Hope Remains for Detroit Area Thoroughbred Track

Michigan's racing commissioner said her office continues to field inquiries from companies interested in operating a Thoroughbred track in the Detroit metropolitan area, something horsemen believe is a key to any future growth for the sport.

Thoroughbred racing left the metro area at the end of 1998 when Ladbroke Detroit Race Course shut down. It moved across the state to Great Lakes Downs, the Magna Entertainment-owned facility located not far from Lake Michigan.

In 1998, DRC generated $147.5 million in total handle. In 2001, Great Lakes Downs, located in a much smaller market, generated $19.8 million in total handle.

"In the last few months, viable companies have come to me to talk about a track license in Detroit, and Magna was one of them," racing commissioner Annette Bacola said. "The demographics are good in Michigan--people love gaming. We are looking forward to expansion in Michigan, and looking forward to again having a metro area Thoroughbred track."

When DRC closed, there was talk of reviving Thoroughbred racing at Hazel Park, a Standardbred track in the metro area. Nothing came of it, and the track's current owners have been reluctant to sell the facility, which is an ideal location just north of the city.

Magna chairman Frank Stronach previously expressed interest in developing a racetrack and entertainment center near Detroit. Bacola wouldn't reveal the identities of the other companies.

Meanwhile, Bacola said legislation that would authorize off-track betting and legalize racetrack card clubs "could give Michigan racing a new lease on life" should the bills pass. She said legislation to authorize slot machines at tracks probably has little chance to be approved given the current climate in the state capital and the strong casino lobby in Michigan.