After Michigan horsemen experienced a scare of losing half of their summer/fall meet at Pinnacle Race Course, negotiations were held among the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Office of the Racing Commissioner to shave less than 10 days from the schedule.
During Pinnacle’s meet, currently in session, racing will be held Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through Oct. 19. The original 83 approved dates were cut back to 74.
“Those days helped add some money back into the stakes program, and also freed up some money that would normally go into the breeders’ program to be rebated to the Office of the Racing Commissioner,” said owner/trainer Bob Gorham, a director of the HBPA. “In essence, the Michigan horsemen are, by cutting some dates, funding the stakes program and the shortfall of the ORC.”
Pinnacle’s meet originally was ordered to be cut in half under an executive order issued June 2 by Michigan’s former racing commissioner, Christine White, who resigned from her position in July when she was named state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Deputy racing commissioner Gary Post is serving as the acting racing commissioner until the position is refilled.
Gorham called Pinnacle’s 74-day meet agreement “the best available compromise.”
“We’re not happy with cutting days, but we’re better off cutting eight dates than 40 or 50 days,” he said. “We’re reasonably happy with it, and now the challenge is getting the horse supply to last through the meet.”
While Pinnacle has had difficulty on some days running full cards, the track is doing fairly well all things considered, Gorham said.
“There are days we’re a little short, but by and large, I think we’re pretty happy with it,” Gorham said. “We’re getting some support from shippers now, and the young horses are beginning to get into the entry box. We have some light days, but it’s not bad.”
One more factor that will have a significant effect on Michigan’s racing industry is the fact that tracks in neighboring Ohio will soon have video lottery terminals to bolster their purses. In July, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland authorized the Ohio Lottery to implement racetrack VLTs, which could cause some Michigan horsemen to move their stables to the Buckeye State in the future to take advantage of more lucrative purses.
“The Michigan racing industry as well as the Michigan legislature is following the Ohio situation very closely, and we could have a response to that,” Gorham said. “Obviously, our horse supply is going to be further compromised if Ohio purses are enhanced, and if Ohio realizes VLTs at racetracks are good for the Ohio budget, then the Michigan legislatures could be looking at the same thing."
Gorham noted that the only compromising factor is that in Michigan, the only way to get slot machines or VLTs at racetracks is to have a majority vote of the people. “We can’t do it by executive order like it is in Ohio,” he said. “But the legislature is taking a new look at that proposal. So that’s offering at least some hope for horsemen at this point.”