Tag Archives: Jerry Campbell

Michigan Notebook: August 26, 2010

Jockey Oscar Delgado has found success at tracks across the country, including Mount Pleasant Meadows.

– Crain’s Detroit Business has been monitoring the situation surrounding Pinnacle Race Course’s sale of a parcel of land to the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians and the ensuing controversy it has generated in the local government. The publication has published several updates since the deal was publicly announced, outlining Pinnacle’s economic situation, tax snafus by the Huron Township government, and concerns by local leaders about the handling of Pinnacle’s incentives to purchase and build on the property.

Here is a list of stories published on the site in recent days. There are some inaccuracies in a few of the details (most notably suggesting the racetracks themselves are footing the bill for additional State regulation when it is actually coming from the horsemen’s purse pools), but the general idea paints an unsettling picture of the relationship between the track and local government.

8-25 – Text of Wayne County Commission’s concerns about Pinnacle Race Course

8-25 – Commissioners weigh legal issues of Pinnacle land deal

8-24 – Tax bill snafu puts Pinnacle in arrears, Racecourse fights assessments, battles other financial problems

– Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley discussed the state government’s treatment of Michigan’s horse racing industry in his column on Thursday. Finley notes the hypocrisy of offering movie studios hundreds of millions in breaks and incentives to film in Michigan, while leaving horse racing, an industry that generates money for the state and provides jobs without the massive state investments, out to dry. Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Patti Dickinson and Pinnacle Race Course owner Jerry Campbell are quoted in the piece, as is spokeswoman for Governor Jennifer Granholm, Liz Boyd.

Hoosier Park put out a news item on Aug. 12 about Quarter Horse jockey Oscar Delgado, also a regular at Mount Pleasant Meadows. The piece profiles Delgado’s life and racing career, where he has won riding titles at Mount Pleasant and the inaugural Quarter Horse meet at Hialeah Park. He also discusses racing against his brother, Juan, who is among the leading Quarter Horse riders at Mount Pleasant and the Indiana circuit. Oscar Delgado currently hangs his tack at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa.

– The Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Yearling Sale is this Sunday at the Michigan State University Pavilion’s south barn. The yearling show begins ay 9 a.m. followed by the sale at 1 p.m.. For an online catalog of the sale, click here. To view this site’s preview of Sunday’s sale, click here.

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Campbell “indicates” sale of land parcel to Native American tribe

From the Michigan HBPA website

JERRY CAMPBELL SPEAKS TO HBPA BOARD: During agreement discussions, Jerry (Campbell, owner of Pinnacle Race Course) indicated to the members attending the meeting that he is involved in serious effort to offer Instant Racing (pari-mutuel wagering on old races).  In addition, he indicated that a portion of Pinnacle property south of the current structure has been sold to a Native American tribe that may build a “smoke shop” and potentially a casino. According to Jerry both endeavors are to offer millions to our purse pool. It is a an effort to save an industry whose “model is broken and must be addressed or the industry can not survive.”

No other information was immediately available, but if these “indications” are true, this could be a potential game changer. Instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with the tribal casinos, it appears Campbell has cut a deal with one of them. For those unfamiliar with the setup of Pinnacle Race Course, the track itself is built well off the road, leaving plenty of room for expansion on the property.

The tribe purchasing the land was not named in the HBPA’s release. However, it is worth noting that the Upper Peninsula-based Hannahville Indian Community applied last October to build a casino near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, about five miles away from Pinnacle. Clearly, this is only speculation on the writer’s part, but an agreement of this caliber would have clear benefits for both parties. Pinnacle would get its casino and the Hannahville tribe would have the extra bargaining chips of supporting the racing industry and building on a site that already hosts gambling. Or, the deal could have been made with a completely different tribe and this idea was a complete whiff. One would assume we will find out in the near future.

