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NORTHVILLE, MI -- Princess Rockette parried a mid-race challenge from Man Dontforget Me and sped away to equal the Northville Downs track record for 3-year-old pacing fillies in Saturday's (Oct. 10) Michigan Breeders Futurity.   Princess Rockette was headed by Man Dontforget Me through a :56.3 half, but accelerated to three-quarters in 1:24.4 to turn that rival aside. The daughter of Pet Rock edged clear in the stretch to defeat pocket rival Vicious Circle by 3-1/4 lengths in 1:54.3, equaling the divisional track record established by Itstimeformetofly in 2011.   Jason Merriman drove Princess Rockette to victory in her $12,450 Futurity division -- which was the 10th of her career -- for owner, breeder and trainer George Hensley Jr.   Gabe The Babe extended his winning streak to 10 by way of a pillar-to-post score in the $12,450 Futurity for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings. After holding off a push from pocket rival Night's Watch in the Michigan Sire Stakes Final on Sept. 29, the Manhardt colt called all the shots again and evaded that foe by 1-3/4 lengths to win in 1:57. Charles Taylor drove Gabe The Babe to his 18th career victory in 22 tries for trainer Jeff Rowley and owner-breeder Oscar Sievert.   In the $12,150 Futurity for sophomore trotting fillies, Come On Loretta avenged a narrow defeat to Classic Rewind in the Sire Stakes, riding the pocket and collaring her arch rival by a neck in 2:03.1 to claim her 12th career victory. Trainer-driver Tim Roach bred the daughter of Crest, and shares ownership with Larry Elvin.   Claires Pirate proved best in the $12,600 Futurity for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings, steadily encroaching from off the pace to eclipse dueling leaders YSS Toddys Prince and Storm's Coming to win by a half length in 2:01.2. Charles Taylor drove the Rompaway Wally gelding to his sixth win this season for trainer Ryan Barrett and owner Tom Barrett.   Two-year-olds contested their Michigan Breeders Futurity divisions on Friday (Oct. 9), and Honor's Image captured her ninth win in 10 starts to date with a 1:59.4 score in the $12,450 event for rookie pacing fillies. The daughter of Rockin Image and Do Me Honor turned aside a challenge from Pink Sunglasses on the far turn and edged clear by 1-3/4 lengths. Carl Putnam Jr. drove the Engle Equine LLC homebred for trainer Al Tomlinson.   Willy's Last Wish broke maiden in the $12,300 split for rookie pacing colts and geldings by way of a front-end 2:04 score over Boppi Still Smokin. David Lake drove the We Will See-Saint Marlene gelding for trainer Kent Hess and owner-breeder Tamra Grover.   Muscle Gene earned his second win in as many starts for trainer-driver Tim Roach with a 2:02.4 victory in the $12,450 Futurity for freshman trotting colts and geldings, while Wishful Mar (Bob Rowland, 2:03.2) and Shy Princess (Scott Altizer, 2:04.3) took their respective $6,525 divisions for 2-year-old trotting fillies.   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association

NORTHVILLE, MI -- Gabe The Babe captured his ninth consecutive win and became a two-time Michigan Sire Stakes champion with a 1:58.1 score during Tuesday afternoon's (Sept. 29) harness racing program at Northville Downs. Over $200,000 in purses were contested on the non-wagering program.   In the $25,950 event for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings, Gabe The Babe and driver Charles Taylor worked clear of Night's Watch (Kim Pluta) through a :29.3 first quarter and made all the pace en route to his ninth seasonal win. The son of Manhardt rated comfortable middle fractions of 1:00 and 1:29 before parrying a late bid from Night's Watch by three-quarters of a length to win in 1:58.1. Watt A Hardt (Jason Thompson) finished third.   After beginning his sophomore season with a second-place finish to Rodeo Rider at Big Rapids, Gabe The Babe quickly returned to his winning ways and reeled off a nine-race winning streak which began on July 18 at Charlotte (Mich.). His sire stakes victory gives him 17 wins in 21 career starts and $89,177 in earnings for owner-breeder Oscar Sievert and trainer Jeff Rowley.   A season-long rivalry was settled in the $25,450 sophomore filly pace, in which Meggie May I rode the pocket before striking in mid-stretch to collar pacesetter and arch rival Man Dontforget Me (Art McIlmurray) in 1:56.1, the fastest mile of the afternoon. Vicious Circle (Pluta), the 2019 divisional champion, finished third after pushing the pace through the far turn and flattening late. Ryan Ver Hage drove Meggie May I to her fifth seasonal victory for trainer Allen Tomlinson and owners Jeff and Brianna Novak.   Three of the Western Thorn filly's four second-place finishes this season were to Man Dontforget Me on the Michigan stakes circuit, and the other was a narrow defeat to Vicious Circle in a 1:52.1 mile at Harrah's Hoosier Park.   The $25,700 final for 3-year-old trotting fillies saw Classic Rewind sustain progress through the final three-eighths of a 2:01.4 mile to just collar 2019 Sire Stakes winner Come On Loretta (Tim Roach) by a neck in 2:01.4. Art McIlmurray drove the daughter of Southwind Russet to her sixth consecutive win for E C S Racing LLC and trainer Kevin St. Charles.   Another of Southwind Russet's progeny upended a 2019 Michigan champion in the 3-year-old colt and gelding trot, which carried a $25,450 purse. O Migty Thor and driver Skip DeMull controlled the pace throughout before drawing away from last year's divisional winner Suzygottanewheart (Carl Putnam Jr.) by four lengths in 2:02.4. Ken Ott owns and trains the six-time winner.   Trainer-driver Tim Roach swept the finals for Michigan-sired 2-year-old fillies, taking the $24,781 pace with Chris's Thorn (2:04), whom he owns in partnership with Kyle Larner, and the $25,281 trot with It Was Alla Dream (1:58.1), whom he owns with Willa Rousseau.   The $25,031 final for 2-year-old trotting colts and geldings went to Here Comes Hot Rod (2:08.4) and trainer-driver Kim Pluta, while Ver Hage and Rowley teamed up to take the $25,821 final for rookie pacing colts and geldings with Flashthecash (2:06).   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association  

