Northville Downs is located at the intersection of Sheldon Rd./Center St. and Seven Mile Rd. in Northville.
From the North: US-23 south to I-96 East (exit 60A). Proceed east on I-96 approx. 14.5 miles to Novi Rd./Northville (exit 162). Turn right on Novi Rd. and proceed south approx. 3.25 miles to Eight Mile Road. Turn right on Eight Mile Rd. and proceed west approx. 0.25 mile to Centre Street. Turn left on Center St. and proceed south approx. 1 mile to the general parking lot entrance on the left (approx. 150 yards past Cady Street).
From the South: I-275 north to M-14 West (exit 29). Proceed west (toward Ann Arbor) on M-14 approx. 2.5 miles to Sheldon Rd. (exit 20). Turn right on Sheldon Rd. and proceed north approx. 2.75 miles to Northville Downs on the right (just past 7 Mile Road). Proceed to the general parking lot entrance on the right (approx. 100 yards past the Northville Down clubhouse entrance).
From the East: I-96 west to M-14 West. Continue west (toward Ann Arbor) on M-14 approx. 2.5 miles to Sheldon Rd. (exit 20). Turn right on Sheldon Rd. and proceed north approx. 2.75 miles to Northville Downs on the right (just past 7 Mile Road). Proceed to the general parking lot entrance on the right (approx. 100 yards past the Northville Down clubhouse entrance).
From the West: I-94 east to M-14 East (exit 171). Proceed east on M-14 approx. 12.5 miles to Sheldon Rd. (exit 20). Turn right on Sheldon Rd. and proceed north approx. 2.75 miles to Northville Downs on the right (just past 7 Mile Road). Proceed to the general parking lot entrance on the right (approx. 100 yards past the Northville Down clubhouse entrance).
Turn right into the general parking lot and proceed east toward the back of the lot. Just beyond the stand-alone building near the east end of the parking lot, turn right for the horsemen's entrance at the guard station. After checking in at the guard station, turn left and proceed east a short distance (past the paddock) to the ship-in barns. Depending on your stall assignment(s), you will either want to park at the north or south end of the ship-in barns.
Finding Your Stall
Northville Downs has a four race paddock, but it generally doesn't open until approximately one hour and fifteen minutes prior to first post. The paddock judge will usually announce when the paddock opens and when each race is due in the paddock. Until then, your horse will wait in one of the two ship-in barns (O & Q) or the ship-in stalls located immediately under the paddock.
The lasix vet is located on the west side of ship-in barn O. The testing barn is located directly south of the paddock's ramp entrance. As you are exiting the track surface, near the bottom of the paddock entrance ramp, turn right and proceed south approx. 50 yards to reach the test barn.
Most ship-in stalls at Northville Downs have gates or cross-ties, but it is a good idea to bring a set of cross-ties in case your stall doesn't.
Around the Paddock
Access to the paddock is via the ramp at the south end of the building. When entering the paddock, check in with the guard at the top of the ramp. The Paddock Judge’s office is located on the west side of the building, near the exit ramp to the track. Just north of the exit ramp, there is a testing room used by the state vets. Bathrooms are located at the north end of the paddock. Between the exit ramp and the bathrooms, on the west side of the paddock, there is a door through which you can access the break room, concession stand, and driver's locker room. If you go down the paddock exit ramp and make an immediate right, you'll find the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association office.
Licensing, Judges & Race Secretary Offices
The Michigan Gaming Control Board offices and the Race Secretary’s office are located at the east end of the grandstand building. To reach their offices, go through the man-gate adjacent to the horsemen’s parking lot, turn left and proceed west approximately 150 yards toward the grandstand building. The first door is the track bookkeeper's office, followed by the Race Secretary's office, then the MGCB licensing office. The judge's office is located upstairs from the licensing office.
Paddock Traffic Flow
All horses must enter the paddock via the ramp at the south end of the building. Horses exit the paddock building directly onto the track surface via the ramp near the middle of the building on the west side. Following the race, all horses return to the ship-in barns (or go to the test barn) and do not re-enter the paddock.
General Race Day Preparation Information
Experienced horsemen will find very little discussed here that they don’t already know. Getting a horse to the track is a surprisingly complex process requiring detailed planning but, for most horsemen, it’s routine. The purpose of this section is to help explain race day preparations to those new to the industry or simply curious about the sport of harness racing. Every trainer has their own way of doing things, so while we touch on the many tasks required, preferred methods do vary.
Acquiring and training a horse is a challenging and exciting process. First, you do the research necessary to acquire the right pacer or trotter. Then, you invest weeks or months of care and training to get it into peak race condition. Finally, you pick a date, and race that fits your horse’s capabilities and enter your horse. Everything you’ve done—all of the hard work—culminates on race day. It’s an exhilarating and stressful time, especially if you’re new to racing, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the stress.
Efficient and successful race day preparations begin with good everyday management of your horse’s training schedule and effective organization of its equipment. Everything that trainers and grooms do throughout the week is designed to ensure your horse’s peak condition on race day. After all, successfully getting to the track on race day doesn’t mean much if the horse isn’t ready to perform once it gets there.
Part of a Team
If you’re an owner, you probably rely on your trainer to prepare, transport, and paddock your horse on race day. Many owners choose to enjoy race day in the clubhouse and meet their horse in the winner’s circle if everything goes to plan. Over the years, it’s been the most typical ownership model and many trainers prefer it that way. But more recently, hands-on ownership has gained in popularity and trainers are beginning to embrace it. Many in the industry recognize that it’s a great way to encourage and expand participation and investment in harness racing.