Another question that immediately comes to mind is how the potential casino money would be distributed. The HBPA’s release suggests the purse pool would be a benefactor, but horsemen’s programs including breeder’s awards are not addressed. Again, additional details are sure to come out as time goes on.

A move like this could explain Campbell’s relative silence in regards to the two casino petitions currently battling for a place on November’s ballot. If the deal with the Native American tribe goes as planned, the track would have no need for racino legislation. If it falls through, Campbell has a safety net in the ballot proposal.

Instant racing has been suggested in Michigan for several years, but its legality in the face of Proposal 04-1 has generated mixed results from attorneys and lawmakers. The poster child for instant racing is the state of Arkansas, whose Oaklawn Park was ready to offer Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated champion Zenyatta $5 million to square off before the former’s connections backed out.

For those with access to the print edition of Thoroughbred Times, senior writer Frank Angst wrote a feature in the April 17, 2010 issue that did a great job of explaining how instant racing works and how it has changed the culture at Oaklawn. Those seeking more information on the issue would be wise to seek out the story.

It will be interesting to see how these stories develop in the coming months.

In related news, the HBPA website also reports…

PINNACLE/HBPA: Both have reached an agreement to enable the 2010 season to get underway….backside to open May 15 and track for training Monday 17th…meet will consist of 44 race days thru Oct. 31, 2010. This agreement has been presented to the MGCB for their approval. Live racing to begin June 26th thru Oct. 31, 2010

An agreement has been executed by both parties.

However, an informal meeting was held Friday May 7 to discuss the possibility of changing the current agreement. The Michigan HBPA board will address the suggested changes ASAP.

Suggested changes include the possibility of moving opening day back to June 4 and terms of financial assistance to Pinnacle.

If any changes are made to Pinnacle’s schedule, they’ll be here as soon as they become public.

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Michigan industry leaders discuss unity, upcoming issues

Accomplishing the collective goals of Michigan’s racing industry will be easier if its factions work together, stated the common rhetoric of speakers during an industry meeting last Friday at Pinnacle Race Course.

Representatives from Michigan’s racetracks and horsemen’s groups, as well as the Office of Racing Commissioner and other members of state government, met under the track’s patio to make connections, discuss the direction of racing in the state, and introduce newly appointed Acting Racing Commissioner, Patricia Lockwood.

After recent announcements by Gov. Jennifer Granholm rekindled the possibility of alternative wagering in Michigan’s racetracks to help close Michigan’s gaping budget deficit, there was much to discuss.

The event, largely organized by breeder Ron Fitzgerald, was hosted by Pinnacle owner Jerry Campbell.

Campbell encouraged those in attendance to contact their state representatives and inform them of the benefits Michigan’s racing industry can have for the state’s economy.

“We want to work hard with our leaders in Lansing to see if we can get something done and help solve the budget crisis,” Campbell said.

Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association President Brett Boyd said he called Campbell, among many others, shortly after hearing about Granholm’s statements.

“My message to Jerry was I think we need to strike while the anvil’s hot,” Boyd said. “The opportunity is absolutely at our fingertips.”

Throughout the meeting, speakers discussed the immediate goal of implementing instant racing terminals with the long term goal of full-fledged racinos. Campbell said these additions could potentially quadruple purses at the state’s five racetracks.

However, an old foe stands in the way.

“Unfortunately, Proposal 1 is one of the most magnificently drafted pieces of legislation ever,” Boyd said. “It creates a lot of hurdles and obstacles for our businesses.”

Despite this challenge, Boyd was optimistic the state’s budget situation could be the factor that tips the scales in the racing industry’s favor.

“Never in history, and I’ve been around a while, have I seen the appetite of our state reps be so willing to help,” he said. “And now they have a problem we can help them solve.