The Michigan Gaming Control Board issued an order Wednesday allowing online wagering on harness racing — a win for the only remaining horse racetrack in the state. Online wagering also offers a potential path for Northville Downs to reopen without in-person spectators. The order allows online betting through a third-party provider on horse races around the country, not just at Northville Downs. The track has not opened for the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. It, like all other nonessential businesses, has been ordered to remain closed through at least May 28. The order follows an amendment made in December to the Horse Racing Law of 1995, allowing for third-party companies to offer wagering on live and simulcast pari-mutuel racing. "The order should enable the state's horse racing industry to gain new followers through (advance deposit wagering) and maintain protection for citizens who wish to place wagers on live and simulcast pari-mutuel racing in Michigan using their mobile phones," Richard Kalm, executive director of the control board, said in a news release from the control board. Before online wagering is implemented at Northville Downs, the track must select a third-party company to facilitate bets and apply for a license, which includes a $1,000 application fee and $500 renewal fee. The track must also strike agreements with its harness racers on how the wager earnings will be divvied up. It is unclear when horse racing will be cleared to resume and if in-person spectators will be allowed. Northville Downs operator Mike Carlo could not be immediately reached for comment. Sports betting and online betting were also legalized in Michigan in December. While on-site sports gambling rolled out just as casinos were ordered to close over the coronavirus outbreak, online gambling is not expected to happen until early next year. Control board spokeswoman Mary Bean said there have not been any plans to speed up implementation of online gambling as a result of casino closures. By Kurt Nagl Reprinted with permision of Crain's Detroit Busness

Crain's Detroit Business reports that harness racing will continue at Northville Downs, likely for several years to come, after the stalling of a $200 million residential redevelopment project planned for the site. "Races will go on at the track through 2024," said Mike Carlo, operations manager of the racetrack. Carlo said he signed a land lease option earlier this week with property owners to keep the business running. "We're just excited to be staying here longer and working harder and harder to keep horse racing alive in Michigan," he said. The option was extended to Carlo because a massive mixed-use development planned there by Farmington Hills-based Hunter Pasteur Homes has been delayed, likely for a few years. Work was previously planned to start in the first quarter of this year. "We can't develop without site plan approval from the city of Northville — we don't have that approval," said Randy Wertheimer, president and CEO of Hunter Pasteur Homes. "I don't know if the racetrack will be open for three years or four years, but they're definitely open for the foreseeable future." Wertheimer said he found out about six months ago that the development wouldn't progress on the initial timeline. The stalled proposal had included 525 residential units, 19,000 square feet of commercial space. Last year, the city of Northville launched a new master plan addressing different areas of the city, including Northville Downs. "The move to reopen three sub areas of the Master Plan came after the Planning Commission's discussion of the … preliminary site plan presented by Hunter-Pasteur for the Downs property and adjoining sub-areas," according to a post on the city's website last September. "These discussions uncovered new information about the property and impacts of redevelopment. The (planned unit development) plans have been formally withdrawn, and no new proposals have yet been formally submitted for review." To read the rest of the story, click here.

Northville, MI -- LaSalle Investments LLC's Swapportunity ($5.40) gave Ohio top honors in Saturday's $25,000 Wolverine-Buckeye Invitational Pace on Saturday evening (Nov. 16) at Northville Downs, just holding the Michigan-based Top Notch at bay.   Swapportunity left strongly from post two to establish close inside position, but yielded to Still Friskie (David Lake) and OGradys First Man (Don Harmon) through a :27 first quarter before Art McIlmurray angled him first-over with five-eighths to go. Swapportunity forced middle splits of :56.1 and 1:25.1 before pressing his way to the lead on approach to the final turn.   After putting Still Friskie away and extending his lead to two lengths midway on the final turn, Swapportunity braced for a three-wide challenge from 3-2 favorite Top Notch (Darrell Wright) at the top of the stretch. The 7-year-old Mach Three gelding found the line just in time, prevailing by a diminishing half length in 1:54.3. Crusoe Hanover (Mark Headworth) emerged out of traffic to finish third, another 2-1/2 lengths back.   Ray Farmer trains the Ohio-based Swapportunity, now a 30-time winner.   The Wolverine-Buckeye Invitational debuted at Northville Downs after having been a mainstay on the calendar at the now defunct Raceway Park in Toledo, Ohio.   McIlmurray notched a driving hat trick on the 12-race card, as did Darrell Wright and Kim Pluta.   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association

