“Racetrack Collector” visits Michigan tracks

Tom Miscannon checked off track number 284 during his visit to Mount Pleasant Meadows last Sunday.

Tom Miscannon has been everywhere, man.

Looking over the list of Thoroughbred racetracks around the world Miscannon has visited can arouse thoughts of the Johnny Cash song of a similar vein.

Miscannon, an Orlando, Fla. resident, increased his impressive list to 284 tracks in 14 different countries following his stops last weekend at Pinnacle Race Course and Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Though he had visited tracks near his current and former hometowns, Miscannon’s conquest began during his time with the Navy in 1983. During a stay in Scotland, Miscannon challenged himself to attend the races at every track in the United Kingdom. He expanded his goal to include the United States and elsewhere when he returned stateside, and on subsequent tours of duty.

Today, Miscannon is an administrative assistant at the University of Central Florida. He also referees soccer games to help fund his self-proclaimed “foolish passion”.

In the face of such a challenge, Miscannon has some guidelines for deciding which tracks he visits. All flat and steeplechase courses that offer a Thoroughbred-exclusive meet are fair game, as are mixed meets where Thoroughbreds have a major share of the condition book. If presented with a Standardbred or primarily Quarter Horse track, he will normally look elsewhere. Fortunately, Mount Pleasant was flush with Thoroughbred races on Sunday.

Miscannon has also begun to visit racetracks not only as a fan, but as an owner.  His horses have competed at flat and steeplechase tracks across the eastern part of the country. He currently campaigns a gelding named King Congo.

When Miscannon visits a racetrack for the first time, he has a few rituals.

First, he procures a mint condition copy of the day’s racing program, or as close to mint as possible. Sometimes, this can involve opening fresh packages in pursuit of the perfect program.

A fairly new tradition of Miscannon’s is to photograph seven defining features of each racetrack: the road sign, the entrance to the plant, the grandstand, the paddock, the starting gates during a race, the finish line and the winner’s circle. Though Miscannon said he rarely visits a track twice, some backtracking might be necessary to shoot the venues attended before he decided to start bringing his camera.

I got a chance to sit down and chat with Miscannon during his visit to Mount Pleasant Meadows on Sunday. The interview, including stories of Miscannon’s travels, can be found behind the jump.

JOE NEVILLS: What brings you to Michigan?

TOM MISCANNON: I’ve come to see the racing at Pinnacle and Mount Pleasant Meadows. Track visits 283 and 284.

JN: What were your impressions of Pinnacle Race Course?

TM: Pinnacle was nice for what it was – a low-level track. Racing was competitive. A nice state-bred stake added a little flavor to it. The card in general was nice. The plant, for what it has to deal with, is the right size and the racing was really competitive. It was good. I enjoyed it.

JN: And Mount Pleasant Meadows?

TM: I had a great time. It was a great experience. If anyone ever asks me how Mount Pleasant was, I’d say, “go.” It was an extremely enjoyable day out here. The people were wonderful. The racing was what it was – bottom-level, but competitive. I’m glad I made the trip up.

JN: Of the tracks you have visited, which would you consider to be your top five favorites?

TM: Number one is Arlington Park. Number two was Cheltenham Race Course in the west country of England. It’s where they run the famous Cheltenham Festival. It’s the biggest steeplechase festival in the world. I believe I had number three at Ascot, just outside of London. Number four, I had Saratoga. Number five was Santa Anita.

JN: What venues are high on your list of tracks to visit?

TM: A lot of the Japanese tracks, as far as the top-quality racetracks. I’ve never been to Japan. Hong Kong and Singapore, of course. I’m saving Flemington in Australia. God-willing, if I live long enough and have enough wealth to visit tracks, I’m going to make that number 1,000. That’s a biggie.

In the U.S., I think the best track I have yet to go to is (the Sonoma County Fair at) Santa Rosa. Of the mile ovals that I still have left, Evangeline Downs, which I should get to this year.  I haven’t been to Fairplex yet. I hear it’s nice. I hear it’s a lot of fun.

I would have liked to get to Dubai before they closed Nad Al Sheba. The thing with travel to the Middle East is it’s dodgy right now. I wish the situation was that the world was a peaceful place and we didn’t have to worry about terrorism and unfriendly places for Americans to travel. Venezuela is a good example. They have four tracks, but the situation there politically is chancy. Zimbabwe has one track. South Africa, where they’re having the World Cup, I’d like to go there. It’s probably not as bad.

