Tag Archives: Jennifer Granholm

Edmore horseman featured in Daily News story

The front page of Monday’s Greenville Daily News is two-thirds occupied by a story about the dire situation of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industries in Michigan.

This comes on a news day when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark health care reform bill, local towns battled over Google Fiber and the Michigan State University men’s basketball team won an NCAA Tournament game on a last-second shot.

Needless to say, this is a pretty big deal.

The story, written by Daily News staff writer Jessica Dudenhofer, focuses on Edmore Thoroughbred breeder Rick McCune, who has been hit hard by the decline of racing in the state.

Dudenhofer examines the negative repercussions of Proposal 04-1 and the effects the industry’s downturn has had on the state’s five racetracks. The story continues by looking at the number of jobs affected by the racing industry, both on and off the racetrack, and the puzzling lack of interest Gov. Jennifer Granholm seems to have in preserving them. The article wraps up with a discussion about the massive state cuts in funding to horse racing programs. Line items appropriated by the Ag Equine Development fund are generated by the racing industry itself through a tax on simulcast handle.

Others interviewed for the story include Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Patti Dickinson, spokesperson for Gov. Granholm, Liz Boyd, and State Representative Mike Huckleberry.

To read the story, click here.

Also, be sure to check out the video that accompanies the piece. I make a brief cameo near the end holding one of McCune’s stallions, Research.

As is the case most times I come across a feature on a Michigan horseperson, I will take this opportunity to stress the importance of outreach to the media and others who can be of assistance.

This story happened because the reporter overheard McCune discussing his situation at a legislative luncheon at Montcalm Community College earlier this month. She contacted McCune shortly after the meeting and set up the first of two interviews at his farm.

The end result was a front-page, screaming-headline explanation of the state of Michigan’s racing industry that can’t be missed by anyone reading the paper, or even walking by it. The story’s online presence will only help spread its message to an even bigger audience. All it cost McCune was some time at the kitchen table to talk shop and an extra trip to the barn to show off his horses.

It is an important time to ensure the public is informed about horse racing. There could be up to three casino proposals on November’s ballot, and it is critical that the public knows the benefits a healthy racing industry could have for the state if the right initiative is passed. The passage of Proposal 1 in 2004 is a prime example of how public misinformation can swing an election. One of the easiest, and cheapest, ways to reach lots of people and at least have the information out there is the mass media.

As always, I would be happy to assist interested parties in the process of contacting, interviewing or otherwise dealing with local media. Some time ago, I posted some contact information to various local news outlets. The link to that post can be found here. The list may have a few changes since it was first posted, but this a good place to start.


Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Michigan Farm News article accurately portrays racing industry

In recent days, I have received calls and emails from several people regarding an article in the Equine News insert of the Feb. 15 Michigan Farm News.

I had not read the story, but the fact that it had evoked such emotion from a broad range of people in and out of the racing industry compelled me to seek it out.

The article, written by Michigan Farm News editor Paul Jackson, absolutely lived up to the hype. Over the last year and a half, I have tried to project the issues surrounding Michigan’s racing industry in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner, but I wish I could nail it down like Jackson has in this piece. His story is the most accurate, truthful portrayal of the state of racing in Michigan I have read in a long time. While the story focuses on the harness side of the industry, its message rings true for everyone involved in Michigan racing.

In the article, Jackson outlines the consequences of a series of failures by the leadership in Lansing and elsewhere to not only assist the racing industry, but to even hear it out. The two major consequences outlined in the story are the exodus of Michigan’s horsemen to more lucrative states and the increase of abandoned horses due to strict anti-slaughter laws.

The departure of horsemen, Jackson suggests, can be largely blamed on the failure of state Congress to pass expanded gaming legislation in 2004, despite the obvious benefits, and the constant meddling of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Jackson highlights Standardbred trainer Rob Harmon, who moved his stable to New York after it became clear he could not make a living in Michigan. Despite his farm and family still residing in the state, Harmon said he had no interest in ever buying another Michigan racing license.