Northville, MI. -- A longtime mainstay harness racing stakes event at the former Raceway Park in Toledo, Ohio, will be resurrected on Saturday night (Nov. 16), when the $25,000 Wolverine-Buckeye Invitational Pace heads a 12-race card at Northville Downs.   Four pacers with Michigan connections will square off against a quartet of their Ohio-based rivals in the featured event, carded as race 10 on the program. First post time is 7:30 p.m. Eastern.   Local Open contender Top Notch has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite from post three. Prior to a gutsy second-place finish out of post eight in last week's featured pace, the 5-year-old No Pan Intended gelding proved victorious in two straight top-level events. Darrell Wright will once again drive the 21-time winner for trainer Kristy Casagranda.   Top Notch's main competition will likely come from the Ohio-based Gorgeous View, the 5-2 second choice out of post six. The 5-year-old He's Gorgeous gelding invades from Northfield Park, where he has proven competitive in upper-level conditioned races and taken a seasonal mark of 1:52.1. Marc St. Louis Jr. will handle the driving duties for owner-trainer Jessica Roegner.   The fastest winning mile of the season belongs to Swapportunity, who represents Ohio from post two. The 7-year-old son of Mach Three won a mid-level conditioned race at Hollywood Dayton Raceway in 1:50.1 on Oct. 10, and he has amassed 29 victories throughout his career. Art McIlmurray will drive for trainer Ray Farmer.   Crusoe Hanover (Mark Headworth, post one), OGradys First Man (Don Harmon, post four) and Still Friskie (David Lake, post seven) are the three other Michigan entrants, while Dancin Fever (John Moody, post five) and The Book Of Life (Justin Belanger, post eight) complete the Ohio quartet.   Keeping with the Wolverine-Buckeye theme, fans on track will have the chance to win a pair of tickets to the Michigan-Ohio State football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Nov. 30, in a "Survivor"-style handicapping contest. The contest, which is free to enter, requires fans to select the winner of each race on the live card.   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association  

Lansing, Mich. -- The Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association and Northville Downs have agreed to a 52-date live racing schedule, which has been approved by the Michigan Gaming Control Board, for the 2020 calendar year.   The 28-night spring meet will begin on March 20 and continue through June 20, while the 24-night fall meet will begin on Sept. 11 and continue through Nov. 28. Both meets will feature racing on Friday and Saturday evenings, with first post at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.   Additionally, Northville will accept wagers on Thoroughbred and Standardbred races simulcast from across North America seven days a week.   Northville Downs is located just west of Detroit on the corner of 7 Mile Road and Sheldon Road. For more information, visit their website (   For more information on the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association, visit their website (   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association  

Northville, MI -- Northville Downs will commence their fall harness racing meeting this Friday (Sept. 13), with ample opportunity for Michigan-connected horses to race for healthy purses in the first three weeks of the stand.   The Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association is offering eight "mini-series" for Michigan-sired, bred and owned horses through September, with over $160,000 in purses at stake. Four series will be offered for horses of each gait, with two preliminary legs leading to finals on Sept. 27 and 28. The conditions are as follows: non-winners of $1,500 in the last four starts or $350 per start in 2019 non-winners of $2,500 in the last four starts or $600 per start in 2019 $5,000-$7,500 claiming non-winners of one pari-mutuel race or $7,500 lifetime The trotting series will be conducted on Fridays, while the pacing series will take place on Saturdays. Preliminary legs will carry purses of at least $5,000, while the finals will offer purses of at least $10,000. There is no nomination fee.   Northville Downs will offer live racing every Friday and Saturday night through Nov. 16, with a four-week extension to Dec. 14 pending approval from the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Nightly post time is 7:30 p.m. Eastern.   from the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association

