Northville Harness Racing To Continue

Published: September 4, 2014 12:39 pm EDT

Although a revamped racing schedule in Michigan for 2014 called for 16 days of Thoroughbred racing at Northville Downs beginning on October 18, it appears an about-face has been done after track officials reached a five-year agreement with the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association (MHHA) to continue Standardbred racing at the suburban Detroit oval.

The original 2014 dates applications submitted by both Hazel Park and Northville Downs were solely for harness racing, but amended requests were later put in and approved by the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MCGB) to include Thoroughbred racing. The Thoroughbred meet at Hazel Park – the first since 1984 – opened in late June and is scheduled to run through October 11.

As a result of what appeared to be the cessation of harness racing in the Metro-Detroit area, Brett Boyd, the MHHA president at the time, resigned his position so he could concentrate on resurrecting Jackson Raceway, which closed in 2009. Boyd was hoping to reach a contract agreement with the MHHA, but when the association's board of directors voted last week 10-2 to approve terms with Northville Downs, he announced on Facebook he was abandoning his plans and that led to several heated arguments via social media.

"At the end of the day the MHHA saw more value in a deal with Northville than a deal at Jackson,” Boyd wrote on his Facebook page. "It breaks my heart to see this happen. We had a real opportunity to rebuild our business in Jackson but the lack of a contract with the MHHA by the Sept. 1 (dates application) deadline sealed our fate.”

The MHHA also filed a lawsuit challenging the MGCB's decision to approve the re-submitted dates application that essentially transferred harness dates to the Thoroughbreds, and that will apparently be dropped if the Northville dates are approved.

The Northville contract calls for the 16 additional days in 2014, and a minimum of 30 dates and up to 60 dates in 2015 through 2019, depending on negotiations with the other tracks, including Sports Creek and Jackson, which is not yet totally out of the equation.

The MHHA posted on its website that the Northville contract also calls for the MHHA and its horsemen to help offset the cost of live racing through a combination of starting fees and commission surrender.

So where do the Thoroughbreds stand in all of this? George Kutlenios, president of the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents the Thoroughbred horsemen in the state, said although at this late date it appears unlikely Northville would be able to open a Thoroughbred meet on time, he said his association has a five-year agreement with the track. Kutlenios said he was awaiting word from the MCGB before making any future decisions.