The other, less publicized, issue discussed is that of horse slaughter and abandonment. Jackson argues the leaders in Lansing and Washington D.C. turned a deaf ear to the agriculture industry in favor of animal rights groups who pushed for harsh anti-slaughter laws. Since then, the nation’s animal shelters have been packed to capacity, and those not lucky enough to be admitted have become part of the epidemic of abandonment by owners of all breeds who can not afford to feed or euthanize their horses.

The piece then discusses the hypocrisy of the animal rights groups who pushed for the legislation, focusing on the Humane Society of the United States. According to the article, the organization does not operate any animal shelters in the country despite owning a “multi-million dollar budget”. Subjects interviewed by Jackson suggest these groups’ desire to cause trouble without offering solutions only serves to create more problems.

Jackson’s article is a must-read for those unfamiliar with the dire situation of Michigan’s racing industry. While there are many factors that have led us to the point we are today, there is little denying that the antagonization of racing by those in power has been a major factor in the industry’s collapse.

To read the article “State, national laws put horses, racing on last legs”, click here.


Filed under Commentary, Politics

State Congress pushes racing funding bill through in the nick of time

Good news from the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association website:

Your efforts have helped a great deal!  Our bill has changed to HB4311 and has passed the Senate!  As of 2:37 p.m. the bill was concurred with in the House.  It now moves to the Governor for her signature.  We have been notified that the Governor intends to sign this bill the morning of 11/6/09.  The ORC office was contacted this afternoon by the Governor’s office and instructed to report for work tomorrow, 11/6/09.

Prior to the Legislature’s rapid action to approve the funding, all live and simulcast racing in the state of Michigan was scheduled to shut down indefinitely at midnight tonight.

HB4311 was initially a bill to fund correctional services, scholarships and election reform projects. It appears the racing-related items were added on along with funding for community health programs, wetland protection and can & bottle return fraud protection.

The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 32-2 with with three abstentions. It then went back to the House where it was approved by a 91-12 margin with seven not voting. Click the links to see the roll call votes from each chamber.

In the midst of the shift over to the new bill, the Senate also modified the amount of funding to the three racing-related line items. The Office of Racing Commissioner and Producer Security (Grain Elevators) line items saw a decrease, while the Horse Racing Indusrty Programs line saw increased funds.

For a spreadsheet detailing the changes in funding between the  bills, click here.

For more information on HB4311, click here.


Filed under Politics

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.


Filed under Politics

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.


Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Positive signs?

Who knew all Michigan racing needed to get Lansing on its side with alternative wagering was a major economic collapse and a budget deficit the size of Montana?

The Michigan HBPA website reports…

PULL TABS AT RACE TRACKS: As the state scrambles to complete the budget process for 2009-10, discussions have centered around allowing tracks to offer  “lottery pull tab” machines to generate needed state revenue and assist the tracks in the challenge to stay in business. The MI-HBPA has supported for years additional gaming at the race tracks and are very interested in working with Lansing to develop a comprehensive plan for additional gaming. As expected, the “pull tab” proposal must follow the requirements set in the passage of Prop 1 in 2004. Pull tabs, as well as, VLT’s will need local and statewide approval.

The MI-HBPA is currently working on proposals for VLT’s and internet account wagering (ADW’s) on horse racing to assist in saving our industry. As the challenges grow with the approval for VLT’s in Ohio to maintain our horse population, we look forward to working with Lansing to get it right. Serious efforts need to be coordinated to develop a comprehensive package to generate state revenue and the needed revenue to save the racing industry.

A comprehensive plan will offer the state millions and save an industry with a 76 year history of being a producer without the need for state subsidies. The racing industry is willing to work with the state to support a much higher take than currently offered by the casinos throughout the state, at least double. The MI-HBPA is committed to working with all parties in developing a fair plan for all as we face extinction.

