Tag Archives: Night Racing

Five reasons why Michigan’s Thoroughbreds should look west

As of right now, the Thoroughbred racing business in the state of Michigan is an industry without a home track to call its own.

While the clock ticks down to the summer racing season, the state Attorney General’s office is taking its sweet time deliberating on whether Pinnacle Race Course is worthy of its conditional racing license. Meanwhile, any immediate alternative (Mount Pleasant Meadows, one of the state’s three harness tracks) will take time to build up into the kind of facility needed to host a meet of the Thoroughbreds’ caliber. Until a decision is made, it is difficult for the decision-makers in Michigan’s racing industry to pull the trigger on either option.

From this writer’s perspective, Pinnacle is at best a 50-50 proposition for opening its doors in 2011. The Detroit-area track closed down all of its operations at the end of last year’s meet under a mountain of debt from municipalities, tax collectors and simulcast providers. Even the track’s website has been offline for over a month, now. A recent story by Crain’s Detroit Business about a looming job-creation audit by Wayne County only heaps more on the pile.

Perhaps it is too soon to simply give up on Pinnacle as a long-term home for Thoroughbred racing, but with the track’s unstable past, present and future, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to consider an alternative.

On the Michigan-Bred Claimer Facebook page, I asked readers where they thought the 2011 Thoroughbred meet would be held, where they would like to see it held and where the long-term future of racing may rest. When presented with the options currently available, the conversation quickly shifted to building a new track in a centrally located area – Grand Rapids or Lansing. Looking at the current situation, it is not hard to agree.

Clearly, this idea is little more than a pipe dream. Pulling it off would mean convincing another wealthy investor that horse racing in Michigan is worth the risk, which at this point is admittedly a hard sell. This, along with a litany of other factors, would make the idea difficult-to-impossible. The following discussion is strictly hypothetical. However, if done correctly, a move west could help drastically improve the health of the state’s industry.

Another aspect discussed in the Facebook conversation was combining the breeds at said centrally located track. From an exposure standpoint, the harness tracks are doing just fine in Detroit. Keeping them there keeps the simulcast dollars flowing in their area. However, it would not be difficult to transition the Quarter Horses and Arabians to this imaginary track, as well.

Before I continue, I realize this plan flies in the face of my 3,000-word manifesto against the contraction of small tracks, effectively shuttering the two tracks I was trying to defend. Don’t worry, I have a plan.

Pinnacle and the proposed track cancel each other out, so there is no loss there. Mount Pleasant would be gutted with the loss of Quarter Horses and Arabians. However, the track represents the only pari-mutuel outpost in central and northern Michigan, so it is important to keep around. Plus, with the track suddenly much closer, there may be more interest to watch the races via simulcast in Mount Pleasant by those who can not make it to the live races every day, but want to play and keep tabs on the track.

To keep the simulcast going, the new track would split itself into a spring/summer and a fall meet, divided with a short mixed breed meet at Mount Pleasant to coincide with the Isabella County Fair. Mount Pleasant gets exposure at a time when the most patrons are on the property, the simulcast can stay open all year, and there is incentive to keep the track up to code to use as a training center. Damage is minimized and everybody wins.

Want to keep Pinnacle in the mix? Give Pinnacle and the new track each one of those meets, then either give Mount Pleasant back the mixed meet horses to run their usual schedule or keep the county fair plan. That way, Pinnacle can continue to stay in business, it gets some time off to ease the cost of hosting a live meet and perhaps it can finally work on finishing the “Phase Two” construction.

Both Grand Rapids and Lansing are viable and acceptable options for such a venture, but there are a few factors that make the state’s capital city particularly attractive in this scenario. To illustrate this, I have outlined five reasons why a move to Lansing might be in the best interest of flat racing in Michigan.

Keep in mind, this is not a call to shut down any track, but simply a scenario to consider in the wake of current events. It’s always better to have a plan than not.

The five reasons why Michigan should consider a racetrack in the Lansing area can be found behind the jump.

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Turn on the bright lights

  A field of trotters gets ready to go at The Red Mile.

A field of trotters gets ready to go at The Red Mile.

 On my second to last day in Lexington this summer, I decided to try something different and went to The Red Mile, the city’s harness track.

I have never considered myself a fan of harness racing. The whole concept of discouraging a horse from running at its fullest potential just to conform to a specific running style seems as foreign to me as race walking. 

This particular evening did little to change my opinion on this version of the sport. I didn’t cash a single ticket and had a general uncertainty about what was going on most of the time. 

My time at The Red Mile did, however, rekindle one aspect of the game that I found myself sorely missing – night racing under the lights.

Having spent my adolescence playing the races at Great Lakes Downs, I grew up with night racing. It made sense – run the races when people were out of work and other daytime commitments so they could blow off some steam after a hard day’s work or have a weekend night out. Plus, they made it possible for me to make the hour and a half drive from Mount Pleasant after classes for a weekday card.

Racehorses look different under the lights. They blur. The gray ones glow. It’s the same game, but there is some irresistible quality about night races that has always made me a fan.

However, I found out as I expanded  my horizons to other racetracks that night racing was far from the norm. In fact, it seemed as though the time slot was reserved for the lowest rung of the Thoroughbred food chain and…shudder…harness racing. Even night-based tracks like Mountaineer move up to the afternoon time slot for their major race days.

My night racing experiences ended with last year’s closing of GLD, which meant I had to get used to afternoon racing in the daytime.

I will admit, it has its perks. There is simply nothing that can top the proverbial “beautiful day for racing.” Plus, the weather is generally warmer in the fall months and it is much easier to take pictures when the sun is out. The early start times also mean a higher likelihood of me getting home on the same day I left.

Some have suggested that Pinnacle Race Course would benefit from a switch to evening post times where there is less competition for the wagering dollar. Because there are not currently lights on the racetrack, the main obstacle is getting them built, which would be another hit to Pinnacle’s already tight budget.

To race at night, the Michigan horsemen would also have to find a way to remove the “6:45 Rule” from the state’s Horse Racing Law of 1995.

For those of you who hate reading through legislative mumbo jumbo, the rule states that if a Thoroughbred track is in the same town as a standardbred track (Pinnacle is within a stone’s throw of two), the Thoroughbred facility can not conduct live racing after 6:45 p.m. and the sulkies can not run until after that time.

Pinnacle ran smack dab into the 6:45 rule on its opening day when gate troubles caused major delays. The races were finished slightly past that time with a lot of hustling (post parades were nonexistent after about the fifth race) and the blessing of the racing commissioner, but it was one of those instances where the obscure rule that no one remembers came into play. It appears Aqueduct recently found itself in a similar situation as well.

With all of the talk about too many tracks fighting over the same blocks of time and saturating the market, one has to wonder if more tracks will consider switching to later post times to spread things out and perhaps capitalize on a softer market.

With that, I present you with the next poll question:

When do you like your live racing:  In the afternoon sun or under the lights at night?

As with all my polls, be sure to vote for your choice in the upper-right corner of the page. Also, feel free to share your opinions and experiences with day and/or night racing in the comments.

By the way, a special thanks goes out to whoever wrote “Free lifetime pass for Joe Nevills” in the “Other” category after I broke down the previous poll. Even though Pinnacle did not charge admission last year, giving me free admission should they decide to start charging would be an immediate improvement. Whoever you are, I like the cut of your jib.

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Filed under Great Lakes Downs, Pinnacle Race Course, Polls