch managed to extend to a neck advantage in the final strides to win the race under jockey Alexis Ortiz. Electric Venus stalked the lead pair to finish 3 1/2 lengths behind De La Crem for third.

The time for the one mile race was 1:44.94 on a fast track. Top Touch was the post time favorite at odds of 1.20-to-one.

Top Touch is homebred in Michigan by Charlie Williams and trained by Sandra Adkins. The victory improved her career record to two wins from four starts, including her first stakes score. The Michigan Juvenile Fillies triumph increased her career earnings to $51,520.

For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.

5 – Top Touch (Alexis Ortiz) 4.40 / 4.00 / 2.80
6 – De La Crem (Jeffrey Skerrett) 3.00 / 3.00
1 – Electric Venus (Angel Stanley) 3.20

One Mile
Time: 1:44.94

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Murph toughs it out, breaks maiden

Mrs. Murphy is a maiden no more! (Photo from a previous race)

Mrs. Murphy is a maiden no more! (Photo from a previous race)

After a 2009 campaign that took her to three different tracks and saw her just miss the brass ring on a few occasions, Mrs. Murphy finally got her breakthrough win last Friday at Pinnacle Race Course. Boom goes the dynamite!

Consecutive weekend trips to Detroit and Lexington left me strapped for cash and lacking for energy, so I decided to watch the race from the simulcast room at Mount Pleasant Meadows. The feed didn’t have sound, but I could bet on the race, and the fact that my name was in the program made me the most popular guy in the place for the half hour surrounding the contest.

As I entered the bar and searched for a monitor broadcasting the Pinnacle signal, I saw Murph was giving off odds hovering around even money. She was the morning line second choice behind a first time starter named Copperness. In their pre-race selections, mutuel clerk/racing analyst/multitasker Andrea Ritter picked her to win and track announcer Matt Hook had her second behind Copperness. Murph and Copperness took turns as the people’s choice, but when the gate’s opened, Mrs. Murphy was the 1.60-to-one favorite.

True to form, Mrs. Murphy came out of the gates like a rocket and challenged fellow chalk horse Copperness for the lead. The pair streaked several lengths ahead of everyone else and never looked back as they dueled across the backstretch. Murph pressured the leader from the outside through the turn and heading into the  stretch. Then things got interesting.

At this point, Mrs. Murphy began to fall off from the leader. She was as far back as a length and a half  and showing signs of lugging in. At this point, a part of me began to concede defeat. She ran hard throughout the race and between her past performances and sprinter’s pedigree, she could have very easily tapped herself out.

Except she didn’t.

By the middle of the stretch, Copperness began wavering and Murph began slowly chipping away at her advantage under urging from jockey Mike Roll. She gradually came even with her rival as the wire approached, traded bobs of the head and willed herself to the front as they crossed the line. The Equibase chart says she won the race by a neck, but from what I saw, that was a pretty generous spot.

For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.

By this point, my hand had become sore from slapping it with my rolled up program. After a race like that, it was a good hurt. Though I will someday cash a nice breeder’s check from the day, the immediate payoff from Murph’s win was about $15 and change from $2 across the board and another $2 to win. By the end of the day, it was all back in the Mount Pleasant Meadows till.

Though I could not make it to the race in person, it was a good feeling to see a horse with so many ties to my family, both by name and bloodlines, succeed. Staying away from the track seems to be the winning formula, but I hope to someday watch her find the winner’s circle with my own two eyes. After an effort like this, there will surely be more to follow.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, The Family Business

One year and counting

One year ago today, I hit “Publish” on my first post and introduced my newest venture, The Michigan-Bred Claimer, to the world.

Since then, the last year has been a whirlwind tour of big races, interesting people and mountains of losing tickets. I have met more people who share a love for the sport of horse racing in the last year than I could have ever imagined, both in Michigan and around the world. Seeing that passion both from young people and those who have been part of the business for decades has been energizing and gives me confidence that this industry will survive whatever challenges are thrown at it.

Over the last year, I have tried to document every significant racing-related event I have experienced and bring you all along for the ride. Let’s take a look back at a few of the things that have made the last 365 days, 166 posts and 470 comments so memorable…

Since Oct. 17, 2008, I have…

– Logged a ton of miles in my beat up Trailblazer
Talked about hard times with Ellis Park owner Ron Geary
Shot the breeze about Mount Pleasant’s top Arabians with River Downs announcer Peter Aiello
– Tailgated at Keeneland Race Course (post coming soon!)
Watched the destruction of my favorite racetrack
Attended the races at Mount Pleasant Meadows religiously
Attended the races at Pinnacle Race Course when I had gas money or could bum a ride
Found out what all this Racino fuss is about at Indiana Downs
Become a nationally published amateur poet
– Watched a family namesake grow up (this one’s coming too!)
Been cited in a Flint Journal news story
– Watched a lot of crazy stuff go down in Lansing (too many posts to link)
Lost a lot of money on the Kentucky Derby
Eaten a mighty fine grilled cheese sandwich at Turfway Park
Cashed my biggest live ticket of the year on my second bet at Beulah Park
Joined the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance
Torn NASCAR a new one
– Been featured on news sites including Equidaily, The Paulick Report and Raceday 360
– and shot thousands of photos along the way.

I’d say that’s a pretty full year.

Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for reading, commenting on, and promoting the blog, speaking to me in person, putting up with me or just putting horses on the track and giving me something to write about. Thank you all for spending a few moments of your day with me. I look forward to providing you with the best coverage of Michigan horse racing I can muster, providing my perspective on recent happenings and telling a few stories into year two and beyond.

Have a nice day.

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