Opening day 2011 at Mount Pleasant Meadows

Opening day at Mount Pleasant Meadows was the climax of a roller coaster year for the central Michigan track. Porsche Pink is led to the winner's circle with Nate Alcala aboard.

On the track’s Aug. 1 closing day last year, the idea of Mount Pleasant Meadows hosting Michigan’s lone Thoroughbred meet seemed outlandish.

A lot can happen in a year.

The central Michigan racetrack’s July 24 opening day was last stop of a roller coaster offseason that included the shuttering of Pinnacle Race Course and months of “Will they? Won’t they?” tension as the state, the track and the horsemen all worked to get on the same page.

The pressure went down to the wire, as the Michigan Gaming Control Board balked on approving Mount Pleasant’s live meet until just days before it was scheduled to commence. Once the paperwork got signed, the gears got turning – and with little time to spare, they got turning fast.

Since Mount Pleasant called it a meet last year, I have been to more racetracks around the country than I can count on two hands. At no point was I more genuinely excited for a day of racing than I was for this year’s opening day.

By the time the horses came over for the first race, I could hardly contain my giddiness, and it lasted throughout the card. The tension that built up with every event that made it look like the place would never host another race had finally come uncoiled. This feeling could have also been due in no small part to mild dehydration, but it was still pretty amazing, nonetheless.

I have been watching and playing the races at Mount Pleasant for years, but for the first time since I first picked up a program, I had absolutely no idea how the races were going to shake out. Would the native horses and riders have a home-track advantage until the new ones figured out the four furlong bullring? Would class prevail regardless of the racing surface? Would horses and bloodlines that succeeded at five-furlong Great Lakes Downs recapture the magic? Would the horses bred for Pinnacle be able to adapt? As it turns out, the answer for just about all of these questions was “yes.” Every bettor on the grounds was on a level playing field, and it was an exciting time.

The best thing about opening day was, without a doubt, getting to see everyone in the same place – Thoroughbred people, Quarter Horse people, Arabian people and other fellow racing enthusiasts. Mount Pleasant is a very communal track, and that spirit was not lost on its new residents. I was glad to see this.

The crowd was robust – easily double the average attendance, if not more. I have never been good at eyeball estimating a crowd, so whenever I want to gauge the attendance at Mount Pleasant, I look out at the parking lot. On a normal day, the cars usually make two rows. On this day, they made four very long rows. It was kind of beautiful.

But enough talk, lets look at some pictures…

Be A Pal 4

Cynthia Iacovacci brought over the first horse to enter the paddock of the 2011 meet, Be A Pal.

Devil's Beau

Dave Gates hands over the reins of Devil’s Beau prior to the first race.

No More Committee - Ricardo Barrios 2

No More Committee heads out to the track with Ricardo Barrios in the irons.

MPM 7-24 Race 1

The field is away to kick off the 2011 meet.

MPM 7-24 Race 1a

The meet’s first field enters the stretch.

5 Areelfast Buddy - Julie Veltman 1 No More Committee - Ricardo Barrios@

#5 Areelfast Buddy and Julie Veltman fight off a rally from #1 No More Committee and Ricardo Barrios heading down the straightaway.

Areelfast Buddy - Julie Veltman 2

The winner of the day’s first race, Areelfast Buddy and jockey Julie Veltman.

1 Midnight Ransom - Christian Esqueda 5 Game At Night - Ricardo Barrios 8 Zip My Leo - Federico Mata

For a brief time, jockey Christian Esqueda was undefeated as a pari-mutuel rider. Esqueda won the first start of his career, with a front-running victory aboard #1 Midnight Ransom. He was greeted at the jock’s room by a cooler full of water, as is tradition when a rider notches his or her first victory.

Octavio Bernal

Octavio Bernal heads back to the jock’s room after a race.

Shake It Twice - Christian Esqueda

Shake It Twice is led through the post parade with Christian Esqueda aboard.

2 Mr Corona To You - Federico Mata 5 Montis Grand Concept - Nate Alcala 1

#5 Montis Grand Concept and Nate Alcala head back to unsaddle aside #2 Mr Corona To You, with Federico Mata aboard.

Mr Corona To You - Federico Mata 4

The first Quarter Horse winner of the meet, Mr Corona To You, ridden by Federico Mata.

