05/07/2009 11:00PM

Michigan legislature takes away stakes funds

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The economic malaise that is dragging down the state of Michigan has spread from horsepower to horses. The home of the now-bankrupt Chrysler Corp. and the teetering-on-the-brink General Motors Corp. struck a serious blow to its horse racing industry on Tuesday when an executive order from Gov. Jennifer Granholm wiped out $1.4 million earmarked for state Thoroughbred programs in 2009.

The action, part of a plan to deal with the state's $1.3 billion state budget deficit, leaves the racing industry with nothing in the pot for statebred supplements, breeders awards, and stakes races. The order was quickly and overwhelmingly approved by appropriations committees in both state legislative chambers, leaving little chance that it will be overturned.

"It's a devastating action," said Gary Tinkle, executive director of the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "What it means is they're going to kill off our industry for about one-tenth of 1 percent of the budget deficit. That's a very small amount compared to the state deficit, but it's 100 percent of our program monies."

Tinkle pled his case before the state House Agricultural Committee on Thursday, but came away discouraged.

"I told them, 'We're producers; we produce our own revenue.' But it doesn't appear that they can do much about it."

Mike Mackey, the general manager of Pinnacle Race Course, which begins its second year of operation in suburban Detroit with a meeting that starts on June 5, said that he was not giving up on the prospect of saving the program funds.

"The Department of Agriculture will hold a meeting in Lansing on Tuesday [May 12] for the horsemen's groups to discuss if there are any options. I'm not giving up hope. I don't know if there is any hope but we have to try to do every possible thing we can."

The executive order wipes out the track's entire stakes program, which was built on statebred supplements. It also reduces the quality of racing.

"If this goes through, I think the horses that can be competitive out of state will be shipping elsewhere where they can run for decent purses," Mackey said.

The order also eliminates program funding of about $1 million for the state's harness racing industry.

"It threatens the future of Michigan racing, period," Mackey said. "Thoroughbreds and standardbreds the same way."

And it is just one more nail in the coffin for a struggling industry in a state in desperate economic straits.

"It's a dark day for Michigan," Mackey said. "It seemed like we had a battle going on between here and Ohio on which was the more depressed racing state. I think we just won that title."