JN: Are there any tracks that closed down before you got the chance to visit them that you wish you could have gotten to?

TM: Let’s go with a group of tracks – The Massachusetts State Fair tracks. I hear that they were a blast. Northampton, Marshfield Fair and Brockton Fair. That’s three of them. There might have been a fourth. I hear Northampton was a great time. I hear so many wild stories written and told about those tracks – betting coups and horses that, if the meet was seven days, they ran three or four times and won each time. That would have been cool to see.

As far as actual, top-level tracks, I’d probably go with Evry Racecourse in France. It’s south of Paris. They say that was really nice. I think Godolphin took it over as a training center for two-year-olds. Nad Al Sheba was probably the nicest track I never got to.

JN: Have you ever traveled to a track to find the races have been canceled?

TM: I have. It’s devastating.

The worst cancellation on me was when we were in Australia. There is the oldest racetrack in Australia in the northwest of New South Wales called Wallabadah. They’ve been racing there since the 1890s on that site. It’s a little, small country track that runs one day a year.

It had been raining a little bit earlier in the week, then we had a few days of sunshine. But that Friday night and Saturday, the whole time we were driving up, it’s raining, and I’m thinking to myself “They’re gonna cancel this meet. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” But, we were going to hit another track the next day in that general area, so we were going to persevere.

We get up there and there’s nothing. They called off racing the previous day at 2:30, unbeknownst to me. It was a bummer because you only get one day a year. Every year, Jan. 1. Like clockwork. And we get there on Jan. 1 and no racing. I was really hoping that they would have put it the following Monday, but everybody I talked to in the area said they were not going to reschedule it. They were just going to abandon the meet and try again next year. So that means I’ve got to spend another New Year’s Day chasing Wallabadah.

JN: You try to schedule your tracks so each milestone visit lands on a special track or race. Number 300 is coming up soon. Where to you plan to go?

TM: Fairyhouse in Ireland. Easter Monday is always the Irish Grand National; April 25. So that’s great. It’s springtime-ish. It’s better weather. The problem is, it usually runs into the Punchestown Festival, a six-day race meet that they have, so I don’t know how they’re going to work that out with the Irish racing schedule. I hope they don’t tinker with it. I haven’t booked that flight yet, so I’ll be in touch with the Irish racing Jockey Club equivalent and try to make sure that they are, in fact going to race on the 25th.

JN: Your plan for your 1,000th track is to attend the Melbourne Cup at Flemington. Will you have to dip into Standardbred or full Quarter Horse tracks to get to that number?

TM: No. I’ve cataloged over 1,100 Thoroughbred tracks in 60-some countries. There’s a lot there. France has over 100 tracks. In Australia, there are just under 400. But that’s the hard part because they’re on the other side of the planet. A lot of these tracks only run one day a year, and a lot of tracks in Australia only race on New Year’s Day. A lot of the tracks I’d like to get to, there’s just not a lot of information on, like in the Caribbean. They’re tricky to get to.

JN: Do you have any plans to document your experiences in a book or website?

TM: My brother’s encouraged me to write a book about it. He loves racing as well. We were at track 200, Great Meadow Race Course (in Virginia) and he said “Tom, you need to write a book about this.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Man, how am I going to remember some of these tracks?”

The nice thing is most of these tracks have left some type of permanent impression on me. For some reason, God has blessed me with the memory of being able to keep those kinds of things somewhat fresh. But then there’s other tracks, smaller ones in Germany, where some I remember and some I just don’t have a recollection at all. I’m sure I would have to just go see the track again, even if I don’t go to a meet, and once I saw it, it would toggle or jog my memory and it would bring a lot of these things back.

JN: You have been to 284 racetracks now and have seen the best and worst racing has to offer. Having experienced all of that, what do you think constitutes a good racetrack?

TM: First of all, it’s got to be visually appealing and clean. Obviously, you don’t want trash all over the place. It’s got to have good visual sightlines for the races themselves. A nice grandstand’s a bonus. Just the visual appearance of the race course itself, because you’re going to be there for three, four, maybe five hours. You want to be in a place where you’re comfortable, where you feel at ease. Not too crowded, but even on crowded days, as long as those other things fall into place. A lot of green if you can; like a nice, green apron as opposed to concrete or asphalt. Just a track that’s visually appealing makes for a great day of racing.