Did you ever imagine a time when Freddie Mata would be the state’s leading Quarter Horse jockey? What a time we live in.

Federico Mata 3

The meet drew some of Michigan’s perennial leading riders, including Ricardo Barrios, Octavio Bernal and the above Federico Mata. With their presence also brought a few things rather unfamiliar to Mount Pleasant. Jockey’s agents roamed the grounds to represent their guys. As can be seen in this picture, some riders even brought their valets. At a track where the riders normally saddle their own horses and carry their own tack, it was one of many new sights to be seen on opening day.

Easy Ernie - Federico Mata 4

Of all the horses entered on Sunday’s card, I was most excited to see Easy Ernie. As some readers may recall, this Equality gelding was my “steal of the sale” from the 2009 MTOBA yearling sale, and he rewarded my analysis with an impressive maiden score at Finger Lakes and a strong second place finish at Hawthorne Race Course. After some early troubles on Sunday, Easy Ernie picked up the pace in the final turn and made it up for second.

MPM 7-24 Race 9

The beginning of race nine.

1 Western Pioneer - Nate Alcala 4 Cool Hand Loot - Lee Gates

Western Pioneer and Nate Alcala shoot to the front. The pair would hold on to the lead all the way around the track and win by a wide margin.

Porsche Pink 2

The connections of Denis Cluley’s stable saddle Porsche Pink prior to her maiden-breaking victory, in what many called the most exciting race of the day. After starting well out of it and remaining that way throughout most of the race, jockey Nate Alcala took the daughter of The Deputy (IRE) at least five or six paths wide in the final turn. Even coming down the stretch, Porsche Pink looked to be, at best, a contender for minor purses, but she managed to get the best of a three-way photo at the wire.

On a related note, I have never seen horses close with a rate of success at Mount Pleasant like I did on Sunday. In past meets, the horse that held the advantage heading into the final turn often unsaddled in the winner’s circle. To my recollection, only the mighty Waterbury has made his bones coming from behind at MPM in recent years. The majority of Sunday’s winners still came from the front, but the new dynamic made for many more exciting finishes and threw a wrench into the strategy of handicappers.

Federico Mata & Bob Gorham 3

Trainer Bob Gorham and jockey Federico Mata in the paddock.

Robert Cummings 5

Jockey Robert Cummings came up from Fairmount Park in southern Illinois and won a pair of races.

4 Wagon Load - Octavio Bernal 7 Cashier Ready - Robert Cummings

#4 Wagon Load and Octavio Bernal (inside) battle #7 Cashier Ready and Robert Cummings coming down the stretch. Those two, along with Suave Gentleman, pictured far left, dueled to a three-way photo, with Wagon Load coming out on top. The top three positions were each decided by a nose.

Wagon Load - Octavio Bernal 1

Wagon Load and jockey Octavio Bernal.

In case the pictures just don’t do it for you, I shot a video of day’s fourth race from the paddock to the winner’s circle. Hope you enjoy it.

And that was opening day. Attendance was high, the races were competitive and nobody got killed. Considering that the meet was in jeopardy just days before it kicked off, one couldn’t have asked for more.

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10 Comments

Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Racetrack Visits

10 responses to “Opening day 2011 at Mount Pleasant Meadows

  1. Old Time Race Fan

    nice photos Joe. That one of the stretch duel with whips flying is especially cool!

  2. Old Time Race Fan

    Interesting racing there at MPM. Those small pools make for quite skewed mutuel prices. Yesterday three horses in three races who were all around 2-1 paid $7.60; $11 and $18 for place!
    I wish them well but with less than $8000 in total handle, not sure what the future holds.

  3. This is why the horsemen would of rathered go across the State to Muskegon than MPM in 1999. Because they knew this was a hole in the middle of nowhere. Pinnacle never had a chance with the State dissolving the ORC and cutting our dates to 3 in 2010. GLD wasn’t much better. No patrons betting, no race track simple and plain. Nobody picks up MPM either.

    It was a lost cause from the Idea to go there. The HBPA didn’t need this mess. Paying for shipping just so a few on the board who thought they could clean up. It’s people out of Indiana and Ohio coming up here taking the money and running. This meet should of never occurred. The money should of been kept in escrow for the Mi. Horsemen in 2012 if there is a 2012.

