04/05/2010 11:00PM

Business as usual for last meet under Magna


Pending anticipated approval of the Texas Racing Commission this summer or early fall, Global Gaming Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation tribe of Oklahoma, will officially become the new operator of Lone Star Park. In the meantime, the track remains part of Magna Entertainment Corp., and the 60-day Thoroughbred meet that begins Thursday night is expected to differ very little from those of years past.

Management is again focused on promoting racing, supplemented by entertainment, largely in the form of concerts and similar activities.

"We've been chugging along, pretty much business as usual," said Drew Shubeck, Lone Star's president and general manager.

The racing remains similar - all too similar, perhaps. Without any form of alternative gaming allowed at tracks in Texas, in contrast to those in neighboring states, Lone Star remains at a competitive disadvantage, unable to offer casino-bolstered purses to draw stables. As a result, there are not a lot of fresh faces expected on the backstretch.

Purses are at their lowest level in the track's history, at about $150,000 per day, said assistant racing secretary Jeanette Hughes. The purse for a straight maiden race is $20,500 - less than those at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs.

Mike Shamburg, currently completing his duties as racing secretary at Sunland Park, will take up a similar position at Lone Star this year, assisted by Hughes, following the retirement of long-time director of racing Larry Craft.

With the Texas legislature not in session this year, no alternative gaming can be passed until at best next year, but Hughes and other Texas officials are hopeful the chances for expanded gaming have increased since Global Gaming Solutions paid $47.85 million to manage the track, which is owned by the city of Grand Prairie.

The tribe purchased another track from Magna, Remington Park in Oklahoma City, last year for $80.25 million, and invests heavily in casino properties.

With its gambling interests in neighboring Oklahoma, the Chickasaws "spent a lot of money lobbying against" casino gaming at Texas tracks last year, Hughes said. "Now maybe they will lobby the other way."

As for this summer, racing goes on at Lone Star due in part to the loyalty that horsemen from the area have shown the track.

Steve Asmussen the Eclipse-award winning trainer of the past two years and a resident of Arlington, will again have a prominent stable, and is the favorite to win his 12th training title at the track.

This year he could reach a milestone at the track by recording his 1,000th local victory. He has 919 victories at Lone Star, according to Lone Star director of communications Dan Leary, and comes off a meet last year in which he won 117 races, a record.

Asmussen will be represented by a runner in the regular kick-off to the Lone Star meet in Thursday's $50,000 Premiere Stakes, starting Ablaze With Spirit, the second choice on the morning line.

The 8-5 favorite in the Premiere, a mile race on the main track for Texas-breds, is Coyote Legend, a winner of three straight stakes for trainer Bret Calhoun and owner Clarence Scharbauer Jr.

Bobby Walker Jr. pilots Coyote Legend, while Chris Landeros - who topped the standings at Lone Star last year with 97 victories - has the mount on Ablaze With Spirit.

Other riders expected to be among the leaders this meet include Paul Nolan, who won the jockey title at Sam Houston Race Park this winter, and Cliff Berry, the winningest rider in Lone Star history.

* Opening week at Lone Star Park is promotion driven. A total of 10,000 trading cards of either Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta will be given away Thursday, and on Friday the Randy Rogers Band will highlight the track's popular concert series after the races. Sunday is family day with numerous activities for children.