06/03/2010 12:00AM

An uncertain future in Michigan


HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - All is not doom and gloom as Michigan Thoroughbred racing stumbles into 2010 with a nine-race card at Pinnacle Race Course on Saturday. Mostly, it's just gloom.

In the once-proud Great Lakes State, where Seabiscuit won his first major race in 1936 and the likes of Tom Rolfe, Damascus, and Nodouble contested the Michigan Mile before overflow crowds at the Detroit Race Course in the 1960s, racing has reached a nadir.

"The future, to me, is Instant Racing or some other form of additional gaming to keep us alive," Pinnacle general manager Mike Mackey said. "I don't see racing being able to stand alone and continue very long."

Pinnacle, located west of Detroit near Metropolitan Airport, will hold 42 cards on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October, with a few exceptions. Two additional days of racing remain under consideration. What remains of the fan base will see some familiar faces. Angel Stanley will be back to defend the riding title he won last season, in Pinnacle's second year of existence, and Federico Mata and Ricardo Barrios also will ride regularly. Veteran Michigan trainers James Jackson, Larry Uellmen, John Rupert, and Richard Retele will return.

The truncated 2010 schedule is a far cry from the days when racing would begin with the spring thaw and go five days a week through Thanksgiving. That signals a calamitous downward spiral, said Gary Tinkle, state HBPA executive director.

"The huge reduction in dates, as well as the scarcity of opportunities to race our horses, has all but killed Thoroughbred racing in Michigan," he said.

Mackey said that the rules of Instant Racing were being reviewed by the attorney general's office, and that Instant Racing could become a reality as early as this season. But state constitutional restrictions make other forms of gaming virtually impossible to implement. Language for a ballot proposal that would amend the constitution and allow racinos was approved over the winter. But given the hurdles that would have to be overcome, success of that initiative is highly doubtful.

And the sale of a parcel of land on the Pinnacle property to a American Indian tribe for the implied purpose of building a casino adjacent to the track was briefly reported on the state Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association website. But the report was removed from the site, and Pinnacle officials would not comment. Track owner Jerry Campbell did not return calls.

Legislators in Lansing could change existing law but have in recent years vacillated somewhere between indifference and hostility in their relations with the industry. Still, without some sort of assistance, racing will not make it on its own in Michigan, Mackey said.

"We need some legislation for another form of gaming, so we can keep going," he said.

Until then, Michigan racing soldiers on, still breathing, though on life support.