Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Detroit News


During the Klondike Gold Rush, Wilson Mizner ran a gambling house in the Yukon. One night when a no-limit stud poker game was in progress a stranger entered the room and asked to sit in. The players ignored him but he was persistent. He told Mizner, "I've got money" and counted out $10,000 in currency. Mizner took the cash, tossed it to the banker and told him, "Give this fellow a white chip."

A group that calls itself the Michigan Thoroughbred Turf Club is trying to break into the thoroughbred racing game. The promoters say they are ready to spend $4 million to build the "Most modern and beautiful track in the Middle West." If they try to build the track they describe $4 million will take them about as far as a white chip in Mizner's palace of chance.

The promoters told members of the Troy Township Board of Trustees that they plan to build a track comparable to Hialeah or Santa Anita. If one of them ever visited Hialeah or Santa Anita and has any idea of costs he must know that neither track could be duplicated today for less than $30 or $35 million. Ten years ago, Dr. Charles H. Strub, the man who created Santa Anita, said he had already spent $10 million on improvements and expected to spend at least that much more. Hialeah built a clubhouse for $2,500,000 last year and Belmont Park expects to spend about $50 million rebuilding its plant and making it modern.

None of the promoters of the Michigan Thoroughbred Turf Club is known to racing and they lack even a hazy idea of what the operation of a race track involves. Like many others they probably believe all that is necessary is a track, a fence and a line of pari-mutuel machines. You open the gates and quickly start raking in the millions. What they do not realize is that the race track is the most intricate and hazardous of professional sports industries.

They say they will spend $4 million to erect the "most modern and beautiful track in the Middle West" but it is obvious they have never seen Arlington Park or Washington Park in Chicago. Arlington Park, which cost several times $4 million, is the most modern and beautiful track in the Middle West with Washington Park not far behind.

George Krehbiel, who has covered racing at every major track in the country with the exception of Hollywood Park in California and is a nationally recognized authority, was asked to interview track owners and operators and prepare an itemized list of expenses involved. He gathered the following facts:

A modern steel grandstand seating 10,000 persons would cost $4 million or more, probably more.

A track requires at least 20 barns of 60 stalls each. The barns could not be built for less than $100,000 a barn.

Grading, purchase of special loam and construction of a one-mile racing strip together with the inside and outside rails would require another $400,000.

Buildings other than the grandstand, bleachers, clubhouse and barns must be erected. They include the administration building, jockey quarters, track kitchen, blacksmith shop and maintenance building. These would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Expensive equipment, such as a watering truck, harrows, floats, tractors, must be bought. Hazel Park, with a ‚Öù-mile track, spent $75,000 on equipment alone.

Although no race track owns a totalisator, the track must pay $70,000 for installation of the board and necessary wiring, then pay a percentage of its mutuel receipts to the American Totalisator Co.

Hazel Park, with a daily average mutuel handle of around $700,000, must have a daily cash bankroll of $400,000 on hand at all times. Tracks with larger mutuel handles must have bigger bankrolls ready.


Then come the contractual obligations every track should have. They are the film patrol, telautograph, electric timer, photo finish camera, electric starting gate, hospital ambulance, horse ambulance, physician, trained nurse, veterinarian, paddock blacksmith, armored car service, jockey insurance, canned music and a private detective agency, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Pinkerton's or others.

And the payroll and purses. The new outfit angling for a license, talks vaguely of purses higher than those paid by the Michigan Racing Association and Hazel Park. Size of purses is based largely on the size of the mutuel handle and there is no way for a new track to tell what it will be.

Daily operating expenses for Gulf-stream Park in Florida, for instance, average $75,000. Tracks like Santa Anita, Hialeah, Belmont, Arlington Park and Washington Park cost considerably more to operate.

The difference between the promoters of the Michigan Thoroughbred Turf Club and the stranger in the Yukon is that $4 million won't buy a white chip.