Additional gaming that belongs in a comprehensive plan:

1) VLT’s at all race tracks as Ohio, Penn, Indiana and West Virginia

2) Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW’s) internet wagering on horse racing in Michigan currently is projected to be 60 million dollars, money leaving the state to wager on horse racing and the state, horsemen and tracks gain -0- from the activity, because wagering on the internet in Michigan on horse racing is illegal. So, it goes on with no controls, no revenue and continues to grow nationally. One ADW company in Michigan has enjoyed over a 50% gain in the first quarter of 2009 while our simulcasting wagering is in a nose dive and industry all but gone.

3) Intstant Racing machines to allow wagering on archived races.

Basically, with the race tracks involved in the gaming business, they should be allowed to compete fairly for the gaming dollar and offer any game that any competitor offers. Competition is good for the consumer.

While Pull Tabs would certainly be a welcome addition to Michigan’s racetracks, hopefully the state does not see them as a way to appease the industry and stop there. Pull Tabs are indeed very entertaining. I myself am a frequent player when I visit my local bars and dining establishments. However, Pull Tabs must be seen as a first step toward bigger and better things, not an ultimate solution. Pull Tabs are more of an impulse item, while casino-style gaming is a destination. Still, anything to boost the purse structure will be greeted with open arms.

One thing that strikes me as odd about the push for Pull Tabs is it appears the tracks must adhere to the demands of Proposal 1 to install the machines. However, if my memory serves me correctly, the Pull Tab machines in my local establishments were installed well after the 2004 election without any kind of electoral hubbub. Proposal 1 was written to stop Racinos, but I was under the impression it applied to everyone not granted immunity by its language. Surely the racing interests have people on their side better versed in the intricacies of Prop 1 than myself, but if the Double 6 bar in McBride, Michigan can get Pull Tabs without anyone raising a fuss, there is little reason to treat racetracks differently.

In related news, it appears Gov. Jennifer Granholm is (finally) on board with the possibility of implementing alternative wagering. Granholm was on WWJ Newsradio 950 Thursday to discuss placing an expanded gaming issue on a future ballot to help preserve the state’s education programs, namely scholarships for college students and laid off workers returning to school. The interview and a small write-up can be found here.

While having the governor publicly support the cause for expanded gaming is definitely a big positive for the movement, forgive me if I take a “wait and see” approach to her statements. Granholm’s track record with the racing industry has been less than stellar during her time in the executive position, most recently shooting down a bill to help restore supplemental funds to Michigan’s horsemen. Cuts like these would have been much easier to swallow if the governor had shown the same openness to expanded gaming then as she is now.

Until the talk turns into action, I approach all of these developments with cautious optimism.

For additional coverage on Gov. Granholm’s newfound support of racinos, a WLNS Channel 6 feature focusing on Sports Creek Raceway can be found here. The link to the video is in the upper left hand corner.


Filed under Commentary, Politics

Lockwood appointed acting Racing Commissioner

Genesee County Commissioner Patricia Lockwood has been named acting Racing Commissioner, according to the Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner website.

The details of Lockwood’s appointment were not immediately available, nor were the terms of the “acting” title. The position of Racing Commissioner is normally a four-year appointment, but Lockwood’s term could be abbreviated because she was brought in during the middle of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s term.

Lockwood replaces former Racing Commissioner Christine White, who resigned on June 30 to accept a position with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Lockwood, a Fenton-based Democrat, was elected to represent the Genesee County Board of Commissioners’ 6th district in 2008. She previously served as a state representative from 1998 to 2001 and was the mayor of Fenton from 1989 to 1998. In 2004, Lockwood was appointed as the state’s Emerald Ash Borer Policy Director.

Other positions Lockwood has held include State Transportation Commission Advisor, minority vice chair for for the House Local Government/Urban Policy and Transportation Committees and President of the Michigan Municipal League.

I’m going to hold off on editorializing too much at this time, but I will note that nowhere in Lockwood’s resume do I see experience with horses or the racing industry.