Northville, MI. -- After taking top harness racing honors in Michigan Sire Stakes as freshmen in 2018, Matty's Legacy and Gemini Eddie successfully defended their titles as 3-year-olds in Tuesday afternoon's (Aug. 13) $230,000 Michigan Sire Stakes at Northville Downs.   Matty's Legacy recorded a pillar-to-post 1:58.4 win over four rivals in the 3-year-old colt and gelding pace, which carried a purse of $29,210. Rick Dobson sent the son of Keystone Rodeo clear early to control fractions of :29.2, :59.2 and 1:28.2, amassing a four-length lead over Bilbo Bobbins (Michael DeRuntz) on the final turn.   Upon cornering for home, Bilbo Bobbins closed in steadily, but Matty's Legacy had enough to outlast him by a half length. Totally Innocent (Ryan VerHage) finished a distant third.   Monica Krist owns and trains Matty's Legacy, now a 13-time winner in his career.   Gemini Eddie proved a more convincing winner in the $29,460 event for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings, urged clear by Art McIlmurray to seize command from Stanwood (Chuck Taylor) past a :31 quarter and drawing clear steadily from there.   The son of Southwind Russet built up an 8-1/4 length advantage over the mildly rallying Safe And Sound (Carl Putnam Jr.) to win in 2:01.2, while Stanwood faded to third.   Kevin St. Charles trains 11-time winner Gemini Eddie for E C S Racing LLC.   Progeny of Manhardt -- two of them bred by Libby Myers -- captured the other three Michigan Sire Stakes pacing finals. Vicious Circle (Brad Kramer, 1:59) captured the $29,710 2-year-old filly pace in front-end fashion, while Lady Medusa (Larry Lee Smith, 1:59.2) sustained a first-over grind to take the $29,960 3-year-old filly pace to complete Myers' breeding double.   Oscar Sievert homebred Gabe The Babe (Taylor, 1:59.3) was the other victorious offspring of Manhardt, coasting to a 5-3/4 length win in the $30,460 freshman colt and gelding pace.   Driver Carl Putnam Jr. captured a pair of trotting events, doing so with offspring of Colie's: Suzygottanewheart (2:09.3) won the $29,710 event for 2-year-old colts and geldings by a widening 11 lengths -- the biggest winning margin of the afternoon, and You Go Girlygirl (2:06.1) overcame an early break to win the $28,960 event for 3-year-old fillies.   Come On Loretta (2:06.4) completed the octet of Sire Stakes winners, narrowly taking the $30,210 2-year-old filly trot. Breeder Tim Roach trains and drove the daughter of Crest, and he shares ownership with Larry Elvin.   From the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association  

Northside Downs will play host to the Atlantic Sires Stakes three year-old pacing fillies on Saturday afternoon and a substantial purse is on the line. The lone 'A' division will go for $17,940, with eight competitors battling it out for purse money and points. There will also be a $2,500 'B' division on the afternoon card. Points earned in each Atlantic Sires Stakes 'A' division pacing event and all trotting events go towards securing a spot in the season-ending Atlantic Breeders Crown Championships. This year's Weekend of Champions will take place at Red Shores at Charlottetown Driving Park on Thanksgiving weekend. First race post time at the North Sydney oval is 1 pm. by Lynne MacLennan, for the Atlantic Standardbred Breeders Association  

Farmington Hills-based homebuilder Hunter Pasteur Homes is under contract to buy the Northville Downs harness racing racetrack and redevelop the 48-acre property for housing. The harness racetrack's land has long been sought by developers in upscale Northville, but the project wouldn't necessarily end horse racing in the area. The site near Sheldon Road and Hines Drive is expected to be turned into 500-600 apartments and for-sale townhouses and single-family homes, according to a news release. Commercial uses are also expected. Northville Downs, Michigan's last horse track since Hazel Park Raceway closed earlier this month, will remain open until the development begins. The track's owners will seek to continue racing and wagering operations "at an area in close proximity to its current location," according to the statement from Hunter Pasteur Homes. "This project is in the preliminary stages, and we're eager to continue working with the city of Northville and our partners to iron out the numerous details that come with a project of this scale," Randy Wertheimer, president and CEO of Hunter Pasteur, said in a statement. "We expect to have all entitlements in place in 2019. As more details become available, we will share them with the community." Additional details such as purchase price and planned development cost were not disclosed. The Carlo family owns some of the track's acreage, and an investment group called Northville Driving Club Corp. owns the rest. The Carlos are minority shareholders in that entity. It's the second expected redevelopment of a horse racing track in Southeast Michigan this month following the April 5 closure of the Hazel Park Raceway. That track is expected to be sold for industrial or commercial use after 69 years as a thoroughbred and harness track. Northville management told Crain's last week that it's adding staff and buying $50,000 or more of Hazel Park's track, horse and hospitality equipment and fixtures to handle the influx of gamblers with nowhere else to wager on horses in Michigan. Northville Downs has 69 employees for the waging and racing business. It's been profitable for the past three years, track co-owner Mike Carlo said, and the closing of Hazel Park Raceway will help ensure Northville Downs remains in the black for a while longer. No details are yet available on what Northville Downs might do to race elsewhere after selling its current site. Carlo has promised a statement. Track land such as Northville Downs and Hazel Park are seen as more valuable for other purposes as interest in racing as declined. Eight Michigan horse tracks have closed since 1998 as the public has instead opted to spend money at the commercial and tribal casinos across the state, and because the lottery expanded and online forms of gambling have proliferated. The amount of money wagered at Michigan horse tracks on live racing has fallen from $22.1 million across seven tracks in 2006 to $4.2 million at two tracks in 2016, according to state data. That's an 81 percent decline. Combined live and simulcast betting in the state over that decade dropped from $281.1 million in 2006 to $103.2 million in 2016. Northville Downs can trace its roots to 1902. A driving club was formed in 1907 to manage land in Northville that had been turned into a rudimentary fairgrounds horse track in 1902. Michigan didn't create a formal pari-mutuel harness racing law until 1933, and Northville Downs became the entity it is today in 1944. The track business itself leases the land from the Northville Driving Club on an annual basis, and any sale would require both the club and family to jointly sell. Northville Downs gets a handful of offers every year from developers interested in buying some or all of the track's acreage, Carlo said. By Kirk Pinho and Bill Shea   Reprinted with permission of Grains Detroit

