An evening at Hoosier Park

Fans of the former Great Lakes Downs will find a lot to like in Hoosier Park.

Frequent visitors to this site have likely picked up on how much I miss Great Lakes Downs.

The Muskegon track was where I learned many of the nuances of the sport, and where interest became infatuation as I followed my grandpa’s racehorse, Royal Charley.

Now it’s an empty lot.

I’ve spent a lot of time and gas miles trying to recapture the magic I felt at GLD, only managing to find it in small doses – usually when the lights come on for night races.

No track will ever fully re-create the Great Lakes Downs experience, but a night at Hoosier Park is about as close as it gets. In fact, with its adjacent casino, Hoosier provides a look at perhaps what could have been if slots had been allowed in Michigan before the track was sold to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and knocked down.

The Anderson, Ind. plant is an enclosed structure split into four sections. The entrance is at the top landing, housing the gift shop, restaurant, a bar and a couple mall-style food stations. From there, patrons can choose one of two paths down to the apron. On the right is the dining area, which sits on several levels down the stairs. As I did at GLD, I imagine the wait staff, who has to climb up and down those stairs to serve their customers, must have calves of steel. The left side held the grandstand seating. At the bottom sat some concession stands and betting windows.

The similarities to GLD continued as I made my way out to the apron. The track surface is raised at the end of the apron to about shin-to-knee level. Hoosier managed to improve on this setup by putting an eye-level opening in the fence, which made the viewing experience much easier than watching the field go by through chain link.

The apron area is a little more spread out than Muskegon, but the paddock is more scenic. A fountain overlooked the saddling area, which led into a nicely landscaped walking ring.

I spent the day with my former Thoroughbred Times traveling companion Jeff Apel and grade school chum Niki. For my first time visiting the track, they were far from the only people I knew. While sitting at one of the trackside picnic tables, I heard someone call my name from the track. It was another friend from school working as an outrider. Small world. Of course, there were also plenty of transplants from Pinnacle Race Course and Mount Pleasant Meadows looking to take advantage of the sweeter pots. There is no doubt this increased my comfort level with getting used to a new track.

The effects slots have had at Hoosier Park are apparent in the quality of horses the track sends to post. On that particular night, the card featured large fields highlighted by the third place finisher in last year’s Sanford Stakes (G2) and a fringe Kentucky Derby trail horse from this year’s race. That is more than most tracks in the Midwest can boast.

My luck at the windows dwindled with the setting of the sun, and I was already staring down an 0-fer. I scanned through my program with a sense of optimism when I noticed three Michigan-breds entered in the sixth race, but none of them could put up much of a fight against the previously mentioned fringe Derby trail contender.

As night fell on the track, the Quarter Horses came out to play. The card was divided up into nine Thoroughbred races and three Quarter Horse races, for a total of 12 races overall. If the Thoroughbred races were robust, the Quarters were downright juicy. Full fields (before scratches) entered the gates for each race to run for an average purse of $23,833 for the evening. That’s a spicy meatball.

Despite my familiarity with the various Mount Pleasant connections competing in the races, I continued to whiff on the Quarter Horse portion of the card. However, Mount Pleasant trainer Tony Cunningham and jockey Juan Delgado did manage to score in the nightcap with Cant Tell Me Nothing, so if I wasn’t going to get paid, at least someone I knew was picking up the slack.

With the races in the rear view mirror, Niki and I hit up the casino. Like Indiana Downs, everything that is not a straight up slot machine is digital. The table games are arranged similar to the real thing, but players place bets and recieve their cards on a monitor. While some bemoan the lack of actual table games, I prefer the digital versions because no one else has to see how big of a coward I am being with my bets.

Despite my relative ineptitude in most casino games, I actually found myself about $30 ahead near the end of the night. Then, as we were heading out the door, the roulette wheel caught my attention from the corner of my eye and begged for some of my time. Roulette and I have a strange relationship – like that one friend everyone has that can be lots of fun to be around, but taxing on the wallet. Even though it is a complete game of chance, I still find it fascinating. It can be broken down statistically, even though doing so is a useless venture. It can hit random hot and cold streaks with numbers and colors, then blow them up without warning. Every plan and superstition is absolutely right and absolutely useless at the exact same time; kind of like horse racing.