Keep an eye out for new updates to this story, because there are sure to be some. As always, when I know something, you’ll know it, too.


Filed under Politics

Michigan’s Racing Commissioner Resigns

Big news on the Michigan HBPA wire today…

COMMISSIONER RESIGNS: Racing Commissioner Christine White notified the ORC staff June 30th that effective “at the end of this week” will resign the position as Commissioner to accept a position in the US Department of Agriculture. Position with the US Dept. of Agri. will begin Monday, July 6th. 

There had been some chatter about this move happening for several months, but now it’s official. No word has been made on potential candidates to replace Commissioner White on an interim or permanent basis.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports White’s new position will keep her in the Lansing area as Michigan’s Executive Director for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. White has held several positions with the USDA prior to becoming the state’s Racing Commissioner in 2005. 

This is still somewhat breaking news, so as soon as I find anything else out, you’ll see it here.

In the meantime, I hope Gov. Jennifer Granholm carefully considers her options when appointing the next Commissioner. Her actions regarding the racing industry as of late suggest the best interests of the sport may not be served, but I hope I am wrong on this. Michigan’s racing industry has suffered from a void of leadership in Lansing for quite some time and the time is now to put someone in the captain’s chair who can right the ship.

Five bucks says the new commissioner’s last position was at a casino.

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

Though the news is fairly breaking, I have already heard word of some preparing their resumes for the newly vacant position. I considered sending in mine, but I don’t think my last two positions as “Thoroughbred Times Intern” and “Amateur Racetrack Opinionator” are going to be enough to get me over the hump.

However, the intrigue surrounding this open position has given me an idea. 

As part of the coverage following the appointment of the new Racing Commissioner, I am opening up my blog to guest posts from serious applicants to the position. 

If you are submitting an application to become the next Racing Commissioner and would like the public to know why you are the best person for the job, this is your chance. Granted, the position is appointed, not elected, but public support  is never a bad thing when shooting for a job in government.

Interested parties should email a 500-word or less statement outlining their plans for Michigan racing and what makes them the prime candidate for the position, along with a profile photo. Also, to confirm the legitimacy of the submission, please send a copy of your resume and cover letter, which may also be published with the submitting party’s consent. Submissions will be posted on a first-come-first-serve basis.

I look forward to reading the submissions and hopefully getting a vision of Michigan racing’s direction for the future.


Filed under Commentary, Politics

Granholm continues to disrespect racing industry

Sometimes, you just have to look at your government and shake your head…

The Michigan HBPA reports…

GOVERNOR STOPS HB4311: Governor Granholm has asked the legislature to not take any action on HB4311. The bill would have replaced the $2.4 million in cuts from the Ag. Equine Development Fund. These funds supported our programs such as Breeders Awards, Supplements, Stakes and Owner Awards. Her request has ended the opportunity to restore the funds, HB 4311 is done.

Once again, action in Lansing has a negative impact on our industry, as mentioned these funds are generated by the 3.5% tax on simulcasting which produces more than enough to fund our programs. It is difficult to understand a decision to stop a producer for the state. This action was anticipated based on prior action in Lansing when it comes to supporting an industry with a 75 year history  and at least 12,000 jobs.

The HBPA Board realized that this could be the outcome. In anticipation, they decided to use purse pool funding to restore our dates to 74 and support the stakes program. The decision was costly when 8 days were reduced and all the starts that will not take place, but the meet had to be saved. One can only wonder how much influence our decision to support ourselves impacted the Lansing decision. The total amount to support the ORC and Programs is $463,600. Without support from the HBPA, thoroughbred racing in Michigan would have been over. 

See? I told you this whole ordeal wasn’t over. If a happy ending is to be had, someone in Lansing will crush it.

