Detroit-Area Tracks Authorized for Live Meets

Hazel Park and Northville Downs awarded almost five months of Thoroughbred racing.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board has authorized Thoroughbred meets at Hazel Park and Northville Downs in the Detroit metropolitan area for 2014, horse racing interests in the state reported Jan. 21.

According to a release from the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Thoroughbred racing will return to Hazel Park for the first time since 1984 on June 29. Live racing would be offered every Friday and Saturday evening through Oct. 11.

Northville Downs, which has offered only harness racing since it opened in the 1940s, would race Saturday and Sunday afternoons from Oct. 18-Nov. 16.

The shift to Thoroughbred racing means a substantial reduction in harness racing dates at the two tracks. Each was granted a 10-day harness meet; the 20 nights of racing would take place in the spring.

The Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association objects to the actions of the MGCB. It said Jan. 21 it will seek an opinion from the state Attorney General's office on how funds from the state's simulcast purse pool are being used.

Hazel Park has a lighted five-eighths-mile racing oval, while Northville Downs has a lighted half-mile track. In recent years, however, all Thoroughbred racing in Michigan has been conducted on the half-mile track at Mount Pleasant Meadows, which also was granted some dates for 2014.

The Michigan HBPA said "construction of the new racing surface and facility changes" at Hazel Park will begin when the weather breaks.

"The Michigan HBPA and the horsemen and women of our sport are ecstatic with this new relationship between Hazel Park and our organization," Michigan HBPA president George Kutlenios said in the release. "Hazel Park's principals are making a large investment in the future of Michigan pari-mutuel wagering, and our HBPA is a willing partner and participant to assist them in every way possible.

"The addition of our breed in the Northville market offers even more opportunities for new and veteran horse racing fans to enjoy Thoroughbred racing in the metro area. This additional strategic partnership between the HBPA and Northville Downs will be completely focused on reinvigorating the horse racing fan base."

In its final year of Thoroughbred racing, Hazel Park offered 96 programs with daily average attendance of 4,730 and average daily pari-mutuel handle of $683,000. In the track's heyday, handle frequently topped $1 million a day.

Kutlenios said he believes "significant changes in the format of horse racing" are needed for the business to grow in Michigan.

MHHA executive director Brett Boyd, in a letter to the membership, called the MGCB action a "devastating blow" to harness racing in Michigan. He said the board considered the financial situation of racetracks, not horsemen.

"Based on 64 days of Thoroughbred and mixed breed racing, Michigan's Thoroughbred horsemen will fork over $1.8 million in purse money to Northville Downs, Mount Pleasant Meadows, and Hazel Park for the right to race," Boyd said in his letter. "Michigan's Thoroughbred owners will pay the racetracks as much as they receive in purse winnings based on this plan for 2014."

Boyd said the deal involves payment of $400 per start per horse during the Thoroughbred and mixed meets.

"Do the math and realize that they are using simulcast purse pool revenue to create these new-found opportunities. The MHHA believes these payments are in violation of the law,"  he said