Other speakers included the following:

– Patti Dickinson, Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association President
– Gary Tinkle, Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director
– Larry Julian, Former state representative and Michigan Equine Partnership Legislative Liason
– Mike Huckleberry, State Representative  (D-Greenville)
– Tony Cunningham, Great Lakes Quarter Horse Association President
– Cindy Denby, State Representative (R-Fowlerville)
– Mike Sadler, Chief of Staff of Rep. Mike Simpson (D-Jackson)
– Jack Krasula, Pinnacle Race Course Director

Acting Commissioner Lockwood delivered the final speech of the meeting, in which she said her office was ready to work for the benefit of the industry. Lockwood also expressed an openness to communicate and cooperate with the state’s horsemen, which she proved immediately by staying well after the meeting to visit with those in attendance.

“I know you’ve gone through a string of racing commissioners and you always feel like you’re starting again,” L0ckwood told the audience. “I can tell you that’s not the case here.

“I’m very up to speed on what the issues are, the challenges are,” she continued. “We’re going to be working on your behalf.”

Readers interested in finding out how to help support Michigan’s racing industry are encouraged to contact their horsemen’s groups for further information. Behind the jump is a list of organizations that would be happy to assist horsemen and race fans alike in supporting the industry during this critical time. If any groups have been omitted, feel free to mention them in comments.

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A second chance for a first impression

The Houghton/Gorham connection cashed many handicapper's tickets on opening weekend. T.D. Houghton heads to the winner's circle aboard Gunsight Mountain.

The Houghton/Gorham connection cashed many a handicapper's tickets on opening weekend. T.D. Houghton heads to the winner's circle aboard Gunsight Mountain.

I’m a little overdue on my look back at opening day, but the priorities of rooting for the home team kind of took precedent. Let’s jump into the wayback machine to last Friday, shall we?

Standing on the rail in between races, I overheard Pinnacle’s founder Jerry Campbell telling an anecdote about his concerns before the start of his track’s second season.

Before concluding a phone conversation with VP of Racing/Racing Secretary Allan Plever earlier in the day, Campbell requested if he could ask him one more question.

Plever replied, “Yes, we checked the starting gates.”

Clearly, the memories of last year’s opening day being delayed by 30 minutes due to a gate malfunction were still fresh in Campbell’s mind.

Fortunately, every new year brings with it another chance to make a first impression. The track’s first year produced several points of improvement, so I was just as curious to see how the track reacted to them as I was to see the races themselves.

Before the races started, the satellite radio channel broadcasting over the PA system played “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band. Can’t get off to a much better start than that.

Though not at the saturated level of last year’s opening day, the attendance for this year’s first live card was fairly robust. Considering I had not seen too awful much advertisement for the track in the local media (unless the Pinnacle execs were counting all the media coverage on the happenings in Lansing as promotional material), I was not disappointed by the turnout. Pinnacle is a pretty spread out place and because admission is free, there are no official attendance statistics, so I am mostly basing my judgement on how long I had to wait in line to place a bet. I was shut out at least once, which to me says there was an unusually large crowd there.

Cosmetically, Pinnacle hadn’t changed much from last season. Funding uncertainties and the generally unstable state of racing in Michigan slowed Pinnacle’s Phase Two of developments to a halt. Same paddock, same pavilion, same toteboard where racegoers have to stoop over to see the odds on the #5 horse (PLEASE just boost it up one extra foot. That’s all it needs). The only significant change from the 2008 meet was in the grandstand area, or lack thereof. Where there was once a set of temporary bleachers now sits a large tent with tables, TV screens and betting windows underneath. After suffering the worst sunburn of my life on opening day last year when the only shade near the finish line was a small tent for the concession stand, this tent was a welcome addition. Whoever made that call has my kudos.

Aside from providing some much needed shade the grandstand area, the tent also gave relief to another glaring weakness of the track’s east side. Last year, my biggest complaint about the track was the frustratingly low number of mutuel clerks on that end of the grounds. The only place to put down a wager on the grandstand side was a three-window shanty, which became overworked in a hurry, especially on big days. The addition of the tent brought with it three more betting windows and four TV screens. Though I have yet to see all six of the available windows open on the grandstand side, the addition of just one more clerk has helped move things along at a much quicker pace (I know I’m going on way too much about a stinking tent, but anyone who spent time at Pinnacle in the grandstand area understands how huge this is).

