Northville Downs Holds Final Horse Race, Still Optimistic For Relocating In Michigan

Written By Drew Ellis on February 5, 2024 - Last Updated on February 6, 2024
Photo of a race at Northville Downs on the last card of live racing on Feb. 3, 2024. The track is now closed and will soon be developed. It was the last pari-mutuel horse racing track in Michigan.

Saturday marked the end of an era for Northville Downs.

After 80 years of operation, the harness racing track held its final live racing event. It also marked the closure of Michigan’s last remaining pari-mutuel horse racing track.

The current home at 301 S. Center St. in Northville will be demolished as part of a redevelopment project.

The track went out with a bang on Saturday, as a packed house flooded the historic track to give it a proper send off while watching 11 live races.

Though the future of Northville Downs and harness racing in Michigan is cloudy, Northville Downs appears committed to find an avenue back to live racing.

Memorable night to close out Northville Downs

Saturday’s races at Northville Downs featured horses from all around the state, as well as from Ontario, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida and more.

The crowds packed in and brought a vibrant and energetic feel to the night, giving announcer Ken Terpenning a little added enthusiasm in his calls.

“We have phenomenal fans. They’re very loyal fans,” Terpenning told PlayMichigan. “They come in all ages, shapes and sizes. I’m going to miss that more than anything. I love the interaction with the fans. I feed off of that.”

Terpenning has been the announcer of the races for the last two years at Northville Downs. He lives in Trenton, OH, but has been involved in horse racing for decades.

Having the opportunity to be the voice of Northville Downs these last two years has been special for him.

“It’s been a blessing for me. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do as a job, and to be able to do it at a track that has 80 years of history with the horsemen and the horses that have been at the track, it’s just it’s been a great opportunity,” Terpenning said.

Difficult night for Northville Downs regulars

Saturday’s crowd likely featured many making their first trip to the track, wanting to get the experience before it closed.

But, it also brought back a lot of regulars and former patrons that have fond memories of Northville Downs.

One such patron was a 57-year-old from Clarkston that asked not to be named. He had been going to Northville Downs for years with his father and was getting one more opportunity to do so on Saturday.

“It’s sad to see the track closing. Horse racing has been part of this state for a long time and there’s a lot of great memories here for me. I will choose Northville Downs racing over any casino in the state. This is where my entertainment dollar goes.”

Another veteran patron of Northville Downs came from Hazel Park, home to another former racetrack that closed down.

“Horse racing is just something that’s been part of my life since I was young. It’s unfortunate for this day to be here,” said the 71-year-old Hazel Park man. “This is a place that I have a lot of fondness for and I’ve been able to share in that with my father and my sons. I wasn’t going to miss (Saturday), but I wish this day hadn’t come.”

Simulcast betting also ending, online still available

Along with live racing concluding on Saturday, Northville Downs held its final simulcast racing day on Sunday.

Beginning on Monday, no betting of any kind will continue for Northville Downs.

While Michigan has TwinSpires, Xpressbet, FanDuel Racing and NYRA Bets available for online horse betting, not all are comfortable making a switch to the online product.

“Online betting isn’t something I’m comfortable with,” said the Hazel Park patron. “I’m not a real smart guy when it comes to that stuff. I’ve been betting at the tracks for all these years and that’s what I know. I may need to find a new hobby.”

Northville Downs does use a number of digital betting kiosks, but that’s still very different from placing an online wager on a phone app. Michigan horse racing betting offers a lot of complex betting variations that can be confusing to input on an app.

“I’m comfortable with using online and will continue to do so, but I know that it’s not for everyone,” said a 41-year-old male from Canton. “Online doesn’t have the same feel as being at the track or being with other bettors watching the simulcast races.”

Northville Downs still pursuing relocation options

The future of Northville Downs was dealt a big blow last week.

After an agreement for Northville Downs to build a new track and facility on a 128-acre property it had purchased in Plymouth Township, the Plymouth Township Planning Commission rescinded the plans.

The commission deemed that Northville Downs had failed to meet four of six contingencies for the agreement to hold place. According to Northville Downs, that included a yearly $500,000 payment to the township (for 10 years) as part of a Community Benefits Agreement.

Despite the commission’s decision, Northville Downs remains steadfast in its beliefs that live racing will be returning to Michigan in the future.

“I know that they are doing everything they can to keep harness racing going in Michigan,” Terpenning said. “They’re looking for other opportunities. We’re working with multiple sites, trying to find a future home for the track. I believe that’s going to happen at some point. I don’t know when, but that’s something that they are definitely pursuing. But I don’t think this is the end. I think it’s a new beginning.”

While no details have been provided by Northville Downs at this time, Terpenning encouraged the fans and patrons of the track to stay glued to the track website.

“If you’re a fan, if you’re a patron, and you want to know what’s going on, just keep tuned on the website,” he said. “Hopefully, good updates will be coming up in the future.”

Multiple signs were being held by Saturday’s crowd promoting SaveTheDowns.com, a rally website for the track with information on how people can help keep it in operation.

MGCB has gotten no new requests from Northville Downs

If Northville Downs is pursuing other avenues to hold races in Michigan, the Michigan Gaming Control Board is still awaiting word.

When asked about Northville Downs possibly relocating somewhere else in Michigan, the MGCB informed PlayMichigan:

“To race, an individual would need to apply for and receive a track license from the MGCB, in addition to completing the process of applying for and receiving a race meeting license. Until the MGCB issues both, no pari-mutuel wagering can occur.

PlayMichigan will keep you updated on any new developments regarding Northville Downs and horse racing in Michigan.

Photo by Drew Ellis / PlayMichigan
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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