Michigan boasts a lengthy horse racing history dating back to before the launch of pari-mutuel wagering in the state in 1933.
The Northville Downs harness track launched in the 1940s and is the only horse racing facility still operating in the state. However, the Michigan Gaming Control Board renewed hopes for the struggling Michigan horse racing industry in May 2020 when it announced online horse betting operators can now acquire a license to run online throughout the state.
That means you can now watch and bet on horse races all across North America from both Northville Downs and online using a mobile device wherever you are inside the state with internet access.
Here’s an overview of horse racing in Michigan, everything you need to know about Northville Downs, the biggest horse races in the country, and how you can bet on all of it right here in the Great Lakes State.
Michigan lawmakers approved pari-mutuel betting on horse races in 1933. The Horse Racing Law of 1995 allowed Michigan racetracks to host simulcast racing from across North America and that law was amended in December 2019 to allow for online horse betting.
That means you can bet on live racing in Michigan and horse racing from across the continent at Michigan racetracks and online through licensed horse betting operators.
An estimated eight racetracks have opened and closed in Michigan over the almost 100-year history of live Michigan horse racing. Today, just one remains, offering live standardbred racing, simulcast standardbred, and thoroughbred racing and pari-mutuel wagering on all of the action.
There has been horse racing in Northville for over 100 years, although Northville Downs officially began operations in the 1940s in the Detroit suburbs on the corner of 7 Mile and Sheldon Roads, where it still stands today. Sheldon Road is also known as Center Street within the city of Northville.
December 2019 amendments to Michigan’s Horse Racing Law of 1995 allowed online horse race betting organizations like the country’s largest, TVG, into Michigan.
The Michigan Gaming Control Board announced in May 2020 that operators can now apply for a license to host online simulcast racing and wagering from across the US, Mexico, and Canada.
In June 2020, TVG launched in Michigan. Northville Downs operator Mike Carlo said other large online horse racing betting companies will soon follow. TwinSpires came aboard in September 2020.
You can bet on live racing from across the continent online through TVG. You can open a TVG account to bet on horse races online in Michigan with only a minimal amount of information.
Once the account is open, you’ll need to deposit money to make bets. TVG offers you several deposit options, including:
Betting on horse races is easy, particularly online. There’s a bit of jargon it helps to learn, but the bets themselves are all straightforward.
Whether you’re betting on a live harness race at Northville Downs, or a simulcast standardbred or thoroughbred race at the track or with TVG online, the following bets should be available:
You can also wheel all of the exotic bets listed above. This is the process of fixing the finishing position of your top horses and adding bets with combinations of even more horses to the later finishing positions.
It’s a way to save money over boxing and give yourself some additional chances to win.
Three annual races have come to define thoroughbred racing in the US: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
Together, these three races, typically held yearly from May through June with the top three-year-olds in the country, are The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
A horse is forever called a Triple Crown winner if he or she can win all three.
Only 13 horses have managed to win all three in the same season. The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919.
In 1978, Affirmed became a Triple Crown winner, but there was a 37-year Triple Crown drought after that. American Pharoah broke the streak by winning the Triple Crown in 2015. Justify won the Triple Crown just three years later in 2018.
A total of 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fall short of completing the Triple Crown in the Belmont.
Michigan legalized pari-mutuel horse race wagering in the summer of 1933. The state’s budding horse racing industry began to flourish soon after.
The first race with legal betting was held Sept. 2, 1933, at the Detroit Fairgrounds Track. Throughout the ’30s the Detroit Fairgrounds was the only track in Michigan, but harness tracks launched in Northville and Jackson and Hazel Park began hosting thoroughbred racing in the 1940s.
The Michigan Mile was run for the first time at the Detroit Fairgrounds in 1949, but that was the final race at the track before it was replaced by the new Detroit Race Course the following year Alongside Hazel Park, both tracks ran thoroughbred and harness racing meets.
In the 1970s, a quarter horse track dubbed Glendale Downs opened in Hillsdale. In the 1980s harness tracks opened in Saginaw, Swartz Creek and Muskegon. Glendale Downs closed and was replaced by Mount Pleasant Meadows.
Hazel Park became a harness-racing-only track and the Detroit Race Course went all thoroughbred after the two tracks spent three decades running both. A decade later the Detroit Race Course closed altogether and Muskegon Downs went out of business, although it later reopened as Great Lakes Downs, Michigan’s only thoroughbred racetrack in the 1990s.
In the 2000s, Great Lakes Downs closed, replaced by Detroit’s Pinnacle Downs. The latter only stayed open for a year before it closed. The Jackson Raceway, Mount Pleasant Meadows, and Sports Creek also closed.
By 2015, there were just two racetracks in Michigan: Hazel Park running thoroughbreds and Northville Downs with harness racing.
Hazel Park closed in 2018 and plans were made to close Northville Downs in 2021 and turn the land into a housing development. However, that plan stalled at Northville City Hall, and Northville Downs announced harness racing will continue at the track until 2024.
The company that runs the Northville Downs announced plans to build a new track somewhere in metro Detroit if and when the redevelopment project goes ahead.
Northville Downs was temporarily closed in May 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, the Michigan Gaming Control Board announced horse racing third-party facilitators can now acquire a license to offer advance deposit wagering online throughout the state.
Executive director Richard S. Kalm said the launch of legal and licensed online horse betting operators in the Michigan market will enable the state’s horse racing industry to gain new followers and protect those who want to bet on live and simulcast pari-mutuel racing using mobile devices.
TVG was the first online operator to launch through the state regulator in June 2020. TwinSpires, operated by Churchill Downs, followed next.