Hazel Park Raceway closes after nearly 70 years of horse racing
An era of thoroughbred horse racing is over in Michigan.
Hazel Park Raceway has announced it is closing, effective Thursday, after nearly 70 years of horse racing.
The track, located at 10 Mile and Dequindre, announced in a news release that it has entered into an agreement to sell its assets. The deal is expected to close in the next few weeks. Terms were not disclosed.
The raceway was supposed to open on May 4, and just like every year, there was a buzz in the days leading up to the scheduled opening, said George Kutlenios, president of the Michigan Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, a group that represents horsemen and negotiates contracts with the track.
This week, horsemen began setting up their stalls, putting up gates, ordering straw and bedding for the horses, and ordering their feed deliveries in anticipation for the meet, Kutlenios said.
By contract, horses were allowed on the racetrack grounds 30 days ahead of opening, according to Kutlenios, who said horses were being shipped to Hazel Park from all over the country to start training at the track.
The raceway said it will offer assistance to its 90 employees in their search for new employment and issued this statement:
“Over the past 25 years, the gaming industry has dramatically changed throughout the country. Clearly, this has had a significant impact on the proud tradition of horse racing throughout Michigan. For nearly 70 years, Hazel Park Raceway has appreciated the hard work and support of both employees and fans, as well as the economic and entertainment value this venue has brought to the community.”
Keith Arbuckle said the mood was “angry and quiet” in a morning meeting Thursday when he and other employees learned of the news.
“You try to be tough guy, but I ain’t a tough guy no more,” said Arbuckle, 61, of Novi, who worked as a starter at the racetrack and choked up when describing how he felt about the news of the shutdown. “It’s really hard, you know, I got guys that work for me. I gotta tell them that they don’t have a job no more.”
For Arbuckle, the racetrack is where he started working as a hot walker when he was a teen. The job involved walking the horses to cool them down, Arbuckle said, and as a youth he hoped eventually to become a starter, who controls the positions of the horses.
“I had so much passion for it, I wanted to get involved with the job I’m doing now,” Arbuckle said.
Scott Bowerman, general manager at Flying G Racing, said that the shutdown of Hazel Park Raceway means his stable, a syndicate consisting of six horses and 44 investor partners, will probably head back to Mountineer, W.Va., from where the group made its move to Michigan in 2015.
It was the track that drew them to Michigan, Bowerman said.
“We kind of brought them (the syndicate) into Michigan, thinking, you know, we had a chance to get horses relatively cheap and have stake opportunities for our syndicate,” said Bowerman.
The track’s closure leaves Northville Downs as the only horse racing site left in Michigan.
For Brian Holly, who said he visits the track a couple times a week, Northville is too far a drive.
“For being a 10-minute commute to get here for me, it’s about an hour to drive to Northville,” said Holly, 50, of St. Clair Shores. “That’s why I’ve never even considered going there.”
Holly said he had the day off work and was heading over to the racetrack when he heard the news on sports radio. His favorite memories of the racetrack, where he has been coming since he was a little kid, are those with his father.
“Every time I come here, I think of him,” Holly said.
Hazel Park Raceway first opened in 1949 as America’s first five-eighths-mile track. Originally a dual-breed facility, the raceway switched to hosting only harness racing from 1985 to 2014, when it was converted back for thoroughbred use.
A sign was posted outside, saying: “After nearly 70 years, Hazel Park Raceway is closing effective April 5, 2018. We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to our employees, visitors, supporters and long-standing community partners.”
Posted By: Detroit Free Press on April 5, 2018. For more information, please click here to read the source article.
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