Of course, if you want to be a hands-on owner, you need to learn how to handle horses. It takes an experienced horseman to safely transport and paddock a horse on race day. It’s a big responsibility, but along with it comes with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Owners who never experience that part of racing are missing out. It requires hard work and dedication, but take the time to learn—you’ll be glad you did.
Learning the Ropes
A good way to start is offering to help around the barn. Learn how to properly ‘pick’ a stall. It’s where every good horseman starts—and yes, there is a right way and a wrong way. You’ll always be welcome if you’re willing to clean a few stalls. Then learn how to safely move horses from one place to another—whether it’s putting them in the cross-ties to clean their stall or taking them out to the pasture. Eventually, you’ll start to feel confident and comfortable around the horses and you’ll learn more about them along the way.
It’s Race Day!
Preparing for a trip to the track can be intense, because there’s little room for error. Once your horse is entered to race, any number of mistakes can result in being scratched. The process starts with preparing the horse and equipment at the barn and culminates in a flurry of activity leading up to race time. Every step happens on a strict schedule at the track and it can be very intimidating for a new horseman. Despite the pressure, there is great satisfaction in being part of the team that gets your horse on the track.
Know the Plan
The first step in a successful race day is good planning. Make sure everyone on the team understands the plan—what’s the schedule and who’s responsible for what? Get to the barn on time and knock out the chores. Decide what time you need to depart the barn to get to the track on time—leaving room for surprises along the way. Be sure to account for weather, traffic, border crossings, or even a flat tire. Of course, if any of the horses making the trip are on lasix, everything moves up by several hours.
What You Need
The equipment and supplies needed on race day fall into one of three categories—transport, racing, and post-race care. It’s a common mistake for inexperienced horsemen to focus only on those items needed for the race itself. However, if you aren’t prepared to safely and comfortably transport your horse, and properly care for it before and after the race, everything else you do could be wasted effort.
Tack, Equipment & Supplies
At most stables, there is a set routine to help ensure that the necessary tack and equipment is ready to go on race day. The harness bag holds the harness, race halter, bridle, hobbles, head poles, boots, and other equipment worn by the horse for its warm-up and/or race. Race day equipment may not be the exact ‘rigging’ used during training, so be sure to double-check the harness bag before you load. Wash and water buckets are commonly used to carry other needed material like wraps, towels, blankets, liniments, soap, cross-ties, etc. It’s a good idea to set the gear out in advance, so you have it all in one place.
A container (bucket, pouch, tackle box) of items that serves as an ‘emergency’ kit at the track can come in handy. You never know when you might need a clasp, scissors, string, an extra tongue-tie, or some other item in order to solve a problem. As an example, while most track stalls have cross-ties, it’s a good idea to have your own set just in case. An extra clasp can be a life-saver when one is missing from the wash stall.
Double-check and load your tack, equipment and supplies before you even think about taking the horse out of its stall. Try to minimize the amount of time horses spend in the trailer and be ready to roll once the horses load—especially during the summer.
Safe and efficient transport starts with the trailer and the truck that will pull it. Are both licensed? Does the truck have the horsepower to pull the trailer? Does it have the correct hitch and is it rated to pull the load? Are all of the trailer lights working? Do you have a spare tire, lug wrench, and a tapered block to change a tire on the roadside? There are plenty of other questions, but you get the idea. A test run with an empty trailer is a good idea and will help answer many of these questions.
Preparing the inside of the trailer for the trip will help ensure that the horses have a comfortable trip. Inspect the inside carefully for any maintenance issues. Be sure all of parts are secure, especially the floor or floorboards. Check the doors and latching mechanisms and confirm they are working properly. During the summer months, check for wasps, hornets or other insects to be sure they haven’t built any nests while the trailer was parked. Closing your horse inside a trailer with a swarm of stinging insects is a recipe for disaster.
Depending on the distance to the track, you might want to put down a bedding of wood chips, sawdust, or straw to provide cushion during the trip. Some people transport with a hay bag to provide a little food and distraction, but many trainers prefer to avoid the risk of choking. Depending on the weather, close or open the windows to maintain a comfortable temperature during the trip. Stopping along the way to check on the horses is good idea and gives you an opportunity to make any necessary temperature adjustments.
Another thing to consider, in advance, is how your horse will load into the trailer. Experienced race horses usually load without a problem because they know the drill. Less experienced horses might decide they don’t want to go inside. Loading problems can be a real challenge, especially if you’re running late. One trick to consider as a last resort for hesitant to load horses is covering their eyes with a towel. However, your best bet is to practice loading long before race day.
One safety precaution you can take is using a transport halter when you transport. It’s a modified halter with padding to help prevent injury in the event your horse rears up while loading or unloading. Another is to protect your horse’s legs with cotton wraps. The primary purpose of wraps is to prevent injury from kicking, or being kicked, but many trainers will also rub the legs with a liniment prior to wrapping in order to ‘tighten’ the tendons.
Once you load the horse(s), get rolling as quickly as possible. Horses are generally more content while the trailer is on the move. In fact, some horses will demonstrate their discontent with the lack of forward motion by moving around or kicking the trailer.
In transit, focus on providing a safe and comfortable ride for your equine passengers. That means a keen awareness of what’s ahead, so that stops are as subtle as possible. Rumble strips, loud trucks, and various other traffic noises can be a source of anxiety for the horses. Be sure any stops are as brief as possible, especially during the summer, and check on the horses when you do.
Getting to the Paddock
When you arrive at the race track, most will require some form of check-in at the gate. Know what horses you have on board and have your racing license(s) ready. At some tracks, you go straight to the paddock, but at others you’ll be given a ‘ship-in’ stall assignment. If it’s your first time there, don’t be afraid to ask for directions. In most cases, you can follow the lead of other horsemen.
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