06/02/2009 11:00PM

Agreement would restore Pinnacle's lost days


HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Shrouded under a cloud of uncertainty brought about by a staggering Michigan economy, Pinnacle Race Course opens its first full season on Friday with racing issues that are not fully determined, but an attitude by management that definitely is.

"Of course I'm optimistic," said Mike Mackey, general manager of the suburban Detroit facility that opened with an abbreviated season last July that returned racing to the Motor City after a decade-long absence. "I'm looking forward to it positively. It's going to be a successful meet."

Among the question marks that remain about the meet are its number of days, which days of the week racing will be held, and what the stakes schedule will look like. The confusion is a result of Michigan's dire economy, which is affecting much more than the auto industry.

After a May budget cut that mandated the Michigan Racing Commission reduce staffing and testing costs, state racing commissioner Christine White essentially cut Pinnacle's scheduled 82-day meeting in half. Following hurried negotiations, a plan was formed to restore most of the original 82 days by transferring money from the statebred supplement fund to the Office of the Racing Commission to pay for staffing and testing costs associated with live racing.

The details of that still-emerging plan will need approval by the boards of directors of Pinnacle and state horsemen and owners groups.

Initially, Pinnacle will race on Fridays, Saturdays and Tuesdays. That will possibly be expanded to a four-day week as early as the second week of the meeting.

Fans attending the Friday opener can expect to see some familiar faces. Racing secretary Alan Plever said that training mainstays such as James Jackson, Larry Uellmen, Shane Spiess, and Ronnie Allen will be on hand.

The riding colony will feature returning favorites Federico Mata, Ricardo Barrios, Osvaldo Vargas, and Angel Stanley. Perennial Michigan riding champion Terry Houghton will be on hand for the opener, but his continued presence is in question.

"Terry's caught on at Mountaineer Park and he's doing well there," Plever said. "I think what's going to make or break it is whether we're going to end up racing three or four days per week."

Pinnacle's original plan called for a grandstand to be built and work to start on a clubhouse this year. Those plans have understandably been placed on hold while the future of the sport is held in abeyance by a state government faced with $1.3 billion budget deficit for this fiscal year and an even bigger hole next year.

Last year, fans baked through the summer on a set of bleachers located near the Pinnacle finish line. Mackey said that this year a 40-foot by 60-foot tent would replace the unprotected bleachers.

If that sounds like a stopgap plan, it fits in well with the current condition of Thoroughbred racing in a state with a 75-year history of the sport. Mackey said he was not thinking beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and certainly not into 2010 where more challenges certainly await. He is planted firmly in the now.

"Our position is to get as many racing days as we can and work forward from there," he said.