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Thoroughbred meet starting soon at Hazel Park Raceway

Opening night May 1 followed by Kentucky Derby celebration May 2

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 25, 2015

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HAZEL PARK — When thoroughbreds returned to Hazel Park Raceway last year after a 30-year hiatus, an estimated 14,000-15,000 people turned out to see the majestic steeds in action. 

The track is hoping to replicate that success this year, kicking off the meet just in time for the Kentucky Derby, with the first race at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 1.

The track then opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 2, right in time for the first race post of the Kentucky Derby. People can place bets, enjoy a barbecue and a live band, win baseball tickets in a raffle, and drink mint juleps. The racing at the track continues at 7:30 p.m. that night, as well.

As always, parking and admission are free. A 16-ounce draft beer is $2.

Holding the thoroughbred meet during the Kentucky Derby wasn’t possible last year, since the track was wrapping up its standardbred meet and converting the track for thoroughbreds. With the track ready to go this year, the meets were rescheduled accordingly. 

“Weather permitting, I think we’ll have a huge day at the derby and the opening night, as well,” said Ladd Biro, director of racing at Hazel Park Raceway. “People have had cabin fever all winter, and now they have the chance to get outside and participate. People really get into it. We’ve had women come out in dresses. Once, we had a guy show up in the top hat and tails.”

Biro said the response to the thoroughbreds seems to be stronger since they’re what people typically associate with the Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown events. Biro said there is a lot of love for the standardbreds, but the thoroughbreds have a certain sense of “pageantry and majesty” that commands people’s attention.

And the owners and trainers racing at Hazel Park Raceway have a lot of love for the horses, Biro said, with top-notch medical staff ready on-site. The track also works with CANTER, an organization run by former WXYZ anchorwoman Robbie Timmons, which takes under-performing horses and rehabilitates them, retraining them for a “second career” as trail horses or other less strenuous  occupations, ensuring that they have a happy retirement.

“If a horse continues to run last, or next to last, they’ll recognize that either the horse does not like racing or it’s just not fast enough on the track. That’s when they’ll retire that horse to the CANTER program,” Timmons said. “CANTER provides that horse (with) rehab, and lets it adjust to life on the farm. Then we retrain it, finding them non-race homes. They really excel in their second careers.”

CANTER accepts donated horses and also works with owners to find potential buyers, visiting the stables and taking pictures and descriptions for its website, www.canterusa.org. Each potential buyer is thoroughly vetted to ensure that the horse finds a proper forever home.

“We have some horses that raced in Hazel Park last fall who are now available for adoption,” Timmons said. “People may recognize them: One is Ceebo’s Honour, and another is Bentley Red. Several others we took out of Hazel Park earlier have already been retrained and adopted. One had a great name: Marshmallow Martini.”

CANTER is a nonprofit, run entirely by unpaid volunteers. It partnered up with Hazel Park Raceway for the track’s first-ever Oktoberfest last fall. Leaders will be back at the track this year for the Kentucky Derby, sharing brochures about their organization and selling CANTER-branded merchandise to raise money for the animals. They also accept donations, with every dollar donated going to the thoroughbreds. Other collaborations are also planned in the coming months.

This year’s thoroughbred meet will coincide not only with the Kentucky Derby, but with the other Triple Crown events — the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

“They’re all noteworthy, and there’s always a bump in attendance because people want to see them,” Biro said. “There’s a certain atmosphere to it all. Things pick up significantly with the Derby. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we’ll have the apron full of people. The clubhouse itself is already sold out, so we’re looking at a packed house. I’m very optimistic at the numbers.”

Hazel Park Raceway is located at 1650 E. 10 Mile Road, at the corner of Dequindre in Hazel Park. Opening night of the thoroughbred meet is Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. The track opens at 10 a.m. for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 2, with more live racing that evening at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (248) 398-1000.

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