Angling a baseball-sized magnifying glass over the fine print of a racing form early Friday night, silver-haired Granville Bowling was studying to beat the odds in the enclosed viewing area just a stone's throw from the Northville Downs harness racing track. A 40-year regular at suburban Detroit horse racing venues, the Kentucky-born resident of Livonia had no intentions of breaking the bank. "If I win $20 tonight, fine; if I lose $20, that's OK, too," he said, his voice dripping with a syrupy southern accent. "I've been coming here since I was 20, because I love the action, I love the horses, not necessarily to win a lot of money." On the day after Hazel Park Raceway abruptly shuttered its doors — making Northville Downs the last live horse racing venue in Michigan — Bowling didn't need a magnifying glass to see what the future may hold for his No. 1 source for entertainment.  "Fifteen, 20 years ago, this place was packed with people as far as you can see," Bowling said, gesturing toward a sparsely filled grandstand area. "Back then, if you wanted to gamble, this and the lottery were the only places to do it. Now, with the casinos, there's a lot of competition for the gamblers' dollars. "As much as it hurts me to say it, I'd be surprised if this isn't the next one to go."  The future is her A couple of furlongs east of where Bowling sat, 21-year-old groomer/trainer Jessica Otten walked briskly through the bustling Northville Downs stables just over an hour before post time, exchanging greetings and smiles with jockeys, attendants and trainers. A self-proclaimed third-generation horseman, Otten was introduced to the sport by her dad Peter, a harness racing driver/trainer/owner.       Northville Downs is the last horse racing track in the state of Michigan. The value of the land it sits on is so great that many wonder how long it will be before it, too, is a memory.  Bill Bresler | It's been in her blood ever since. "My parents built a horse barn in Lennon (Mich.) the year I was born, 21 years ago," she said. "It held 30 horses. Now, we have four horses. That shows you how far the industry has declined, at least in Michigan. "We have to travel a lot now — to Canada, Ohio and Indiana — because racing is still doing well in those areas." 'Racino' royale Everyone interviewed Friday at Northville Downs agreed on one thing: Michigan's Legislature needs to legalize the use of slot machines in horse racing venues to keep the business afloat. Ohio's horse tracks were infused with new life when "racinos" — race tracks combined with slots-only casinos — were added a few years ago. According to, revenue at Northfield’s Hard Rock Racino was up $38.2 million over a 12-month stretch beginning in July 2016. "We need the racinos or everybody is going to be closing up shop here and going to Ohio," veteran trainer Ed Zubkoff said. "I hope we get a governor in office who backs us up. They have no idea how many people are active in this business. It's not just the people you see here, it's the feed mills, the farmers who grow the hay.  "Look at all the trucks that are pulling in and out of here today. Look at all the maintenance guys. They all depend on this."  More and more Ohio horse racing tracks are appealing to younger consumers by diversifying their entertainment, adding comedy clubs, concerts and gaming lounges that appeal to millennials. Novi resident Thomas Barrett, president of the Michigan Harness Horseman’s Association, said the potential for a significant influx in funding for horse racing in Michigan is real — and it's not too late to turn things around. "Other states are bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from people betting on their phones," Barrett said. "Unfortunately, this is illegal in Michigan. We're hopeful that the Legislature will pass a new bill that would create more options for people who want to bet on horse racing. "If we could get something like this legalized in Michigan, we could even re-open some of the tracks that have closed, as long as they're not plowed over by then." Mood-changer The news April 5 that Michigan's lone surviving thoroughbred horse racing track in Hazel Park was closing for good affected a large percentage of the people in the Northville Downs prepping areas. "I was at a loss for words when I heard Hazel Park was closing," Otten said. "I grew up in this business and, along with Sports Creek and Jackson closing, it's like watching my childhood disappear."  Like most industries these days, drawing millennials like Otten is a key component to thriving. "It's tough getting people my age here, because not a lot of them gamble," she said. "But once I do get them here, they're amazed by the place, the horses, the competition and they want to come back. "I get an adrenaline rush to the max every time a race starts, even if one of my horses isn't running." Timing is everything As Otten tended to her horse, Master House, veteran driver Charles Taylor pulled a turtle-neck sweater as high as it would go around his neck in preparation for a qualifying run through the night's bitter cold air. As he pulled on his green-and-red-highlighted helmet, a smile creased his face, evidence of the passion he's developed for the night of racing he was about to dive into. When asked for suggestions that would help his sport thrive, Taylor said that timing is important. "I'd like to see us start earlier, say 5:30 or 6 (p.m.), like a lot of the tracks in Ohio and Indiana do," he said. "We start at 7:30, which isn't late, but we try to get 12 races in each night and it's hard for people to stay that long. "I think running faster might help, too. Instead of having 20, 25 minutes in between races, let's run them closer together. People don't like sitting around like they used to." A horse enthusiast since he was 12, Taylor's livelihood depends solely on harness racing. "This is my real job," he said with a smile. "This is my life. I still get charged up to race. I hope they can figure something out to keep this going." “I love the competition. It's a thrill for me and always has been. It's almost like a disease, like smoking or alcohol ... I can't quit.” Karen Tkaczyk, harness-racing trainer For semi-retired veteran trainer Karen Tkaczyk, it's not all about the money. "I love the competition of horse racing; it's a thrill for me and always has been," she said. "It's almost like a disease, like smoking or alcohol ... I can't quit." Tkaczyk points to the rise in smart phone usage and high-tech alternatives to attending the track as a primary reason for her industry's hard times. "A lot of it is technology," she said. "People are on their phones, you can bet online. It keeps a lot of the young people from coming out and the old-timers are dying off. People would rather go to casinos and play cards." Veteran driver Jerry Mihelich admits he still "gets butterflies" during the moments before a race. "It's still a little scary, too, when everybody is going for the lead and we all come together like this (he brings his two hands together, forming a point)," he said. "If you're in the middle, the wheels are right there and you don't want to hook wheels.  Michigan's horse racing demise has reached all the way down to the first step of the process, Mihelich said. "There are no breeders left in Michigan, there are no horse auctions anymore," he said. "There used to be auctions with 120 horses. Now there are none." Telling it like it is The face of today's horse racing fans may belong to retired University of Michigan janitor Vernon Blackburn, who sports a neatly-trimmed white beard and boasts a robust level of enthusiasm for the sport that its supporters want to spread. "The people have always been nice to me here," said Blackburn, a 52-year regular who walks with the aid of a cane after suffering two strokes.  "My wife and I still like to come here. It's something to do. I used to come with my two sons all the time, but they moved to Saline and they bet on the races on their computers." Contact Ed Wright at or 517-375-1113. Reprinted with permission of Hometownlife