Better racing is always a positive. Ample, inexpensive places to eat. Track-friendly people, polite tellers or bookmakers, staff at the track.  That makes a bonus to a really nice racetrack. You can have grade one horses, but if everybody’s bad to you or the place is a dump and there’s trash all over the place, then it’s really pointless. I’d rather go watch $2,500 claimers if the track is nice and people treat you well.

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

To learn more about Miscannon and his travels, another interview on horse racing site Lovedagoat.com can be found here.

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17 Comments

Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pinnacle Race Course, Story Time

17 responses to ““Racetrack Collector” visits Michigan tracks

  1. How did you know who he was and what he did?

  2. mibredclaimer

    We had corresponded by email a few weeks earlier when he was looking for info about MPM. He also included a feature done about his travels by the Steeplechase Times to prove his legitimacy.

  3. Impressive. I am shooting for 40 this year…not even 1/7th of Tom. Ouch!

  4. I liked the interview with Tom. What he says about what constitutes a really good track applies to any breed.

    I know Tom doesn’t travel to harness tracks. However, if he ever is going to go to one, he needs to go to the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio on Little Brown Jug day. He would love the experience. He doesn’t even need to include it in his count.

  5. old time race fan

    This guy must have some serious resources to hit those places in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, etc. Nevertheless it is a cool idea — even if you stick to the good old USA. I have to agree with his high opinion of Arlington. It is beautiful.
    I wonder if he had visited Great Lakes Downs or old DRC?

  6. mibredclaimer

    ZATT,
    I know what you mean. I felt pretty good for adding one new track so far this year (Arlington. Awesome). Then I saw this list and became humbled. Someday…

    Pacingguy,
    Thanks! It does indeed. I have become obsessed with the question as of late so I was excited to ask someone like him about it.

    I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Little Brown Jug day. I’m not a huge harness guy, but I may have to venture down there myself someday.

    Old Time Race Fan,
    Arlington may have worked its way into being favorite out-of-state track to visit, too. Hopefully, I’ll have the recap of my visit there sometime next week.

    As for the tracks, GLD: Yes (#193), DRC: No.

  7. old time race fan

    Too bad the guy never got to see old DRC. It was nothing beautiful, but a gritty working class track with many good things to recommend it. I played hooky from work on occasion and ended up there for the races many times.

    Black Tie Affair taking one of the last Michigan Miles and then finishing off with the Breeder’s Cup Classic — that was a heck of a year (1991). I saw where poor old Black Tie just recently passed on.

    Every time I drive by the site, the memories come back. There was some good racing there for a time. The Mile was a Grade 2 at one time, if I remember correctly. (Grade 3 for sure)

  8. Mary Pitt

    The fourth Massachusetts fair track was Great Barrington, out in the southwestern corner of the state. My husband, who is from Birmingham, England, has done three of the four, and Brockton wasn’t easy because it only reopened for one year – and he got there twice! He and I have done every track in the UK (including the newest, Ffos Las in Wales) and all but four in Ireland.

  9. Chris Pitt

    I live in England and have done over 150 tracks worldwide, including in US, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Dubai and Hong Kong. I also wrote the book “A Long Time Gone” that chronicles the 100 or so tracks that closed in Britain during the 20th century. The one track you must try to get to is Laytown in Ireland; it’s a one-day a year fixture that takes place on the beach. The time of the first race is determined by when the tide goes out! It is about 28 miles north of Dublin (easy to get to from Dublin airport) and it’s truly unique. This year’s takes place of on Tuesday 7 September, so you could fit that in with the Irish Champion Strakes at Leopardstown (Sat), Dundalk (Sun) and Roscommon (Mon). Laytown is an absolute must.

  10. ZATT – #40 this year, before you know it, you’ll be picking out a special track for #100. Best and safe travels.

    pacingguy – I’ve been to a few harness tracks, most notable is Gloucester Park in Perth, Western Australia (probably because I had a pretty nice win there). I’m sure LBJ day is a blast. Maybe someday.

    old time race fan – actually, my resources are somewhat limited. I can thank the US Navy (20-year career) for allowing me to “go racing” worldwide. My last duty assignment (4 1/2 years in Belgium) gave me the opportunity to visit 73 racecourses in Europe. Couple that with a 3 year tour in Scotland (33 racecourses), 10 months in Australia, numerous temporary duty assignments, and a couple of port visits. Join the Navy and see the world; or in my case, visit racecourses. Since retiring from the Navy, I pretty much depend on game fees that I receive from refereeing soccer (yeah, I have to referee a lot of games).