Just about every conversation I found myself a part of began with a comment about the state’s curious situation regarding the number of live days its tracks will run. Though rumors were abound speculating how long Pinnacle would have to showcase its product, most agreed that the only day we had guaranteed was the one we were at right now. Even track announcer Matt Hook did not have a solid answer for when to expect live racing at Pinnacle, frequently reminding patrons to check back for any changes in the track’s live schedule, currently running three days a week.

I have always been a fan of Matt Hook’s work, back to his days at Great Lakes Downs when I would go up in the booth to watch him call races. In between races, he would switch his monitor from the GLD simulcast feed to a local channel showing a rerun of  The Simpsons. Since then, I have always considered Hook to be a pretty cool guy.

The thing I like best about Hook’s racecalling style is how he keeps the audience in the know. For example, as the horses were leaving the paddock for the first post parade of the meet, he noted that last year’s leading jockey, T.D. Houghton, will likely not be a regular rider at Pinnacle this year, citing success at West Virginia’s Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort as a bigger draw. So far Houghton has only ridden in Detroit for opening weekend and does not appear be booked there again until this Saturday, which suggests he may come back for stakes races, such as the upcoming Lansing Stakes.

Also notably absent was 2008’s third leading rider Tommy Molina, who appears to now be hanging his tack at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows. An already rather thin jockey colony has become even smaller because of alternative wagering opportunities in other states.

However, these openings in the jockey colony have cleared the way for some newcomers to the Detroit racetrack. New for 2009 are Chicago-based rider Men Chen (who rode Mrs. Murphy in her first start at Hawthorne), Turfway Park jock Godofredo Laurente and journeyman/occasional GLD rider J.J. Delgado. The latter of the group has already established himself among the leading riders at Pinnacle in the opening days of the meet, winning several races.

Do not be mistaken, Pinnacle Race Course has a long way to go before it becomes a first-class racetrack. There are still many things that could stand a tweaking (or in some cases a downright pinch) and something has to be done about the deafening noise of the planes from the nearby Detroit Metro Airport taking off and landing overhead of the racetrack (Turfway and Keeneland are right next door to airports and don’t have nearly the noise problem). However, considering the track is still in its larval stages, it has made enough little improvements for me to at least let it slide for a while longer without being finished.

I still stand by my belief that the long-term health of Pinnacle Race Course depends on getting the project as close to complete as possible, but with the high wire act Michigan’s racing industry is currently stuck in, I’m just glad they are putting horses in the gates.

Here are a few pictures from opening day in case you missed it…

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Michigan’s race dates officially slashed

This was released by the Office of Racing Commissioner earlier today…

LANSING – Racing Commissioner, Christine C. White, today signed orders eliminating 101 live race dates for the remainder of the 2009 fiscal year ending September 30, 2009. 

The budget for the Office of Racing Commissioner (ORC) was reduced by $1.4 million in the Governor’s Executive Order issued on May 5, 2009. The budget for the ORC during fiscal year 2009 was set at $3.8 million and has been reduced by $1.4 million with only four months remaining in the fiscal year.   

 “This was the last thing we wanted to do,” Commissioner White said, “but our hands are tied. There is insufficient funding to get us through the fiscal year.” 

While the actual days are still in negotiation, the thoroughbred industry that includes Pinnacle Race Course will see a reduction of 42 days out of its original 82 days. Mount Pleasant Meadows will lose 18 of its 37 days. The harness industry will see reductions in two tracks.  Hazel Park will lose 38 days and Northville Racing Corporation will be cut the three days scheduled for this fiscal year. 

