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Thoroughbred Racing Puts Some Slack in Northville Downs’ ‘Short Rope’

Thoroughbred racing will debut this fall, giving the family owned track a chance to survive amid declining interest in pari-mutuel betting and stiffer competition from casinos, Internet gambling and other gaming facilities.

Harness racing opened earlier this month at Northville Downs, but it's the debut of thoroughbred racing that gives the family-owned track its best chance at survival. (Photo: Northville Downs)
Harness racing opened earlier this month at Northville Downs, but it's the debut of thoroughbred racing that gives the family-owned track its best chance at survival. (Photo: Northville Downs)

Northville Downs opened its harness racing season earlier this month – just as it has since 1944 – but with a buoyed sense of confidence that it’ll be able to remain open.

That was far from a certainty before January, when the Michigan Gaming Control Board Executive Director Rick Kalm authorized Northville Downs’  request for the shift from standardbred — or harness — racing under a tentative five-year contract agreement with the association representing thoroughbred horsemen, the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Crain’s Detroit Business reports.

"We're running on a real short rope at this point," John Carlo, whose family has operated the track since 1944, said. "We had to take a new approach to keep Northville Downs open."

The Gaming Board also authorized thoroughbred racing to resume at Hazel Park Raceway  after a 30-year hiatus.

Operators at both tracks hoping the move will buy time in the face of declining interest in the sport and competition from casinos, Internet betting and racinos in nearby states, the newspaper said.

Northville downs had applied for a thoroughbred license, only to have it denied because regulators wanted more information about how the plan would work.

“We fought tooth and nail for it,” Downs Operations Manager Mike Carlo told The Observer & Eccentric . “We think it’s a step in the right direction and we’re excited about it.”

The thoroughbred season, which will run Oct. 12-Nov. 16, offers the track a good chance of surviving a decline in interest in pari-mutuel betting and a political climate that doesn’t favor gambling expansion.

The contract with the thoroughbred association will, at least in th short-term, shore up the track’s losses, Michael Carlo told the business journal. The track kept $7.2 million of $52.3 million in wagers in 2012, according to state records – down from $8 million in revenues on $56 million in wagers in 2011.

That contributed to a net loss of $92,000 in 2012, Carlo said. In 2013, losses could approach $300,000.

The Carlos think face fans will bet more on thoroughbred races than harness races. That prediction is based on the volume they’ve seen from the simulcast business.

The track expects to see an enhanced interest once thoroughbred racing begins.

But to make it to the home stretch, Northville Downs will have to offers some of the extras to keep fans coming back. A new concessionaire has been brought in with a new menu and dining room.

The thoroughbred season is scheduled to run from Oct. 12–Nov. 16.

Aridog March 22, 2014 at 08:44 AM
Wonder if Northville will again host the "Winner's Circle Saloon" like back in the old days. An eclectic collection of track hands, local horsemen, and just local folks. Anyway, since the SBT is gone, the track won't have to pay taxes even on losses as they did under the SBT. I hated that in loss years...like where was the tax money (essentially a tax on labor) to come from? You back pocket is where. Gov Milliken would have fit right in with Obama's crowd today....he put the capital R in RINO.
johnj March 23, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Close this place down already - just delaying the inevitable. Let downtown northville grow into its new space and explode as a true destination location! PS do you think anyone younger really cares about horse racing of any type any more? They/we prefer restaurants, bars, and a vibrant town core.
Mr Rogers March 23, 2014 at 02:58 PM
Great Idea!! Thoroughbred racing is a lot more fun and exciting to watch than harness racing. Count me in!!

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