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Sports Creek sale near; could harness return?

September 25, 2018
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George Kutlenios, president of the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, told harnessracing.com Tuesday afternoon that a group of Thoroughbred owners are in talks to purchase Sports Creek Raceway near Flint. Kutlenios said there was a good possibility that harness racing could return to Sports Creek, which has sat empty since it closed at the end of 2014.

"We have a group interested in purchasing Sports Creek and getting it up and running for Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in 2019," said Kutlenios. "We're sitting tight right now waiting for all the ducks to line up. Right now the plans look good and everything seems to be falling in place, we just don't have anything concrete to actually hang our hat on."

Kutlenios said the new group applied for 30 dates in 2019 in accordance to the Aug. 31 deadline set by the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Race dates are expected to be awarded sometime in October.

"By statute we have to apply for 30 days and we applied for 30 days," said Kutlenios. "We have a date hearing coming up in October but that is contingent on the track being purchased and the new owners getting it up and running and starting simulcasting and getting the track surface ready and the barns ready. We'd race starting around (Kentucky) Derby day (in early May)."

Thoroughbred racing in Michigan took a hit after the sudden closing of Hazel Park this spring just a few days before the meet was scheduled to open. With the closing of Hazel Park, that left Northville Downs as the only racetrack still in operation in Michigan.

A few days after Hazel Park closed, officials at Northville Downs announced that track had been sold for development and would be closing in 2020. Northville's director of operations John Carlo told harnessracing.com at the time that a location would be secured to build a new racetrack, which as of yet has not been done.

As for harness racing returning to Sports Creek—which opened in 1986 and raced only Standardbreds—Kutlenios said he has been in contact with Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association president Tom Barrett.

"We thought Northville would close before Hazel Park would; we thought Hazel would be the last track standing in Michigan," he said. "I talked to Tom (Barrett) and if that day came we would certainly get back together and go to a split meet at Hazel Park. We're for all the horsemen, we're not going to be a game killer for anybody. I've already talked to the potential new owners about doing a split meet there for harness and Thoroughbreds, just like they did at DRC and Hazel."

Kutlenios doesn't expect a new racetrack to be built without additional gaming revenue, such as from casinos or sports betting.

"No one is going to build a new track in Michigan based on the products we have available now," he said. "If we had a casino license or slots or instant racing machines, it'd be a different story. Someone might take that leap and put together a track to take advantage of possible income, but that's just not the case in Michigan."

Kutlenios said he's expressed to legislators that any form of sports betting has to include racetracks.

"We're going to write in that there has to be brick and mortar locations, which includes the three casinos (in downtown Detroit) and any licensed racetracks," said Kutlenios. "That has to be a part of it. There is no way they can just have casinos get it. That's our goal.

"Where racing is in Michigan, until we get additional funds of revenue like ADWs (advance deposit wagering) or anything else that comes down the pike, it makes sense to have one central location for everything. Hazel Park would have been the best bet for everybody, but it wasn't meant to me."

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