Indiana Grand Racing needed a new leader following the death of longtime General Manager of Racing Jon Schuster near the end of 2019. So the company turned to a trusted friend.
Eric Halstrom was announced as the Shelbyville race track’s new Vice President, General Manager of Racing in early February. By the middle of the month, he arrived at Indiana Grand and took up residence in Schuster’s former office.
Schuster died Christmas Day at his home. He was the first and only GM of Racing at Indiana Grand – a position he held for 17 years.
Halstrom and Schuster had a working relationship for many years and the Minnesota native was familiar with Indiana Grand’s racing features.
“There is something very bittersweet about this,” said Halstrom recently in an interview with The Shelbyville News. “We’re going to do a lot of stuff to honor (Jon) this summer. Some really cool things. Some that the staff thought up before I even got here.”
Through ties with current Indiana Grand Casino general manager Mike Rich, Halstrom was asked to consider leaving Harrah’s Louisiana Downs where he was president of operations.
“I’ve been here before,” admitted Halstrom. “I’ve moved around a bit from track to track with the company. We had horsemen come between here and New Orleans. I would come up and visit some of our people that came up.
“This place has changed quite a bit, well it’s changed a lot. It’s just beautiful. One of a kind where the world doesn’t really know what we’ve got here. It’s extraordinary when you’ve seen other places. The backside is as nice as you are going to find, a beautiful casino now where the tables are doing great, and the racing side ... well, I can’t say enough.”
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Halstrom graduated from the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program – just like Schuster did – and has served in several capacities, including vice president of racing at Canterbury Park, vice president and general manager of racing operations at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, assistant director of racing at Prairie Meadows and, most recently, at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, Louisiana.
Halstrom credits his mother for inspiring his love of horse racing. They frequented the track while he was a teenager and it was her idea to transfer from the University of Minnesota, where he played college baseball, to Arizona to learn the racetrack industry.
“I went through school on a baseball scholarship. When I realized I wasn’t going to be A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), I thought I better try and do something else,” he said. “My mom sent me to, well she strongly suggested I finish school at the University of Arizona in their race track program. And I did and it was the best thing I’d ever done.”
Halstrom is excited for his first thoroughbred and quarter horse racing season in Shelbyville, a facility smaller in stature than Louisiana Downs but primed for more success.
“The facility is not (bigger than Louisiana), but the business is better,” he said. “Louisiana Downs is a big old race track. It was built for 50 years ago when you had 20,000 people on the weekends. Everything has changed, so the building is oversized for what is going on down there. (Indiana Grand) is built the right way. We’re going to try and fill it up. We have some marketing ideas but I can’t say enough good things about what we’ve got going here. I am really lucky.”
With an accessible location and growing purses, Halstrom expects a strong racing season that will be bolstered by a casino with live table games and a sportsbook – new to Indiana Grand in 2020.
“The main factor is the size of the purses – that will drive everything,” said Halstrom. “It will bring you better horses and the jockeys will follow that.”
Live Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Racing was originally scheduled to begin on April 14. Opening day is currently listed as “To Be Announced” on the company’s website. The facility is now closed in response to the worldwide pandemic COVID-19.
The Grade III $500,000-guaranteed Indiana Derby is scheduled for July 11.