09/28/2004 11:00PM

Big dream becomes reality

Lone Star Park hosts the $14 million Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on October 30th.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Before ground was even broken for the construction of Lone Star Park, officials were thinking Breeders' Cup. Now, a decade later, the track's moment has arrived.

In less than one month, Lone Star will host the $14 million Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The eight-race series will be held on Oct. 30, and it is the focal point of a 19-date meet that opens on Friday night. The season will run through Oct. 31.

Lone Star, which was purchased by Magna Entertainment in 2002, is the youngest track to ever be awarded the Breeders' Cup. Built at a cost of more than $100 million, it opened for business on April 17, 1997. But thoughts of hosting racing's championship day had been circulating well before that date, said Corey Johnsen, president of Lone Star.

"We've always had the dream to host a Breeders' Cup," he said. "Even when we were designing the facility in 1994, we had the Breeders' Cup minimum standards in mind. As we began to mature and saw the potential, that vision became clearer and clearer."

Texans have embraced the idea. The 51,034 reserved seats for the 21st running of the Breeders' Cup sold out in record time. To accommodate the masses, Lone Star, which seats 12,000, is in the process of adding 38,000 temporary seats. The project is part of $8.5 million in improvements being made for the Breeders' Cup.

"Much of the infrastructure for our temporary seating is in place," said Johnsen. "Many of the seats and structures came from the Ryder Cup, which was just completed, and well over half of the seats will be in [by Friday]. It's all on schedule. The facility looks great."

Aside from the new seats, which extend from the far turn through the stretch and into the first turn, Lone Star has expanded its winner's circle and paddock for the Breeders' Cup. The project was completed before the track's spring meet started in April.

Other completed improvements include construction of a 10,000-square-foot hall on the second floor of the grandstand; new barns on the backstretch; and dramatic landscaping throughout the facility. But the crowning piece of all the improvements might be the larger-than-life sculpture of Alysheba - who was raced by Texans Clarence and Dorothy Scharbauer - that was unveiled Wednesday. It sits in a prominent spot, outside of the main gate of Lone Star.

On the racing front, Lone Star has moved a number of its spring fixtures to the fall to strengthen the meet. Events moved include the Stars of Texas Day program for statebreds, which will be run on Oct. 23; the International Jockey Championship, set for Oct. 28; and the Grade 3, $250,000 Lone Star Derby, moved to Oct. 29. Purses for the meet are budgeted at $239,000 a day.

"We thought the derby would fit well in our fall meet," said Larry Craft, director of racing for Lone Star. "If people are shipping in plenty of 3-year-olds for the Breeders' Cup and they don't get in, they would have an opportunity to run in the Lone Star Derby."

The 26-race stakes program will get under way on Friday night with the $100,000 Silver Spur Breeders' Cup. For 2-year-old fillies at one mile, the race drew a field of nine, including the undefeated Malika's Gold, winner of the $100,000 La Senorita at Retama Park on Sept. 4.

Her biggest rivals include Enduring Will, who will be stretching out around two turns for the first time after a 5 1/2-length maiden win. As a daughter of Arch and the Theatrical mare Jodie Faster, she is bred to like the added distance.

The Breeders' Cup will bring worldwide attention to the track, and officials look for the meet surrounding the championship series to be a strong one. It will be the first fall Thoroughbred meet ever held at Lone Star, and the amount of advertising and types of overnight races offered are similar to the track's spring meet, which runs from April to July.

"We understand the amount of competition there is in this market, with the state fair, football and the beginning of the NBA season, and we're hopeful we can hold our own," said Johnsen. "We hope for close to the same numbers that we do in the spring."

Lone Star averaged 8,710 patrons a day during its spring meet. Handle on its live races averaged $2,299,520 a card, while average daily handle on incoming simulcasts was $704,072.

Whatever the numbers this meet, officials are looking for Lone Star's hosting of the Breeders' Cup to be a longtime boon for track.

"It raises the level of awareness for our facility, not only in North America but throughout the world," said Johnsen. "On a short-term basis, it brings a tremendous amount of attention to the sport of horse racing in Texas."

Fall Breeders' Cup meeting

Purses: $239,000 per day

Schedule: 19 days; Friday through Oct. 31; Thursdays through Sundays

International Jockey ChampionshipOct. 28
Walmac Lone Star DerbyOct. 29
Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred ChampionshipsOct. 30

Post Times: 6:35 p.m. Central on Thursdays and Fridays, 1:35 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; Breeders' Cup week, which begins Oct. 28, first post will be 1:35 p.m. daily except Breeders' Cup Day, when post time is 11:40 a.m.

Admission: General, $3; clubhouse $6; no general admission on Breeders' Cup Day

Parking: General, $2; preferred, $4; Valet, $7.