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Favorites dominate 2008 Sire Stakes

Mike Allen and Romeo Again prepare for the two-year-old males division of the Michigan Sire Stakes at Pinnacle Race Course

Saturday was not an awesome day to be a longshot at Pinnacle Race Course.

Of the six divisions contested in the 2008 installment of the Michigan Sire Stakes, four winners left the gates as the people’s choice. The longest priced horse to cross the wire first went off at odds of 4.80 to one.

Needless to say, it hard to make a buck at the windows. After whiffing on two exacta boxes, I scored on a dime super to put me two dollars in the black, tying my personal best at Pinnacle. I can’t seem to crack the place.

However, this number could have changed drastically had I not been shut out on multiple occasions. Though many of the bugs that riddled the track’s opening day have since been resolved, Pinnacle still suffers from a horrid bettor-to-window ratio, especially on the grandstand side.

For those of you unfamiliar with the setup of Pinnacle Race Course, the frontside is essentially divided into two areas separated by the paddock: the pavilion and the grandstand. On the pavilion side, there are at least two live tellers under a tent and at least five betting machines, supplemented by the occasional free-range teller and more windows inside the pavilion itself. While there was an occasional wait, the lines were normally no longer than six deep at the live windows and three deep at the machines; fairly manageable.

Where the problem lies is on the grandstand side. Because the area is the expected future site of a massive clubhouse, everything in the grandstand area is temporary, including the three-window betting shanty. Even on slower days, these three windows have a hard time keeping up with the demand of the betting public. On busy days, such as the Sire Stakes, placing a wager on a race with less than 10 minutes to post is wishful thinking.

This is a serious problem for two reasons. First, it means there are a lot of people standing in line waiting to hand the track money that are being turned away. I have heard from many sources that Pinnacle has not come close to meeting its projected handle figures, and one can not help but look at all the people who got turned away on big days and wonder how much free money they are turning a blind eye to just because no one is there to take it. The more money people wager, the more the track makes.

Second, to put it in political terms, the grandstand area is the racetrack equivalent of a swing state. From what I have seen, this is where the parents take their kids, where the first-time spectators stand to watch the stretch drive, and where the regular horseplayers’ wives shop at whatever completely non-racing-related booth is set up for the weekend. The people in the pavilion area – the horsemen, the pack-a-day simulcast players, the rich people, me – would pass through the gates every day if someone spit in their face upon entry. For a new racetrack without the tradition or tourism value of a Keeneland Race Course or Churchill Downs, Pinnacle can not afford to turn new, impressionable patrons off to the only product it currently has to offer: gambling. On opening day, I heard many people say they were not going to come back until the track was finished, if ever. That is an awful lot of lost wagering dollars, not even counting what could stem from these dejected racegoers’ word of mouth.

Simply put, if Mount Pleasant Meadows can’t handle that many people with three windows, it sure as hell can’t be done in the biggest city in the state.

Because constructive criticism is just bitching without the “constructive” part, I have a solution. All it would take to ease the burden on both the horseplayers and the tellers in the betting shanty is a single free-range teller wandering about the grandstand area taking bets. The lines would shorten at the windows and the employee designated to the position would easily pay for his or herself with the extra handle generated. Plus, with Michigan’s dismal employment rate, giving one more person a job looks that much better in the public eye.

But enough talk. Let’s look at some races…

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