09/30/2014 4:08PM

Northville Downs surrenders 2014 Thoroughbred license

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Northville Downs has scrapped plans to conduct its inaugural Thoroughbred meet about two weeks before it was scheduled to begin, having voluntarily submitted its Thoroughbred and mixed-breed licenses to the Michigan Gaming Control Board last Friday.

Located in the western suburbs of Detroit, the previously harness-only track was approved by the gaming board to host 16 days of live flat racing in 2014 from Oct. 12 to Nov. 16.

“There wasn’t enough purse money for us to race the 16 days total,” said Mike Carlo, Northville’s operations manager. “It’s a delicate time, so I think saying less is more right now. We’ll see what happens.”

Northville hosted what was expected to be its final harness dates in the spring during a 10-day meet March 7 to April 9, but a deal has reportedly been reached to return to standardbred racing as soon as this year.

Carlo said that Northville Downs applied for both Thoroughbred and harness licenses for the 2015 racing season, which will be determined by the gaming board at a later time.

Northville’s management reached a tentative deal with the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association last December to convert from harness to flat racing along with fellow Detroit-area Standardbred venue Hazel Park Raceway. However, the state denied Northville’s application for a Thoroughbred license in December, citing management’s failure to “demonstrate a definitive, specific, and detailed plan” that could be approved by state law.

The state eased its stance in January, approving Northville’s application under several conditions, including a timetable for conversion to flat racing standards. The track was expected to keep its half-mile setup.

The Michigan HBPA, having seen unsatisfactory progress in Northville’s conversion, moved purse funds to be used at the track into Hazel Park’s purse structure. However, MI-HBPA president George Kutlenios said in August that neither the track nor the state had given official notice that the Northville wouldn’t host its allotted dates, so the horsemen and Hazel Park’s management agreed to cut purses by 25 percent in order to create a purse pool for Northville.

Prior to the track surrendering its Thoroughbred license, the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association announced a five-year non-exclusive deal with Northville Downs to secure Standardbred racing at the track through 2019. The agreement also included an additional 16 days of harness racing in 2014, pending state approval.

“Finalizing the Northville contract, despite its necessary compromises, represents a robust race schedule at a facility with proven revenue,” read an MHHA statement. “It’s hoped that ongoing discussions will add additional racing opportunities for our horsemen in 2015 and beyond.”