Northville, MI --- Northville Downs is excited to introduce the first ever live action "virtual reality harness racing experience." Fans will be able to sit in the sulky in a live harness race and see, hear, and feel the heart pounding excitement of driving a horse in a real race around Northville Downs. This three-minute experience gives fans the full 360 degree high definition view of a complete harness race from start to finish. During the race they will hear the thundering hooves of the horses, the announcer calling the action and tips from an experienced trainer that will guide them around the racetrack to the finish line. From gate to wire fans are sure to enjoy all the thrilling excitement of harness racing in what will be the ride of their life. After Beta testing with customers the virtual reality harness racing experience received 100 percent positive feedback. Fans were captivated to be able to take part in an in-the-sulky view of the action that takes place during a live harness race. Northville Downs would like to reach out and thank all the trainers and drivers that took part in bringing this awesome experience to life. As the live racing season continues, we will be adding more races to our virtual reality menu to further enhance this one-of-a-kind experience. Make plans to be here this weekend for your chance to sit in the sulky and enjoy the virtual reality harness racing experience. This experience is free for a limited time. Live harness racing takes place at Northville Downs on Friday and Saturday night. Friday night is family night at Northville. Join us for $1 hot dogs, $1 soft drinks, $1 live programs, $1 wagers and $2 drafts. We will also have many exiting games and drawings played throughout the evening for your chance to win cash and prizes. Post time is 7 p.m. For complete details and rules of the virtual reality harness racing experience visit the promo center located on the first level of the grandstand located directly behind the virtual reality harness racing experience display.   Northville Downs publicity department 

