Economic conditions have led the operators of Pinnacle Race Course in Michigan to put some expansion plans on hold, but the track’s inaugural meet in 2008 exceeded expectations, officials said.
Michigan Racing Commissioner Christine White approved Pinnacle for 82 days of live racing in 2009. The track will open June 5 and is slated to race through Oct. 24.
“Obviously, this year we were under construction until the very moment we opened (July 18),” said Damon Thayer, a consultant and adviser for Pinnacle. “(The new schedule) will give Michigan horsemen more of an opportunity to race, and we’ll also be recruiting new stables from Ohio and other surrounding states.
"We’re very bullish on the future of racing and breeding in Michigan, and we’re looking at creating some new Michigan-bred stakes events where we will take existing Michigan-bred stakes and run multiple stakes on one day.”
Pinnacle officials could bring back the Michigan Mile, formerly the richest race run in Michigan. Thayer said the track hopes to recreate the race as a one-mile event to try and carve out a niche in the Midwest at that distance, and also to establish a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in the fall.
“We’re looking at the numbers—we’ve got a sponsor team in place in the market, and we’re looking at where it would best fall on the calendar so we can draw horses from Kentucky, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Canada, etc.,” said Thayer, who noted though the economy has slowed construction plans for Pinnacle, the show will go on. The track, open year-round for full-card simulcasts, had planned to build at least 300 more stalls before the end of its first season, but the economy put those plans on hold.
“Obviously, the addition of more stalls is number one on the list,” said Thayer, who cited the much-needed needed extra handle that would result from having more barn space, and therefore bigger fields. “(Owner) Jerry Campbell and I were talking about it, and building more stalls is still a very strong possibility in the very near future, as early as this spring.”
One of the other plans for the second phase of the Pinnacle project was to construct a turf course, but that has been been pushed back.
“It’s pretty unlikely we’ll have turf racing in 2009, though that’s still a goal of ours,” Thayer said. “Obviously, a permanent grandstand and clubhouse facility is something we hope to do also, but the schedule for that would more likely be 2010.”
During the track’s 63-day meet, which concluded Nov. 2, a total of $10,011,187 was wagered on the live product for a daily average of $161,471. On-track handle on live races totaled $2,733,374, while simulcast handle accounted for $7,277,813.
“We were very pleased with the response of racing fans in Detroit who had the opportunity to enjoy live Thoroughbred racing for the first time in 10 years,” Thayer said. “Even our export handle was better than what we expected. The numbers were better than what Great Lakes Downs had achieved the previous year, so we feel like there’s an acceptance of our product in the national simulcast marketplace as well.”
Pinnacle was developed by 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 Michigan, Jerry Campbell opened Great Lakes Downs near Muskegon, which hosted live racing from 1999 through last year.
During Great Lakes Downs’ final 98-day meet in 2007, on-track handle was $2,054,529, with $10,424,424 wagered via simulcast for a total of $12,478,953.
Thayer estimated the partners in Pinnacle had invested more than $30 million in phase one of the track, which included land improvements; a one-mile racing surface; a turf course base; equipment to operate the track; a 12,000-square-foot pavilion; paddock; temporary offices; barns; infrastructure; and the parking lot.