Unlike most of the faux table games, the roulette wheel is real, but automated, so a human being is not needed to spin the wheel or deal with the ball. However, the terminals were still there, so no one had to see I was only putting a dollar on red or black with each spin. When you play with as small a bankroll as I had though, hitting a cold streak can add up. After zigging when I should have zagged a few times too many, I decided to cut myself off while I was still up by a reasonable amount (something in the $20 neighborhood) and call it a night. I had some driving ahead of me in the morning, anyway.

Now that I have visited both of Indiana’s racetracks, there will inevitably be comparisons. The main thing to keep in mind when discussing Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs is that Hoosier was in place long before slots became a reality, whereas Indiana was essentially built with a racino in mind.

As a place to watch races, Hoosier is the better of the two. The overall racetrack experience is more vibrant and practical. For all the fuss about racino tracks not being able to draw fans to the racetrack side of the action, the crowd was reasonably robust for a Friday night card, and the bar stayed busy hours after the last horse crossed the wire.

The casino at Indiana, on the other hand, is a little better – at least in the eyes of someone who has been to three casinos in his life, with two of them being in the focus group. The games themselves were about on par with each other, but it just felt there was more going on at the Shelbyville casino. With that said, each is a worthwhile destination for someone looking for action.

Instead of waxing poetic one last time about how much Hoosier Park reminds me of the good times at Great Lakes Downs, I will instead note that I like the track so much, I intend to return for the Indiana Derby on Oct. 2. While I will never forget the fun I had in Muskegon, I intend to create my share of new memories at Hoosier Park in due time.

Behind the jump are some pictures of my visit to Hoosier Park.


Hoo Grandstand 1

The Hoosier Park Plant.

Hoo Paddock 1

The paddock. To the left is a walking ring and the path to the track’s opening. Behind me was a nice little fountain.

101_2811

My media credential for my camera. Much respect to the track that respects the blogger.

Presidentaladdress - David Mello 1

Presidentaladdress heads out to the track with David Mello aboard.

Hoo 8-20 Race 1

The field for the night’s opener leaves the gates.

7 Stormy Deception - Alberto Pusac 8 Presidentaladdress - David Mello

Stormy Deception (#7) with Alberto Pusac tries to hold off Presidentaladdress (#8) and David Mello coming down the stretch. The inside horse got it.

Dreymore - Nestor Monaldo

Nestor Monaldo urges Dreymore to the finish.

Sahmmy Falls - Eddie Martin, Jr. 2

One of the evening’s races featured three Michigan-breds. The first was 2009 Michigan Futurity winner Sahmmy Falls, ridden by Eddie Martin, Jr.. This was his first start since winning that race last October.

Red Bow Tie - Leandro Goncalves

Also entered was Red Bow Tie, with Leandro Goncalves aboard. This horse is one of my favorites in training right now because of his monstrous size. I remember seeing him as a two-year-old and being blown away by his build, and that feeling has never gone away. The picture does not do him justice. He must be seen in person.

Bentley Red - Alberto Pusac

Rounding out the Michigan contingent was Bentley Red, with Alberto Pusac in the irons.

Don't Put It Back - Rodney Prescott 2

However, none of them could do much against against fringe Kentucky Derby trail horse Don’t Put It Back, who won by double digits with Rodney Prescott in the irons. On the plus side, Bentley Red came in second and Red Bow Tie took home the show money.

Sharmona - Azael De Leon

Sharmona and Azael De Leon go through the walking ring under the lights.

1 Cant Tell Me Nothing - Juan Delgado 2 I Can Lead Too Yawl - Orlando Mojica

Mount Pleasant Meadows’ leading Quarter Horse jockey Juan Delgado guides Cant Tell Me Nothing, saddled by MPM’s co-leading trainer Tony Cunningham, to a win in the nightcap.

