Jerry Campbell, chairman and CEO of the new Pinnacle Race Course near Detroit, Mich., said he couldn’t remember the last time horse racing was featured on the front page of The Detroit News. Even when the old Detroit Race Course was up and running 10 years ago, he failed to recall when the sport had been such a prominent topic of interest among local patrons.
But July 19 became a memorable occasion when Campbell viewed a large photograph of horses charging down the Pinnacle stretch above the fold of the publication, as well as numerous articles documenting the track’s opening the previous day. Making the event even more memorable was Campbell’s homebred filly Wave Pool, who took the $50,000 feature race July 19, the Regret Stakes.
“This isn’t like starting a new racetrack in a market that’s never had horse racing,” said Campbell, referring to DRC. He pointed out that while there had been a large core fan base in the area for decades, he had also noticed several younger and newer faces at the track.
“Our goal is to become more family oriented,” he said. “I think that’s what the industry needs to do as a model in order to survive.”
Campbell admitted there were several glitches during Pinnacle’s opening day, the most major of which were its overwhelming attendance numbers and a malfunctioning starting gate, which delayed the first race by 30 minutes.
“We just got ran over (opening day)--we were overwhelmed,” he said.
When government offices closed for locals to attend the racetrack’s opening, cars began streaming into the parking lot at alarming rates, and police ended up having to turn away more than 3,000 people from coming to the track because of capacity issues.
Pinnacle, which recently completed “Phase I” of its construction in time to begin its 63-day meet as scheduled, experienced attendance numbers July 18 that nearly tripled expectations.
Projected figures were originally at around 9,500, but after fully evaluating the situation, officials thought at least 10,000-12,000 people had passed through Pinnacle’s doors. Total handle at the Michigan track for opening day was $338,798, with more than 70 horses competing in the nine-race card.
Built up eight feet from the original ground level, the 320-acre boutique-sized race course has a one-mile dirt oval, patio, terrace, 15 barns, paddock, pavilion, and paved parking lot, which was completed just a few days prior to the opening.
Planes from the nearby Detroit airport soared overhead as buglers played the traditional “call to the post," and people gathered around the rail to watch the races during the track’s second day of operation July 19.
“It’s just fantastic to be back in Detroit,” said Bob Gorham, a Michigan-based owner, breeder, and trainer. “(Pinnacle) is better than anything anybody could have possibly imagined. The business is changing so much, but this is the only dirt track you can really get in the Midwest. It’s an outstanding surface, and we’re seeing horses that don’t want to run on (synthetic surfaces) coming here, and I think that’s a big plus.”
Gorham said he had brought horses to Pinnacle that had been previously been campaigning at Hoosier Park, Presque Isle Downs, and Arlington Park.
“We want to try and fill the entry box in to give (Pinnacle) a quality product,” said the trainer, who won the $50,000 Lansing Stakes July 18 with Equally Good. "I think (Equally Good) enjoyed getting back to the real dirt, and he just went wire to wire. This is really exciting for us.”