    Would have liked to visit DRC. Unfortunately, the mid-’80’s through the mid-90’s were lean years (raising 3 children). Those 10 years only yielded 39 tracks. However, I was glad they opened Pinnacle and enjoyed my visit there last Saturday.

    Mary Pitt – I thought there was a fourth MA fair, I just couldn’t think of it. Awesome that you have visited all of the UK racecourses and most of Ireland (I’m almost there). What is your favorite in the UK and in Ireland? For me, it’s Cheltenham and Leopardstown. Favorite lower-level would be Cartmel and Sligo.

    • Mary Pitt

      Hi Tom,
      In England, my favorites are Cheltenham, Newmarket’s July course and Sandown. Wolverhampton is one of the closest to us, and the one that most reminds me of American tracks.
      In Ireland, you can’t beat Leopardstown, it’s a world-class facility. Saw Sea The Stars win the Irish Champion Stakes there last year. Sligo and Killarney have pretty scenery. I love Laytown. I’ve been a couple of times and got some great photos. It’s amazing that only a small plastic fence separates the horses from the crowd. At what other race track can you see kids building sand castles?

      • Tom Miscannon

        Mary (and Chris),

        I’ll be coming your way in November. Here’s my itinerary:

        Fri, 11/5 – Fontwell
        Sat, 11/6 – Wincanton (1st visit)
        Sun, 11/7 – Ffos Las (1st visit)
        Mon, 11/8 – Carlisle (1st visit)
        Tue, 11/9 – Sedgefield
        Wed, 11/10 – Bangor
        Thu, 11/11 – Taunton (1st visit)
        Fri, 11/12 – Cheltenham
        Sat, 11/13 – Punchestown (1st visit)

        If you would like to meet up, let me know. It looks like Cheltenham and Bangor are the closest.

  11. Chris Pitt – I image you have a pretty impressive list of racecourses. I’m still looking forward to visiting some of the countries you’ve made it to. I will try to get a copy of your book. I’m sure it is an interesting read.

    Concerning Laytown, I attended the meet in 2007 with my two brothers. It was a fantastic day. We started with a round of golf at Laytown & Bettystown Golf Club. Then arrived early enough to watch them construct the “racecourse” or at least the last couple of furlongs. Weather-wise, it was a spectacular day and Katie Walsh bailed me out with a nice win in the last race.

  12. I believe there was also Fair racing at Weymouth Ma and Middleton Ma. For a few years after Great Barrington closed the same horses and jockeys raced at Berkshire Downs near Pittsfield Ma. I have been to 93 tracks .Three in Ireland and Two in Canada. I’ve never been to England. I find it hard to believe there was ever a more beautiful race track than Haileah in the 60’s . I’ll be brecking 100 shortly but thats going to be about it.

  13. ragman

    All afternoon I’ve been tossing this racing situation around in my mind. The only hope I see is for the Racing Law to get changed. Allow ADW betting by Michigan residents and……(I’m afraid to say it but here goes) find a way to get thoroughbred racing back at Hazel Park. There is no handle at Pinnacle and the track is to far from the bulk of the population. I really question the management regardless of the hurdles put before them. Sundays in September Lions at Bears, home to Philly and the at the Vikings and Packers. UM and MSU on Saturdays. So many bad choices.
    Tom hope to see you at Hazel Park someday.

  14. Tom Miscannon

    ragman – Concerning legalization of AWDs in Michigan, I couldn’t agree more. I was surprised to find out that internet wagering was not permitted. And if Hazel Park starts running thoroughbreds again, I’ll be there!

  15. Longshot

    TB’s will never race at Hazel Park again. Bank on it.
    There isn’t even a barn area there anymore. That’s why we ended up in Muskegon. We would of rathered fight it out there than to have H.P. say to the HBPA in 1998. We want you to PAY to build the barn area back up. Yeah right, your friggin track. But you want TB Horsemen to build your stable area for you. Don’t think so.

    So you better get it out of your mind that H.P. will ever get us back into that Bull Ring. Because it’s never going to ever happen.

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