05/26/2016 12:23PM

Hazel Park opens 30-day meet Friday


Let’s get the elephant out of the room right away: The 2015 meet at Hazel Park Raceway didn’t go quite as planned.

A shortfall in funding led to two purse cuts in a month and ultimately forced the track to end the meet a month ahead of schedule and bump up its signature Michigan Sire Stakes program to the new closing day.

With an offseason to prepare for some of the pitfalls that snuffed the 2015 meeting, both management and horsemen at the Detroit-area track are hoping for a less tumultuous 2016 season, which kicks off its 30-day meet on Friday.

The five-eighths oval will race evening cards Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 3, with the bulk of the cards starting at 7:30 Eastern. In addition to Thoroughbreds, the track hosts Quarter Horse and Arabian racing.

Ladd Biro, Hazel Park’s director of racing, said the decision to start the meet later than last year’s May 1 opener should help increase field sizes during the early-season cards, an issue the track struggled with over its first two meets since the return of Thoroughbred racing.

“Winter can retard the speed with which horses can train here,” Biro said. “Last year, we had a little bit of a shortage. I think opening up late in the season, there will be more horses that are race-ready. We’ll pick up with the purse account being just about the same as we were last year.”

Biro did not expect the budgetary issues that plagued the 2015 meet to carry over into 2016 or affect horsemen’s interest in running at the track.

One of the key causes for last year’s debacle, he said, was the fairly sudden closure of Michigan harness track Sports Creek Raceway on Jan. 1, 2015, after race dates had already been granted to Hazel Park and budgets were set. With the shuttered track went the expected simulcast dollars generated to the purse pool.

“When the budget was being put forth originally [for 2015], it had those dollars included,” Biro said. “This year, with it not being a factor from the very start, the bottom line is it’s budgeted now accordingly.”

Once again, Hazel Park’s marquee card will take place on closing day, highlighted by the six-race Michigan Sire Stakes series, with each division of Michigan-sired runners competing for an estimated $50,000 purse. The Sire Stakes is the state’s oldest still-running Thoroughbred program, dating to 1985 at Detroit Race Course. 

Many of the names familiar to the programs of Michigan’s racetracks over the past decade and beyond are back again for the opening weekend’s cards.

Returning jockeys include all-breed leading rider Angel Stanley, leading Thoroughbred rider Ricardo Barrios, Federico Mata, Mike Holmes, Brittany Vanden Berg, Eric Edwards, Kelly Spanabel, and Glenmore Mayhew.

Incoming riders with multiple mounts on the weekend include Godofredo Laurente, Gilberto Santiago, Isais Nunez, and Alfredo Clemente from the Ohio/West Virginia circuit and Zachary Sebreth from south Florida.

Leading Thoroughbred trainer Shane Spiess once again has a large presence in the entry box, as does Robert Gorham, Ronald Allen Sr., James Jackson, Richard Rettele, Bobby Barron, Donald Evans, Larry Winchel, Robert Fiesman, Jason Uelmen, Doug Caraker, and George Iacovacci Sr.