It is a possibility Michigan will once again host thoroughbred races, bucking a recent trend of track closures and property sales.
Sports Creek Raceway announced in early October that it applied for a track and race meeting license. They are currently under review with the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB).
“There’s certainly an appetite for live thoroughbred racing,” said George Kutlenios, president of the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (MHBPA) to MLive.
Kutlenios contends Sports Creek will benefit tremendously as the “only thoroughbred track in the state.”
“It’s a tough game. It’s a tough business,” Kutlenios said. “But people enjoy the sport. A lot of it (success) depends on marketing … (But) we’re thrilled. We’re excited to try.”
The plans for Sports Creek
Once it receives its license, the Sports Creek track will need to undergo some significant changes to make it suitable for thoroughbred racing.
“Our biggest concern is we have a good, safe track,” Kutlenios said.
First, the hard-surface track must transition to a sandy, softer surface for thoroughbreds. Secondly, the track currently has an incline that is too steep, so that will need some adjustment. Additionally, the track would require an installation of an inside rail.
The investment “will be sizable.” That doesn’t seem to be a huge concern because the potential buyers, Amwest and AmRace & Sports, are reportedly willing to invest and make the necessary changes.
If things go according to plan, Sports Creek will begin simulcasting on Jan. 1 and open for live racing by June 1.
A decision on the licenses may come as early as this month. MGCB spokeswoman Mary Kay Bean said in an email to MLive:
“The state’s horse racing law requires the MGCB executive director to issue orders regarding applications before Nov. 1 of the year preceding the year for which applications are made.”
It’s been an eventful year for Michigan horse racing
In April, 70 years of horse-racing history came to an end when Hazel Park Raceway closed its doors.
Not long after Hazel Park closed, final remaining Michigan track Northville Downs announced plans to turn its track into a luxury home community.
At the time of the announcements, the Daily Racing Forum blamed the gaming industry in a written statement.
“Over the past 25 years, the gaming industry has dramatically changed throughout the country. Clearly, this has had a significant impact on the proud tradition of horseracing throughout Michigan. For nearly 70 years, Hazel Park Raceway has appreciated the hard work and support of both employees and fans, as well as the economic and entertainment value this venue has brought to the community.”
In 2004, a constitutional amendment blocked track owners from expanding its gambling offerings without voter approval. As casinos came on the scene, the horse racing industry suffered.
There was some momentum for a bill earlier this year that would have legalized online horse betting. Unfortunately for track owners, it saw significant opposition from the casinos. There has been no movement on the legislation since spring.
Now, it looks like Michigan’s hope for horse racing lies with Sports Creek Raceway.