Cant Tell Me Nothing - Juan Delgado 4

Delgado and Cant Tell Me Nothing are led to the winner’s circle.

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13 Comments

Filed under Pictures, Racetrack Visits, Story Time

13 responses to “An evening at Hoosier Park

  1. Mark

    Thank you for such a factual and fun article about Hoosier Park. As I’m sure you know many people at Hoo work hard to make your experience pleasant. I hope to have a chance to say hello when you come back for the Indiana Derby.

    Mark

  2. ragman

    Joe
    It should be a no brainer that a track would want you to take pictures, post them and give them some free exposure to any potential customers. It seems the only time Pinnacle makes the paper it’s a negative.

    Sunday’s Pick 5 pool $23, Pick 4 pools $17 and $63, four of the Pick 3 pools under $85(17,63,83 and 85). Why would a track card a race distance(mile and 70 yards) that they can’t post the fractions for?

    Anyone know if Hazel Park put in for dates next year?

  3. Old Time Race Fan

    Joe,
    Very nice photos and a nice write up of Hoosier. I have always enjoyed it there. It has one advantage on the old Great Lakes in that the track is a 7/8 oval and not so much of a bull ring. I always hated those 4 furlong races. In fairness, GLD was originally made for harness racing. (I attended the trotters there one time back in the 80’s) It seemed like GLD; Hoosier and Sports Creek physical plants were all carbon copies. You got me thinking that Indiana Derby might be a plan. From West Michigan, where I live it is maybe 2 1/2 hours. They usually draw a few of the better three year olds around.

  4. scott b

    I have said it before, You should really visit Charles Town,WV Joe. A great track and better group of horsemen.

    Mon we suffered a tragic barn fire. That killed 29 at last count.I lost 1 Thru Ur Eyes a kind mare with a big heart.

    I live in Mi but race in WV.

  5. Erin

    I would be very surprised to hear that Indiana Downs was built with a racino in mind. The track opened in 2002 and slots were not approved until 2007, and did not appear until ’08.

    A temporary “blow up” building was erected to begin raking the $ right away while a permanent structure was built in the meantime.

    Now that slots are there, the layout of the track from a visitor’s standpoint has been obliterated. Walk in the huge double doors, and go straight through more double doors, past security guards to go to the casino; or, cut right after the first set of doors, to a tiny single door off to the side to go to the track. Before slots, there was a “tunnel” carved out of the grandstand for the horses to walk from the saddling area, just behind the plant, onto the track. (see http://tinypic.com/m/bi1clc/3 for a pic looking through the tunnel toward the track). This central location for the saddling area was great, a really above average layout in my opinion.

    Now, a hulking giant mirrored box sits there, dwarfing the grandstand itself and making a mockery of the track and racing altogether. You used to see the twin red-and-white painted turrets on either end of the grandstand from the highway; now you see the big glass box and lots of flashy “Indiana Live! Casino” signage. (Driving down the highway looking for the track, you might not even know a track shares this plot of land).

    The slots renovation is clearly a not-so-subtle admission that racing is the red headed step child kept around only because without it there would be no slots. I remember people used to argue that slots would bring people in, some of whom would also grow to be new racing fans. Then why is there no mention of a race track on Indiana Live! Casino’s website? (http://www.indianalivecasino.com/index.php)

    Slots are not the answer, especially because just the sort of tracks that need them are likely to be treated in this way.

    Sorry for the tangent. I very much enjoyed your write up of Hoosier Park. I just think it’s such a shame what’s happened to Indiana Downs, and wanted you to know it wasn’t always a casino first, or at all.

  6. mibredclaimer

    Mark,
    Thanks for the kind words. I hope we get the chance to meet as well. I’ll be the guy with the camera.

    Ragman,
    Yeah, those are the breaks. I haven’t heard anything about Hazel Park putting in for dates, but I haven’t been paying that close attention lately, either. That said, I would have to figure if they did apply, we won’t know anything until an official statement is made from the track or the Gaming Board.

