Tag Archives: Muskegon

Signs of the times

My never-ending quest for Michigan racing memorabilia yielded an interesting find. Have a look at what I found at the Burley Park flea market a couple weeks ago…


It’s a sign from the now-defunct Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon. It is somewhat ironic that a sign I frequently ignored at the races managed to grab my attention in the outside world.

I saw it lying in a wicker basket and thought to myself “I’d recognize that font and color scheme anywhere.” Just to make sure, I asked the vendor where he found the sign, and he told me he got it from a Muskegon scrap yard. Jackpot. The sign was soon in my possession.

After a series of auctions stripped GLD of little souvenirs like this and scattered them across the state, and likely across the nation, it has been hard times for the memento collector in me (aside from a pad of paper from the racetrack kindly given to me by a couple of former members of the Office of Racing Commissioner after reading the above post). A recent article and photo essay further confirmed that nothing will be left standing of my old favorite track when it’s all said and done.

That said, something as small as a “keep off the fence” sign totally made my day.


Filed under Great Lakes Downs

The final nail

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.   

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.

On the last night of live racing at Great Lakes Downs back in November of 2007, I asked a security guard if I could step onto the track after the night’s card had concluded and scoop up a baggie of dirt so I would have a souvenir of the track where I fell in love with the sport of horse racing. I was denied.

This Thursday, I have the opportunity to get my redemption.

The second installment of the two-week auction of anything of value at the former Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon gives bidders the opportunity to buy the actual dirt that hosted Michigan’s finest Thoroughbreds for the better part of this decade.

This auction has been in the making for nearly a year. The property was sold to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians last July and the tribe has expressed little interest in keeping it a racetrack, instead opting to work toward building another casino. Might as well get as much money out of what’s there before getting rid of the rest.

They are literally pulling things off the walls for this sale. Last week’s installment stripped down the bar where I celebrated my 21st birthday along with the rest of the plant itself. Each and every window looking out to the track was put up for bids, and as a track with its entire grandstand indoors, that is a lot of glass. Every chair, every handrail, every coffee maker…if it wasn’t bolted down, it appears it was being sold – and if it was bolted down, the buyer is responsible for removal, so it’s their problem.

Looking at how the track has deteriorated in the year and a half since the last horse passed the wire is painful, almost post-apocalyptic. The racing surface is full of weeds, as is the paddock and winner’s circle. They’re selling off the staircase I would bound up before the races  and would more cautiously climb down at night (not drunkenly, the steps were just unevenly proportioned) while going over the events of the evening with my friends and family. Memory Lane isn’t such a great place to be when everyone on the street has been evicted. Just looking at things as inconsequential as a certain section of fence or the perpetually unmanned guard shack by the jock’s room make me feel like I was just there. I was just there. It hasn’t been that long, but a little neglect can make a place change in a hurry.

Here are a few other items offered this week and last you’ll only find at a racetrack liquidation sale. Some of these items have already been sold, so be sure to check their availability if you covet such objects. I wish I had the space for some of these things. I would have the coolest backyard around.

The shell of the Great Lakes Downs tote board
Camera towers
Backstretch pole barns
The stalls under the pole barns
Highway signs advertising the track
The paddock stalls
Leftover GLD Memorabilia (I wanted this so badly. If the buyer of this lot is reading this, contact me. I’ll double what you paid for it.)
Various track signage
The turnstile at the front entrance
A crapload of Kentucky Derby glasses
Old-school S.A.M Autotote betting machines (If you bought a single-machine lot, the double offer goes out to you as well. I have no practical use for an inactive S.A.M., but it would be pretty cool just to say I have one.)
GLD trash cans (There was one trash bin by the jock’s room that was from the old Detroit Race Course. I am curious as to its whereabouts.)
The scale house
The inside rail

The meticulous nature of the items being offered in the sale all but confirms that Great Lakes Downs will never again host another race. In fact, the complete stripping of the property suggests the plant and surrounding area will likely be leveled to clear room for the tribe’s proposed casino. Simply put, this is a damn shame.

I regret having missed the first auction. Had former Turf Linker Andrew not alerted me to them, I probably would have missed the second one as well. This is what happens when final class projects keep me from checking Google Alerts. I miss important things like this.

I would have greatly enjoyed getting myself some keepsakes from the track where I spent some of the happiest days of my life. While the second auction primarily focuses on the backstretch, apron and other outdoor areas of the property, I am going to keep my eye on a few items that may not be immediately identifiable with the track, but will have sentimental value.

If anything else, going to pick up the items means I’ll get one last chance to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll finally get the chance to sneak out on to the track and get that baggie of dirt.

I miss my racetrack.

For more information on this weekend’s auction, click here.


Filed under Commentary, Great Lakes Downs

One year later…

Jockey Jareth Loveberry waits for his mount in the Great Lakes Downs paddock on October 10, 2007.

Jockey Jareth Loveberry waits for his mount in the Great Lakes Downs paddock on October 10, 2007.

A year ago today, the horses crossed the wire for the last time at Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon.

With that in mind, I figured this would be an ideal time to debut a new feature to the Claimer where I look back at some of the moments I have documented in my travels over the years. 

As you may or may not know, I have been blogging for at least five years; mostly over Livejournal. Over that span, I recorded several memorable journeys to Great Lakes Downs – sometimes to watch our horse Royal Charley, sometimes just to go to the races. Every once in a while I will tell a few tales based mostly on those posts. Perhaps they will bring back a few memories of GLD or give those who never got the chance to visit the track an opportunity to see what they missed. Either way, I hope you enjoy my stories.

And now, without further ado, gather ’round kids, it’s story time!

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Filed under Great Lakes Downs, Story Time