    Campbell still owns the track but he either has to get an Investor and pay some bills or we have to find somebody to lease the place next year. 2008 taxes have got to at least be paid to keep the place from going to auction. And Michigan sits by and watches us die. It’s a damn shame.

  4. ragman

    Longshot
    There was a time when when three Detroit Papers carried entries and results from all over the country, early results from the Eastern tracks were on the front page of the early editions. Bob Reynolds gave all the results at 6:25 on WJR. CKLW gave nationwide results as they came in
    at 15 and 45 after the hour(the FBI tried for years without success to get the Canadian Government to have them stop). Bookies in all neighborhoods handling more than the tracks. That was then. Now no one is watching them die. They don’t even know they exist. The papers gave
    Pinnacle some space when they were starting out but that ended quickly.
    Maybe the only chance is somebody picks Pinnacle up for a song, gets
    the racing law changed and hires a real race track manager and gives it a shot without any machines. So when Joe leaves at the end of the week
    it basically over.

  5. josh

    hi my namy is josh cochran my age 19 my h 5′ 6 w 120 do you know how i can become a jocky thank you josh

  6. Old Time Race Fan

    ragman,
    a bit depressing, but you have told it like it is. How the heck can a track stay alive on $8,000 in handle? I don’t even see how that pays the light bill….plus, as noted above, nobody else will take their signal.

  7. Hey once upon a time the three Detroit news channels 2,4, & 7 ( when our TVs only had 4 with 9 and if you played with the rabbit ears 11 in Toledo ) gave out the Daily Double on the sports everyday they ran.

    Been long gone.

    And Josh,
    One doesn’t learn to be a jockey. Most started off very young like growing up with the horses, then exercise riding in the mornings at the tracks or farms. Your best bet is starting at Farms.

    You don’t say if you’ve even been around horses but by you asking this I’d say no. Race horses are not pleasure riding horses. They are on the muscle at all times. If you don’t know what your doing you may get yourself killed. Experienced people get hurt. I know I’ve been kicked a couple of times, once very bad in 95. My leg, hip and especially back have never been the same. Excruciating pain 24/7 now.

    Many people hurt on the track in the mornings and a few killed. Jerry Bennett Jr. in the early 90s got hit head on while breezing a horse because of the sun. Both riders landed in the hospital, they thought Jr. was going to die. And both horses had to be put down. This is no game out there.

    Anyway, you first have to learn how to actually stay on a racehorse then learn what you have underneath you. You have to know what part of that horse is off in to tell the trainer. And nobody just becomes a Jockey. You put in a lot of years being an exercise rider first.

    Go to a farm and explain your green. Some will be nice enough to work with you, some will be let’s just say not very nice.

    Good luck

  8. ragman

    Josh
    At 120 you would be to big. Rettle has an apprentice on horses in the last
    last two races at Thistledowns today. They should carry 113 pounds but because of the jockey’s weight it will probably be 114. He loses a pound advantage becuse of the jockey’s size. At 120 pounds the jockey wouldn’t be on the horse. You may not be done growing at 20.

  9. rox

    Unfortunately now you start as a stall cleaner, in a week or less you become a hot-walker, another week groom, then on to shed-row foreman or exersize rider. It used to be years of horse knowledge, but my how things have changed. Race track etiquette has pretty much disappeared. There are still good out-fits out there, but a lot of ones that treat it like an assembly line. So sad.

  10. You got that right Rox. I started off Hot Walking, the first trainer I worked for just wasn’t the teaching type. So I met and became friends with a trainer down the shed row from us. That individual started off by handing me a curry comb and said brush them.

    There were some horses 17-18 hands and every time they moved I feared getting killed in the stall. LOL

    Step by step, picking feet, poulticing and took awhile before they would let me wrap and put bandages on. In all about 4 years to learn how things were done the right way. How to spot fluid pockets in legs, ankles by just seeing, etc…. and what to do for each problem. Then you earned the title of Groom and that was years and years ago.

    And at 54 I still don’t know everything there is to know. When you can’t learn something new everyday then you’ve never learned anything ever. But these hands have worked some magic, but not overnight.

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