    Old Time Race Fan,
    Thanks much! I was always kind of partial to the 4f races, but there’s no doubt that’s because that’s the distance my grandpa’s horses did their best work.

    Last year’s Indiana Derby had a decent field of late bloomers. With this year’s kind of mediocre 3yo crop, I don’t know what to expect from this installment, but it ought to be a good time regardless.

    Scott B,
    I’m very sorry to hear that you lost a horse in the fire. You have my condolences.

    I like playing Charles Town at the simulcast, as did my grandpa. One of these days, I’ll get out that way; maybe for CT Classic night.

    Erin,
    Wow, I could have sworn it was built was later than that. To correct the oversight, the head of our research department has been fired, taken out back and shot. My apologies and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

    I agree Indiana Downs is set up rather awkwardly for a horseplayer. I’m especially not fond of the paddock being out on its own island up at the quarter pole, making it hard to look at the horses and then get back to the windows in time to make a bet.

    I also agree that the “bringing in new fans” aspect of slot machines has been shaky at best, but it is hard to imagine the number of people and horses shipping in to Indiana Downs from Churchill Downs if the slots were not in place. Racing may indeed be the red headed stepchild in terms of popularity to the casinos, but Indiana Downs outdid itself in terms of handle. They may not be at the track, but someone is betting on those races. Whether it works for the long term though, we will have to see.

  7. Erin

    Glad to hear the offending party has been appropriately dealt with 🙂

    You’re right the quality of the purses and horses have increased, and they are coming from KY, that’s a good thing…how long this slots magic will last, who knows. It’s just too bad they have done nothing to improve the on-track experience in the case of Indiana Downs (and in fact have made it worse). Compared to the luxury of the casino, you’d have to be a degenerate gambler like ourselves to choose the environment of the track over that of the casino. Certainly not much there to lure the uninitiated.

    You’re right about the current paddock, one can barely make the trek back to the windows in time to wager. I guess that’s one good thing about there being no lines.

  8. Tom Miscannon

    Joe,

    Nice recap and pics. I might want to bum a couple of them off you for my project.

    BTW, I’ll be at Retama and Zia this weekend.

    Keep collecting. Best, Tom

  9. Geoffrey Sarnataro

    Enjoyed the article.
    I enjoy playing both Indiana tracks and yes, the quality of racing has improved. Hoosier should consider racing at night on weekends, as it’s signal can’t compete with the larger circuts. I think simulcast players would pay more attention if they raced in less competive time slots.

  10. The Regular Guy

    Well written, Joe. You write from the heart and tell it like it is. Your photography keeps getting better and better.

  11. mibredclaimer

    Erin,
    I’ve only been going to Indiana since last year and this was my first visit to Hoosier. I don’t have the perspective of the tracks over time that you do, so it’s interesting to hear about it from that angle. It’s a shame more effort is not put forth by some tracks to improve their live experience, especially once the slots money comes rolling in.

    Tom,
    Thanks much! Just let me know what you need and I’ll be happy to supply. Have a good trip!

    Geoffrey,
    I agree with you that night racing is a much softer spot for a middle or lower size track to succeed. Night racing was Great Lakes Downs’ bread and butter and they carved out a nice little niche for themselves. This is just going out on a limb, but I wonder if the harness racing going on at Indiana Downs at the same time has anything to do with it? Maybe they don’t want their products to overlap any more than they have to?

    Regular Guy,
    Thank you very much! I’ll have some shots up from River Downs in the not too distant future, so keep an eye out.

  12. ragman

    Wednesday’s handle Thistledown and Presque Isle.

    Thistle no slots running in the afternoon with an average purse of $6088 for 8 races $1,182,248.

    Presque Isle with slots running late afternoon and early evening with an average purse of $19,750 for 8 races $675,356.

    Way to go Thistle.

  13. Dingle

    OMG, Hoosier Park is like a combination bomb/tornado shelter.

    It would be the safest track in America in the event of a disaster.

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