10/08/2007 11:00PM

Two bids for 2008 dates in Michigan

EmailMUSKEGON, Mich. - At a Michigan racing dates hearing on Monday in Lansing, real estate developer Winfield Cooper III applied for 2008 racing dates, and horse owner Jerry Campbell requested a license to build a new track in the Detroit area and racing dates to be run there beginning next year.

Michigan racing commissioner Christine White is scheduled to issue 2008 racing dates and address Campbell's license request by Oct.o31.

Cooper's request would allow racing at Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon to continue, contingent upon a purchase or lease agreement with Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns the track. Magna has said it will close Great Lakes, the only all-Thoroughbred facility in the state, effective with the last day of racing at the current meet, Nov. 6. The company also has declined to go through with earlier plans to build Michigan Downs near the Detroit Metro Airport.

Cooper has applied to operate an 86-day meet at Great Lakes, from May 3 through Oct. 18, which is very similar to a typical Great Lakes season. Cooper, who is from Flint, and Campbell are longtime friends.

Campbell was instrumental in saving Thoroughbred racing in Michigan after Detroit Race Course was shuttered at the end of 1998. He purchased the defunct harness track Muskegon Race Course in western Michigan and reopened it as Great Lakes Downs. He sold the track to Magna in 2000, and is a member of Magna's board of directors.

Campbell, a prominent Michigan owner and breeder, wants to build Pinnacle Race Course in Huron Township, just south of the Detroit airport, about 20 miles southwest of the city. Officials from Huron Township and Wayne County, in which the land is located, were on hand at the racing dates hearing to support the proposal, according to horse owner Henry Mast, who attended the meeting.

Campbell said on Tuesday that the entire project would cost $142 million, and that he is in negotiations with Wayne County officials to have the county underwrite a portion of the construction costs through a bond issue. Campbell declined to say how much equity he and his wife, Lisa, would take in the project. In addition, the county owns the land where the proposed track would be located, and Campbell is in negotiations with the county to purchase the land.

If the funding is secured and the project is approved, Campbell said the racing surface and a temporary grandstand could be completed by next spring or early summer for a July opening. Construction on a permanent grandstand and related retail development would proceed during the race meet.

Campbell also said that he planned to go ahead with the project regardless of whether the state legislature allows expanded forms of gambling on the site, something that Magna had long sought for its proposed Detroit-area track.

"The whole reason we're doing this is for continuity of Thoroughbred racing in Michigan," Campbell said. "We can't have a year where there's no racing."

Campbell said he plans to hold a $500,000 race, the Michigan Derby, at the track beginning in April 2009. Campbell said the Michigan Derby would be positioned as a prep race for the Kentucky Derby.

A Detroit-area track would be required to run 160 days a year by the commission, and Campbell said Pinnacle would run from March through November beginning in 2009.

Campbell, 67, is the chairman of Citizens Republic Bancorp, the largest bank based in Michigan, and owns about 125 Thoroughbreds.

Including Great Lakes, there are currently six racetracks in Michigan. The others are Mount Pleasant Meadows, which is located in the rural center part of the state, and four harness tracks, including Hazel Park and Northville Downs in the Detroit area.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty