Tag Archives: Matt Hook

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.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, Politics

Bubble Watch

Will Meadow Wise be Michigan's THoroughbred of the Year in 2009? He's as live as any.

Will Meadow Wise be Michigan's Thoroughbred of the Year in 2009? He's as live as any.

The Sire Stakes has a way of sorting things out when it comes to year-end awards.

In 2008, the winners of the marquee race’s six divisions accounted for all seven of the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s awards (one for each division and horse of the year) and six of the seven awards from Pinnacle Race Course, as decided by the track’s announcer, Matt Hook. Though the purses for this year’s installment will likely be no higher than the average stakes prize of $50,000, the races will no doubt still hold a special weight with voters.

With the Sire Stakes a week away, most of the division honors are still very much up for grabs. This Saturday will give the horses on the bubble a chance for a statement win to pad their resume.

With that in mind, let us take a look at each of the divisions and see who is in the driver’s seat heading into the Sire Stakes, who has some work to do, and who is grasping at straws.

In my forecasting of the divisions and their awards, I operated under the assumption that the Pinnacle awards are based solely on performance at the Detroit racetrack, while the MTOBA awards took into consideration the entire campaign of Michigan-breds in and out-of-state. If I am wrong in my assumptions don’t hesitate to correct me.

While reading these projections, keep in mind this analysis is strictly the opinion of this blogger. The views, rankings and projections do not necessarily represent those of the people actually deciding the year-end awards. These predictions are based on the horses’ projected paths through the end of the Pinnacle meet. If one of these horses goes crazy and takes down a graded race in Kentucky or something along those lines, these predictions will obviously change.

Now touch gloves and fight clean…

Two-Year-Old Male: With only one of the three stakes races for juvenile males complete, Prince of Paulie is the clubhouse leader by virtue of his win in the Sep. 12 Patrick Wood Stakes. Finishing first in either the Sire Stakes or the Michigan Futurity ought to be enough for the Meadow Prayer gelding to lock the award down with both groups. The horse with best chance of moving up should Prince of Paulie falter could be the runner-up in the Patrick Wood, Power of Titus. A win in the Sire Stakes would go a long way in grabbing the voters’ attention, especially if Prince of Paulie finishes off the board. The two-year-old season is just getting started in Michigan, so much is left to shake out.

Two-Year-Old Female: Similar to their male counterparts, Hustle Now holds the top spot in both jurisdictions on the strength of her victory in the Sep. 12 Sickle’s Image Stakes, the division’s only blacktype race to date. One more stakes win would give her two out of three, which ought to be enough. Second place finisher Top Touch showed a lot of grit during her stretch battle with Hustle Now in the Sickle’s Image. However she will be hard-pressed to shake her rival from her post because Top Touch is not eligible for the Sire Stakes. Her sire, Touch Gold, stands in Kentucky. A win in the Michigan Juvenile Fillies and some help might get the job done, though. All things considered, it is much too soon to declare solid favorites in this division. The picture for both juvenile classes will be much clearer after the Sire Stakes.

Three-Year-Old Male: Meadow Wise has shown up to every dance and has yet to turn in a clunker. A finish in the top two next Saturday will put him in the driver’s seat for year-end honors. Juggle and Perfect Start both have stakes wins to their credit, but would need a win in their next race (and for Juggle, probably some help) to overthrow Meadow Wise in either poll. Perfect Start’s out-of-state sire will likely keep him out of the discussion for the Pinnacle honors because he can not compete in the Sire Stakes. However, the Jump Start colt could have a date elsewhere on Sire Stakes day, as he is nominated for the Oct. 3 Ohio Derby (G2) at Thistledown. Regardless of what Meadow Wise does at Pinnacle, a graded stakes win might be enough to persuade MTOBA’s voters.

Three-Year-Old Female: This division has been a game of musical chairs between Moon Charmer, Hakuna Matata, and Baba Booyah. Each has finished in the top three in the last two sophomore filly stakes races and the orders have been shuffled each time, once even further by a disqualification. Heading into the Sire Stakes though, Moon Charmer holds the upper hand based on her win against older company, including 2008 Horse of the Year Valley Loot, in the Sep. 12 Farer Belle Lee Handicap. That win will need to leave a lasting impression, because the Indian Charlie filly will not be eligible for the Sire Stakes. Her two rivals need to win the Sire Stakes by a serious margin to offset a win against older company. A second place finish or worse by Hakuna Matata or Baba Booyah will likely dash their hopes for the sophomore filly honors.

Older Male: Meadow Vespers controls his own destiny in this division. A fifth straight Sire Stakes win, or maybe even a strong second or third, will clinch the older male title in both jurisdictions. His closest rivals, All I Can Get and Fiery Lake, will not be in the gates for next Saturday’s race and have not shown enough this year to pass the defending champion, which works even further to Meadow Vespers’ advantage. If Meadow Vespers should come up empty in the Sire Stakes, a dominant victory (at least five lengths and visually impressive) could vault perennial runners-up Hot Chili or Demagoguery into the discussion, but they would both face an uphill battle.

Older Female: Valley Loot has had a pretty good year by most standards, with a stakes win at Mountaineer and a third place finish in a $100,000 race at Presque Isle Downs. She just hasn’t done much winning at Pinnacle. Still, a first place finish on Saturday would clinch the MTOBA award and give her the inside track in the Pinnacle race. Having the name recognition as the defending Horse of the year doesn’t hurt either. Yawm Estoora is the only horse on the grounds to have won two stakes races at Pinnacle this year, but her disappointing performance in the Farer Belle Lee and ineligibility in the Sire Stakes leaves her closing argument lacking. Her resume may be strong enough to win the Pinnacle award though, especially if Valley Loot runs poorly or skips the Sire Stakes for greener pastures.

Horse of the Year: If Meadow Wise wins his Sire Stakes race, he’ll hold all the cards for Horse of the Year in both polls. No one else will have run as consistently and successfully at Pinnacle throughout the meet. If he has an off day, the door is open for Meadow Vespers and Valley Loot, assuming they win their division’s races. Meadow Vespers would likely hold the advantage in the Pinnacle poll because he already has a stakes win at the track under his belt. Valley Loot’s complete body of work in 2009 would probably give her an advantage in the MTOBA awards. The wild card in this equation is Perfect Start. Michigan does not get too many graded stakes winners, so if he pulls the upset in the Ohio Derby, all bets are off, at least for the MTOBA award.

Those are my thoughts. Who do you think sits at the head of the class going into the Sire Stakes? Who has some work left to do? I invite your discussion on Michigan’s six divisions and Horse of the Year honors.

Look for previews of the Sire Stakes races throughout the upcoming week.

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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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