Michigan Gov. Slashes Thoroughbred Funding

Pinnacle Race Course will likely reduce its race days to make up for lost money.

After an executive order from Gov. Jennifer Granholm that 100% of the $1.4 million earmarked for Michigan’s Thoroughbred programs for 2009 would be used instead to deal with the state’s immense budget deficit, local horsemen feared their industry would die a quick death.

But following two meetings in which the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association pled its case to the state House Agricultural Committee, there appears to be a light—albeit a dim one--at the end of the tunnel.

“About $670,000 was found to be available in the budget for Thoroughbred programs, which is down from approximately $1.4 million a year ago, but it’s not zero,” said Robert Gorham, a director of the state’s HBPA. Gorham testified during a May 7 meeting along with executive director Gary Tinkle.

Gorham explained that the extra money was found due to a miscalculation of allotted funds for the state’s Standardbred programs, which had already spent some of their budget.

Michigan’s Thoroughbred breeders’ award program will now be  funded at $250,000, with the state’s supplement program funded at 80% of last year’s value, which was around $270,000. This leaves only about $150,000 for Pinnacle Race Course’s entire stakes program, which was built on state-bred supplements.

“That isn’t enough,” said Gorham, explaining how on May 13 the HBPA  passed and approved a motion to cancel four days of racing at Pinnacle, which begins its second year of operation in suburban Detroit June 5. The money from those days would be put toward the stakes schedule, which may have its purses lowered  in order to run the full schedule.

The motion still needs to be passed and approved by the Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner, as well as Pinnacle officials. If a full stakes schedule is run, Gorham predicted the purses would be worth about two- thirds of what was originally projected.

“I’m taking this with mixed emotions,” said Gorham, a trainer, owner, breeder, and veterinarian who operates an equine center near Kalamazoo, Mich. “We certainly think racing has taken a big hit, but the economy in the state of Michigan as a whole is so bad that our disappointment has to be tempered with the fact there are a lot of other people that are disappointed in tough times as well.” 

Gorham said the loss of funding has redoubled efforts of horsemen to work on getting an alternative source of revenue to put racing back on solid ground.

“The governor called for racing to stand on its own,” he said. “In order to do that, it appears like a ballot referendum to get casino gaming at racetracks is really the only resort at this point. It’s something I’m not sure can go on the ballot until 2010, but I think for all that are concerned, the effort needs to start sooner as opposed to later in order to give all segments of the industry some hope for the future.

“Racing in Michigan has been through tough times in the past and we’ve always pulled through them. So in that respect, I’m hopeful. I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of help from state government. It’s in too bad of a financial state, but if they will allow us to help ourselves, we will certainly do that.”

HBPA executive director Tinkle was not immediately available for comment, and a call made to Pinnacle Race Course general manager Alan Plever was not immediately returned May 13.