As the ponies hit the tracks for this season’s weekend contests, Michigan’s shrinking horse-racing industry is facing growing pressures to figure out ways to survive. Even before Detroit’s three casinos opened in 1999 and 2000, the tracks were facing competitive pressures from Native American tribal casinos that began popping up in Michigan in 1993. From a high of nine tracks in the state, only two remain — Northville Downs and Hazel Park Raceway. And staying in business has been a challenge. In 1999, horse racing generated $13.2 million in revenues for the state on wagers of $416 million. By 2015, according to the state’s annual horse-racing report, those revenues had shrunk to $3.5 million on wagers of $106 million. The number of people involved in horse racing also has shrunk dramatically. In 2002, 8,594 licenses for everything from jockeys to trainers and horse owners were issued by the state. In 2015, the number declined to 1,424. • Related: Failed Wayne Co. horse track tied to new casino plan “It’s a more competitive market out there, and we have to open up the door to some new revenue sources,” said Dan Adkins, vice president of Hazel Park Raceway, where Thoroughbred racing began for the season on Friday. Mike Carlo, operations manager at Northville Downs, just shook his head in dismay at how much business the casinos have sucked away from his harness-racing track, which has been operating since 1944 and started the live racing season in March. The Legislature has tried to lend a hand over the years, but it’s been more than 20 years since significant legislation passed that helped the industry stay alive. In 1995, the Legislature allowed the tracks to begin simulcasting races so locals could bet on both the live races happening at the track and the televised races being shown on screens inside the raceways. So while live racing happens on Fridays and Saturdays from May through September or October, simulcast wagering happens nearly every day of the year. That still wasn’t enough for the industry and from 1998 to 2014, seven tracks closed. Advocates tried again and again to push a plan to put slot machines at the racetracks, creating “racinos,” but that would require a statewide vote because it’s considered an expansion of gambling in the state. The plans went nowhere. As long as we can keep the industry up and running, we have to do it. It’s an important industry in this state supporting a lot of family farms,” said state Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo. “And let’s keep as much of those dollars in Michigan as well.” A harness racer works his horse at Northville Downs. The track is one of only two racing venues in Michigan. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier/ Detroit Free Press) Demolition begins at failed Wayne Co. horse track But the Legislature is on the cusp of passing a plan that both the horse track owners and the equine industry hope will put them on a path toward survival, perhaps even help reopen some of the tracks that have had to shutter over the years. The legislative plan switches from a complicated formula of doling out winnings from a big pool to horse owners and tracks to a system in which the money generated at each of the two tracks generally stays at that track to pay prizes to winning horses and cover expenses of the track. It also cracks down on out-of-state betting operations, making it a crime for anyone without a license for live horse racing in Michigan to accept wagers over the Internet from Michigan residents. This is the biggest plus for horse track owners, who want to capture the betting that’s now going on over the Internet. “Almost $2 billion is wagered online every year. The Michigan dollars are well into the tens of millions,” said Adkins. “My projections, I think it could generate $3 to $5 million a year for us.” Coupled with shutting down the out-of-state betting operations, the state is considering allowing Michigan’s tracks to accept online wagers on live and simulcast races run at the tracks. So horse enthusiasts could place bets over their smartphones from the comfort of their homes. That’s not an option for Harry Jones, 69, of Detroit, who spends most of his days at Northville Downs. Harness racing fan Harry Jones from Detroit says he bets six days a week at Northville Downs, averaging about $450 per week in wagers. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press) “I average about $450 a week. I bet six days a week and I may win one or two days a week,” he said on a recent Saturday evening at Northville Downs. “This is my second home. I love the character of the track.” For others, watching harness racing is a family affair. Mickey and Amanda McDonald of Waterford often bring their four kids to Northville Downs. “Even if we’re not gambling, we let the kids do some pools among themselves. The little one loves it because she calls every horse Bella,” said Mickey McDonald of his youngest daughter. “What else do you do in the Detroit area for a family? The movies or roller skating or bowling? But this gives you something else, not to mention you get to see live animals, actual horses and the drivers.” The family gathered around “Speaking Greek” after the Standardbred horse won his race that night. They didn’t know the driver really, but McDonald’s mother is Greek, and the kids wanted to pet the horse. For Tony and Kristin Nichols of Niles, a family reunion brought them to Northville Downs for their first experience with horse racing. They weren’t wagering much — $2 a race — and were choosing their bets based on the horse’s name. One winner was Prince Ponder, chosen to honor the recently deceased rock star, while another winner was Quiet Charmer. “We just decided to come and have some fun and spend a little time with each other,” Tony Nichols said. It’s like that at the Hazel Park track too, Adkins said, where race nights have become a happening that can attract up to 10,000 people. “The excitement of the live action on the track is what draws the people,” he said. “Hazel Park is becoming its own little hot spot.” The state also benefits from the horse tracks, not only on the taxes brought in by the tracks, but by bolstering the state’s $101 billion agriculture industry. State Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, the sponsor of the bills, said his district has many horse stables, and he was pained by the closing of Sports Creek Raceway in Swartz Creek. “I want to do everything I can to reverse the downward decline of the horse-racing industry. The goal is to improve the financial viability of the industry in Michigan. And as it becomes more successful, anything is possible.” Sports Creek closes, leaving 2 horse tracks in state The Senate passed the horse-racing bills — SB 504-505 — earlier this month, and the House is expected to vote on the package before it goes on summer break in two weeks. By Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, or on Twitter @michpoligal Reprinted with permission of the Detroit Free Press

