01/22/2014 2:31PM

Michigan Thoroughbred racing approved at Hazel Park, Northville Downs


The Michigan Gaming Control Board approved a schedule Tuesday that would bring Thoroughbred racing to Detroit-area Standardbred venues Hazel Park Harness Raceway and Northville Downs.

The new schedule closely resembles the plan proposed by the tracks and the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in early December. Each of the harness tracks will host reduced 10-day Standardbred meets early in the year, with Northville running Fridays and Saturdays from March 7 to April 5, and Hazel Park running Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from April 12 to May 3.

Mount Pleasant Meadows will open the state’s Thoroughbred/mixed schedule May 3 and race Saturdays and Sundays through June 22, reducing the meet from the originally approved 43 days to 16. Plans for the track beyond 2014 are yet to be determined.

Hazel Park would then host 23 Thoroughbred dates from June 29 to Oct. 11, running primarily on Friday and Saturday nights with some exceptions. The track previously hosted Thoroughbred racing from 1949 to 1984.

“The Michigan HBPA and the horsemen and women of our sport are ecstatic with this new relationship between Hazel Park and our organization,” Michigan HBPA president George Kutlenios said in a release.

Thoroughbred racing would then move to Northville Downs for 16 afternoon cards on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Oct. 12 to Nov. 16.

The board had denied Northville’s application for a 2014 Thoroughbred meet Dec. 18, but stated in its newest executive order that additional information was provided by the track’s management that merited reconsideration.

The board laid out conditions for Northville, requiring its racing surface to be flattened to a grade more conducive to Thoroughbreds by May 15. Additionally, Northville must add a chute and rail by June 10, install additional fencing by July 10, and build a 10-horse saddling paddock and walking ring by July 30. Both harness tracks must submit monthly progress updates to the board’s executive director.

Sports Creek Raceway remains scheduled to host 11 harness race dates, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 31. However, the Michigan HBPA has stated that the track has been in negotiations to convert to Thoroughbred racing in the future, as well.

The Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association plans to appeal the board’s ruling. In a statement released Tuesday, the MHHA took issue with the timing of the decision, which moves the starting date of the state’s harness schedule from Jan. 31 at Northville, as originally planned, to March 7.

“We are horrified by the MGCB’s decision and have expressed our concerns about both the moral and legal implications of today’s orders,” the statement read. “Time will tell if the tracks’ apparent strategy to wrestle complete control of the industry away from the horsemen will succeed, but there is no question that the short-term impact will be harmful to thousands of horsemen – not to mention countless local agricultural economies around the state.”