Obviously, this is the day Michigan’s racing industry has feared for a long time. I have already said my piece on the situation as a whole, so I will not rehash myself here. However, I do have some thoughts on this press release…

– According to this release, Pinnacle will get 40 days, as opposed to the 25 days the initial projections were reporting. However, ORC Information Director Liana Bennett said those lower figures were not official. The Detroit News reports Pinnacle owner Jerry Campbell met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm at Mackinac Island over the weekend and got some funding restored, which could explain the matter. However, a story today from Crain’s Detroit Business and Campbell’s reaction to the cuts makes me wonder what really happened up north…

Campbell said he met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and offered to have the state’s horse industry give up two days of racing and use the purse money from those days to fund the state track officials.

The racing commissioner said it needs $154,000 to staff the race days, Campbell said, which could be offset by the purse money from two days.

The governor listened but made no commitment, he said.

– Crain’s Detroit Business

The release also says Pinnacle is still in negotiation for dates, which may or may not have something to do with the two aforementioned stories. I am unsure if this means the actual number of race dates could fluctuate or if the issue is with how the 40 days will be disbursed throughout the season.

– Make no mistake, these cuts are bad. But with the average field sizes Mount Pleasant Meadows has been putting out so far, I am not sure if the track would have had the horses on the grounds to run more than one day a week anyway. The number of entries and races have both been rising steadily since opening day, but there are still too many four-horse fields to imagine an additional day of racing per week filling fields with any consistency. Ontario’s Ajax Downs opens in the coming days, meaning the influx of Canadian-based horseflesh leaving the gates could slow to a trickle, which would drive the number of entries even further downward. On the plus side, with half a season’s worth of purse structure now just sitting there, Mount Pleasant might be able to put up a few purses big enough to bring some horses back from Indiana.

– The release is vague regarding when the remaining dates will be run. When news of the cuts was first announced, the plan seemed to be to run Pinnacle from June to July and lay everyone off for the rest of the fiscal year (another part of the proposal that Bennett said was unofficial). It is not clear whether running 40 dates will expand the schedule into later months or if the track will be live for more days per week during the two months originally planned.

I’ll ask around and see what else I can find out. Keep checking back to this post as I get more information and turn my initial speculations into facts.

Until then, here are stories on the situation by the Thoroughbred Times and the Blood Horse.

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Pinnacle owner Jerry Campbell resigns from Magna board

Jerry Campbell, owner of Pinnacle Race Course, resigned Friday from his position on Magna Entertainment Corp.’s Board of Directors.

Campbell served as the board’s lead director and was a member of the company’s audit committee.

In 2000, Campbell, then chairman of Great Lakes Downs, was named MEC’s president and chief executive officer. The Muskegon racetrack was purchased by MEC a year later.

About seven months after taking the helm, Campbell resigned from his positions with MEC to sit on the board of directors. Magna chairman Frank Stronach eventually took the top position, which he holds today. 

Shortly after it was announced that Great Lakes Downs would close, Campbell began plans for Pinnacle Race Course near Detroit. The track hosted its inaugural card on July 18, 2008.

Campbell is the second Magna board member with Michigan ties to leave the company this year. Charlie J. Williams, another board member on their audit committee, resigned from his position on January 26. Williams, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, had served on the board since February 2007.

Campbell’s departure leaves MEC short of the NASDAQ-required three independent directors on their audit committee. Failure to comply by their next shareholders meeting on February 20, 2010 could result in MEC’s shares being de-listed from the NASDAQ market.

Sources:

MEC Press Release
Magna announces timing spinoff” – Thoroughbred Times
“Magna president resigns as company moves to Toronto” – Thoroughbred Times
Magna sells Great Lakes Downs” – Thoroughbred Times (by yours truly)
“Williams resigns from Magna Board of Directors” – Thoroughbred Times”
Explanation of NASDAQ Marketplace Rule  4350 (d) – Progenics Pharmecuticals Press Release

Special Thanks to The Business of Racing.

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