But seriously, Gov. Granholm’s constant antagonism of her state’s racing industry is downright laughable (in that “laugh so you don’t weep” kind of way). I can’t help but look at the public support Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, and Ohio’s head of state, Ted Strickland, give to their states’ racing programs (or at least a willingness to sign the right legislation) and wonder what we as a state did to deserve such an enemy of the industry in office.

The frustrating thing about Granholm’s disregard for pro-racing congressional action is that, unless I missed something, she has failed to justify any of it. There has been no public explanation for her actions as far as I can tell. The fact that she does not seem to be held accountable by anyone for this, or any of her previous atrocities against the industry, is a frightening notion. At this point, I would even be appeased by some neutral political doublespeak; just give me something.

From the HBPA’s report, it seems Pinnacle’s season won’t be affected by this bill dying. It appears those who depend on the supplemental awards will get the shaft (myself included), but at least they’ll still be putting horses the gates. However, I am not sure how this will alter things at Mount Pleasant Meadows or the state’s three harness tracks. I’ll ask around at Mount Pleasant this Sunday and see what I can find out.

On a slightly more optimistic note, it appears some state congresspeople are holding another brainstorming session in the near future (thanks, Otis). I don’t know how much good it’s going to do if the Governor is, in all likelihood, just going to shoot it down like everything else, but at least they’re still trying to figure something out.

I really don’t like it when my posts get this politically charged, but my frustration with the Governor, and a good chunk of Lansing for that matter, is reaching its boiling point. I promise the next time we meet, it will be about things that happen on the racetrack and not at the Capitol Building.


Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Michigan Notebook: June 4, 2009

Match a Bat and Nate Alcala finish ahead of Cosmic Sky and Juan Delgado in a Thoroughbred race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Match a Bat and Nate Alcala finish ahead of Cosmic Sky and Juan Delgado in a Thoroughbred race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

As mentioned earlier, it has been a big week for meetings. Here is what I have picked up so far…

– Monday’s Senate meeting in Lansing was not quite as public as I first expected. That being said, there were a lot of things discussed that probably were not meant to leave the room, or at least get the lid blown off them by a college student who hasn’t had an active press credential in about nine months. I like sitting in on these meetings. I don’t want to get shut out of them just yet.

With that in mind, here are a few things I do feel comfortable sharing at the moment…

1) The meeting was conducted by an assistant of Senator Cameron Brown who took the information from the discussion back to Senator Brown. It was held in the office of Senator Ron Jelinek, but to my knowledge, no members of the Michigan Legislature were in attendance.

2) The people in charge of answering questions about the Office of Racing Commissioner’s bankroll said the biggest impact of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s executive order slashing its budget was not so much the cut itself, but the fact that it was done in the middle of the year when a considerable portion of the budget had already been spent. Had the cuts been at the beginning of the fiscal year, the ORC rep said they would have been easier to adapt to. 

3) The Senate has proposed folding the ORC into another department to save money. Right now, it is a Type I agency that reports to the Governor. The two leading options right now are the Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Gaming Control Board. The thought process was though the gaming board has the investigative capabilities the industry needs, there were concerns that it does not have the promotional prowess of the Department of Agriculture. Either way, integrating the ORC into either one is seen as a long-term project 

4) Nothing was decided. Some interesting things were said, but ultimately, everyone was still in the same place they started when things wrapped up.

– Yesterday was the “Horse Racing Industry Focus Group” in Lansing. I have not heard much about what came out of the meeting, but the slideshow put together by the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association looks very well done. MHHA President Brett Boyd is one heck of a public speaker, so I have no doubt it was a very effective presentation. From what I have seen of him, the racing industry would be doing itself a huge favor by putting Boyd in front of as many cameras and microphones as possible. 

– Friday is opening day at Pinnacle Race Course. It should come as a shock to no one reading this that I will be there covering the excitement. I may even be making a return trip for the Saturday card. Expect some kind of write up and pictures once things settle down. Hope to see you there!

Until then, here is some reading material on Pinnacle from the Daily Racing Form and the Southgate News-Herald.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics