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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Entry Fees - The New Threat to Racing

The MGCB has given Hazel Park and Northville Downs permission to change their racing calendar to race 10 days of standardbred racing to be followed by mixed breed racing.  Once those 20 days of racing are completed, the only track which will continue to offer standardbred racing in Michigan will be Sports Creek Raceway though rumor has it they are considering the switch as well.

To say harness racing is in a perilous position in Michigan is an understatement indeed.   How did Michigan get to this point?  The thoroughbreds wanted to get out of Mt. Pleasant Meadows which will race its final meet in 2014.  They wanted out so badly they agreed each owner will pay a $400 entry fee each start to race on the Michigan bull-rings; a way to circumvent the rules regarding how handle is divided between the horsemen and the tracks.  Think of it, in a 10 horse race, the track will make $4,000 in entry fees so in effect, horsemen will be racing for a good chunk of their own money in each purse; the savings going to the track operators.

The problem is this threat goes beyond Michigan's border.  In British Columbia, Great Canadian Gaming Corp (GCGC) is in a battle with standardbred horsemen at Frasier Downs and thoroughbred horsemen at Hastings Park over race dates.  There, GCGC want to race minimal schedules for both breeds with the horsemen paying the expenses involved with racing and training if they want to race additional dates; in effect having horsemen pay to race out of the purse account.  Fortunately for standardbred interests, the thoroughbred horsemen share a common opposition to pay for the privilege of racing where the Michigan HBPA were so desperate to race, they were willing to 'pay to play'.  Of course, they don't realize while they will be paying $400 a start to race, who knows how much they will be asked to pay after their 5 year contract expires.

If you race outside of Michigan, don't be so confident you won't be asked to pay to start in an overnight event.  The precedent has been set.  Whether you race at a racino or a traditional racetrack, track operators are going to seek ways to cut their expenses.  It starts with charging stall rent, progresses to eliminating the backstretch, then when they are unable to cut expenses any further they will progress to increasing revenue and to get around state laws (if not changed), you will see yourself paying fees to race for your own money.

The die has been cast.  While the Michigan mixed-breed interests are feeling pretty good right now about running out the trotters and think they are sitting in the cat bird seat, it's just a matter of time until they are scorned by their out of state counterparts for starting this ugly trend.

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