After years of sparring about the best way to split the pot, Michigan's two remaining horse tracks (thoroughbred and harness racing) have found some common ground when it comes to divvying up the money from bets placed on horse races. That consensus, though, hasn't yet reached other parts of the business that owners of both tracks say will be necessary if the industry is going to be relevant in the 21st century — namely, the introduction of electronic wagering. Past efforts didn't bear fruit. And now the tracks — Hazel Park Raceway, which holds thoroughbred races, and Northville Downs, which runs standardbred harness races — find themselves on opposite sides of proposed legislation that initially attempted to resolve the issue. Executives at Northville Downs say the bill as written is a nonstarter, even after a controversial provision that would have allowed some Internet-based wagering at the tracks was stripped from the bill on the Senate floor. In response, Hazel Park Raceway and its affiliated horsemen's group, the Howell-based Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, say they intend to ask the Michigan Gaming Control Board to pursue online wagering as an administrative rule change, rather than in statute. The practice, known as advance deposit wagering, would allow people to place bets on simulcast races from their cellphones or tablets without having to visit a track. Current law requires anyone betting on horse racing to do so from within a track. Hazel Park and Northville Downs consider online betting on horse races an extension of what they already do, replacing paper with the mobile devices that people carry everywhere. TheMichigan Lottery has introduced online games, which track owners believe is essentially the same thing. And because more than 95 percent of the tracks' wagering revenue comes from people who place bets on simulcast races, rather than live ones, the interest in electronic wagering is also financial. The tracks say they're competing for business against out-of-state mobile wagering sites that don't pay state taxes and don't offer a cut of the proceeds to support either track and their affiliated horse owners' group. Earlier versions of Senate Bill 504, sponsored by state Sen. David Robertson, included a provision that would have allowed the horse track with the larger handle during the past five years to operate advance deposit wagering. By numbers alone, Hazel Park had the larger simulcast handle — $56.6 million in 2015, compared to $45 million for Northville Downs, according to Michigan Gaming Control Board figures. "I would have had to take everybody to court," said Mike Carlo, Northville Downs' operations manager. "That was the biggest slap in the face I've ever seen in this industry. "In our world, we live under the purview of our license," he added. "Basically, what it would have done is it would have said that Hazel Park has a different license to operate pari-mutuel wagering in a manner that Northville Downs can't." The bill that passed the Senate does not include that language. Instead, it would allow Michigan's racing commissioner to draft administrative rules to govern the practice. The Michigan Gaming Control Board, which regulates the horse industry along with Detroit's three commercial casinos, opposed the earlier version of the bill. Robertson, R-Grand Blanc Township, said the board and harness racing groups wanted the language removed. A 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution requires a statewide vote for any expansion of gaming. The board has not yet publicly said whether it would consider authorizing advance deposit wagering. Robertson, track owners and horsemen's groups all say they don't believe the practice would violate the constitutional provision. "The (board) will have to see what the options and its authority are if the bill becomes law," gaming board spokeswoman Mary Kay Bean said via email. The bill could get a hearing in the House agriculture committee this week after clearing the Senate last week in a 30-7 vote. A new formula? Robertson's bill would be the first update to Michigan's 1995 horse racing statute. Among other things, it would rewrite the formula that distributes revenue from wagers. Currently, all wagers placed on simulcast races at Hazel Park and Northville Downs are pooled into a common purse, where it's split between the tracks and horsemen's groups. Track owners say that setup made more sense years ago, when Michigan had more horse tracks in operation. But waning interest in horse racing led to the closure of seven tracks since 1998, leaving just two tracks. Hazel Park and Northville Downs essentially compete for the same audience, despite the fact that they don't race the same breeds of horses, and have lost money as the wagering pool decreased. Thus, competition for market share has become increasingly important. Today, the common purse is divided in a way that offers roughly 65 percent of the proceeds to the harness racing standardbreds, after winners and a 3.5 percent state tax are paid, with the rest going to the thoroughbreds. Robertson's bill would eliminate the common purse in favor of a "site-specific" model, meaning all of the wagers placed at Northville Downs and Hazel Park would stay at the respective tracks. "Horse racing has had very tough times. It's been diminishing as a sport, and this is an attempt to try to amend the law in a way that will help all of racing," Robertson said. "This language is archaic." Northville Downs agreed to the funding formula change, which ultimately is a concession that would award them a smaller share of the simulcast purse pool than they receive now. But Carlo and the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association say the change triggers a problem with a different section of the bill, which they believe would require Hazel Park's owners to sign off each time Northville Downs wanted to simulcast a thoroughbred horse race. Their fear is that Hazel Park and thoroughbred groups could block Northville Downs from simulcasting the Kentucky Derby, for instance, since the money collected under the new model would not be shared with Hazel Park and thoroughbred owners. "Since the dawn of simulcasting, all tracks have taken all breeds," said Tom Barrett, president of the harness horsemen's group. "We are only going to support a bill that treats both tracks the same." George Kutlenios, president of the thoroughbred horsemen's association, said his group doesn't intend to prevent Northville Downs from showing thoroughbred races. "I don't know why we would not want to send a signal," Kutlenios said. "The more signals, the more product you have to offer. I can't even envision a scenario where that makes sense." Simulcast dollars The fight over simulcast revenue in some ways explains the desire for advance deposit wagering. Simulcast wagers contributed $3.6 million in state tax revenue last year, a drop of 9 percent from 2014, according to the gaming control board. And the roughly $106 million wagered on live and simulcast races last year is well below the $261 million bet in 2007. Kutlenios said he has heard some industry estimates peg the amount wagered illegally in Michigan through services in other states at between $90 million and $120 million. Robertson also sponsored Senate Bill 505, which would make it a felony to accept wagers on live or simulcast horse races in Michigan without a license. That bill also moved to the House. Proponents say they want to stop vendors like TwinSpires, which is owned by Churchill Downs, from taking unlicensed wagers from potential track visitors that otherwise could be used to support Michigan's race tracks. "There are people right now on site using their phones but not wagering even through us," said Dan Adkins, vice president of Southfield-based real estate developer Hartman and Tyner Inc., which owns Hazel Park Raceway. Carlo, of Northville Downs, said Michigan's horse tracks could make inroads into the market for advance deposit wagering if a third-party vendor managed it on behalf of both tracks, rather than allowing one track to operate at the expense of the other. "We're in favor of it being in place somehow and some way," he said, "but I don't think we have figured out the best way for our industry in Michigan." By Lindsay Vanhulle Reprinted with permission of the Crain's Detroit site

Undefeated pacing filly Kayla Grace made her sophomore debut on Saturday night at Michigan's Northville Downs and earned her 13th consecutive victory. Kayla Grace ($2.80) opened the evening's harness racing card with an eight and three-quarter length triumph in 1:57.4. Brad Kramer sent the Hes All That-A Maze Of Grace filly wire-to-wire for trainer Marie St. Charles. She is owned by Ed and Cheryl Sayfie's E C S Racing LLC and Kevin St. Charles. To read the rest of the story click here.

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