Hazel Park Raceway preps for 2016 season

Start in late May means more horses will be ready to race

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 16, 2016

 Hazel Park Raceway was featured in a promo video for the premiere of the film “Dark Horse.” The promo video highlighted the Thoroughbred Stock Exchange, a group that allows people to experience the perks of owning a horse.

Hazel Park Raceway was featured in a promo video for the premiere of the film “Dark Horse.” The promo video highlighted the Thoroughbred Stock Exchange, a group that allows people to experience the perks of owning a horse.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

HAZEL PARK — The Derby Day festivities at Hazel Park Raceway have come and gone, but unlike last year, they weren’t accompanied by live racing. That’s because the 2016 thoroughbred meet starts later this month, which track officials say will result in horses that are better prepared.

Race dates will be on Fridays and Saturdays from May 27 through Sept. 3. By comparison, last year’s season started May 1. The 2015 season was cut short from 38 days of live racing to 30 when Sports Creek Raceway closed last August, shrinking the purse pool. Sports Creek was located in Swartz Creek, near Flint. Like last year, Hazel Park’s 2016 season will have 30 days of live racing.

“People are starting to ship in their horses, and they’ve been in training,” said Ladd Biro, director of racing at Hazel Park Raceway, located at 10 Mile and Dequindre roads. “Starting in late May gives the horses a better opportunity to train and be race-ready when the starting gates open and the bell goes off. We’ll have a stronger supply of horses than we would earlier in May.”

He noted that the track can accommodate around 400 horses. It stabled more than 1,500 horses back in the sport’s heyday, but it has closed a number of barns since then.

Those who attended Derby Day May 7 didn’t get to see the horses, but they had a great time, Biro said. The clubhouse sold out, with more than 10,000 people coming by to drink mint juleps and watch the Kentucky Derby, many of them wearing fancy hats.

“A lot of people consider it the first event of spring. I know the Tigers are playing by then, but it can be awfully chilly down at Comerica Park (earlier in the year). By Derby Day, it’s warm enough that people start to come out,” Biro said.

Once the 2016 meet begins, fans can look forward to monthly events in addition to the standard races, Biro said. There will be the Fourth of July fireworks show, held in cooperation with the city of Hazel Park. There will be festivities for the Triple Crown events. The track may also bring back the classic car show and hold another Oktoberfest. People who want to stay in the loop can follow Hazel Park Raceway on Facebook.

“We’ll have all of the favorites,” Biro said. “We’ll have something going on every month in addition to the racing.”

The track will also continue to work with CANTER, the organization founded by former WXYZ anchor Robbie Timmons that helps to rehabilitate and find loving forever homes for retired racehorses.

Hazel Park Raceway is also working with the Thoroughbred Stock Exchange (TBSX), a Detroit-based organization founded last December by Leslie Lutton and her husband, Jonathan. Its goal is to make the “Sport of Kings” available to normal everyday people.

According to its website, tbstockexchange.com, TBSX allows members from all over the world to buy and sell shares of racehorses instantly from their computer or mobile device. The shares they purchase are all-inclusive, with no ongoing fees, and run for as low as $25.

When the horse wins, backers receive part of the winnings. But that’s only a bonus: The real takeaway is getting what they call the “ownership experience” — all of the perks of owning a horse, with none of the hassle. TBSX will provide behind-the-scenes access to the horses and trainers, access to the winners’ circle, reservations at the clubhouse and more.

And then, when the horse is ready to retire, members can rest assured that it will find a good home. TBSX arranges for retirement homes for all of its horses when the time comes. As a company, TBSX is vested in each horse it lists at the same level as it members. Horses are broken into 1,000 capped shares each; 800 of each are for sale to the public in the online trading center.

“They say if you could bottle up the feeling of owning a racehorse and sell it, you’d be a millionaire,” Leslie Lutton said. “That (money) isn’t our goal, but we do want to bring that special feeling to everyone — that feeling of being in the winners’ circle or going around to the back side of the track. That shouldn’t be just for the wealthy. You can go from being a railbird — a fan standing by the rail with your hot dog and beer, watching the horses — to the other side, to the trainer and horse, and feel involved like (the horse) is yours.”

When Sony Pictures Classics premiered its new film “Dark Horse” in New York City earlier this month, it was accompanied by a promotional video for TBSX that included footage shot on scene at Hazel Park Raceway, including aerial footage taken by drone.

Sony teamed up with TBSX because of the coincidental similarity in theme between TBSX and Sony’s movie “Dark Horse.” The film is a documentary about a working-class Welsh mining village where the residents pooled their money to breed and raise a racehorse — an expensive process that is typically reserved for the elite. The town’s horse, Dream Alliance, raised in the 2000s, went on to win the 2009 Welsh Grand National, a steeplechase in Great Britain. It’s a real-life underdog story.

The Luttons believe that making that experience available to the general public will benefit the entire racing industry by drawing new people into the fold. 

“This is our way of trying to get people to love the sport of horse racing from all angles,” Leslie Lutton said. “We even put everything in layman’s terms so people understand the lingo and keep coming back. We’re bringing people to the ‘Sport of Kings’ when before they thought it wasn’t possible.”

Hazel Park Raceway can be reached by calling (248) 398-1000.