It’s hard to believe that just three and a half months after breaking ground, Pinnacle Race Course in Michigan is ready to open its doors to the public July 18.
Three nine-race cards are scheduled for Pinnacle’s first weekend of racing, highlighted by two $50,000 Michigan-bred stakes. Purses for the other races at the beginning of the meet range from $6,000 to $15,000.
“It’s going to mark the return of Thoroughbred horse racing to Detroit after nine years, and there’s a lot of excitement about that,” said Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, who was named a consultant and adviser for the track in late June.
Pinnacle was developed by Jerry Campbell, who operates Campbell Stables with his wife, Felicia. The couple raced Thoroughbreds at the old Detroit Race Course, which closed in 1998. To keep the sport going in the Wolverine state, Jerry Campbell opened Great Lakes Downs in western Michigan, which hosted live racing from 1999 through last year.
Thayer said he developed the slogan “horse power returns to the Motor City” for the track, located in New Boston in the western Detroit suburbs. “We think that really captures the essence of Pinnacle Race Course, with the auto industry being based in Detroit,” he said. “It’s a great play on what the marketplace is all about.”
Thayer said Pinnacle’s development was the number one privately funded construction project in the state of Michigan.
“Jerry and his partners have spared no expense in bringing in the best talent to run the racetrack, and the racing surface is going to be top quality with Joe King coming to design it,” said Thayer, referring to the track’s lead engineer, who has been involved in the design and construction of many new or rebuilt racing facilities in North America during the last three decades.
Thayer said Michigan horsemen are eager to return from racetracks in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to campaign runners in their home state. Pinnacle will undergo a gradual process of construction over the next two to three years, and in the meantime will try to find sponsors for races such as the Michigan Mile, the stakes highlight at DRC, and the Michigan Derby.
“(Pinnacle) will really cause a jump-start for Michigan breeding and get fans back at a major league one-mile oval in Detroit,” Thayer said. “(Great Lakes Downs) was there for nine years and really filled a gap, but for Michigan racing to thrive, a one-mile track in Detroit was really needed.”
One of Thayer’s concerns for Pinnacle’s initial meet is the track’s capacity issues. In addition to its 1,000 temporary grandstand seats, the facility can hold around 400-500 people in its Pinnacle Pavilion, and around 200 more on the apron and patio terrace.
“We have some capacity issues, and we want to stress that this is a construction zone,” Thayer said. “That’s why we’re going with free admission and free parking for this inaugural season. We just want to have a good crowd and be able to give them a good quality level of service.”
Racing executive Lonny Powell, who recently joined the Pinnacle team as senior adviser to Campbell, said horses began arriving at Pinnacle July 12-13. Pinnacle currently has 600 stalls but plans to build at least 300 more before the end of the season as construction progresses on the facility.
Powell said horsemen that will race at Pinnacle are a mixture of DRC veterans who are enthused about racing coming back to the Detroit metropolitan area, as well as others who are new to the area or to the industry in general. In the long term, Powell said he hopes Pinnacle will not only be beneficial for Michigan’s Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, but for the economy of the state.
“The Michigan economy has been tough for the last couple years,” he said. “People are so excited about seeing anything built that creates jobs, because they just haven’t seen much of that, particularly in this area.”