06/11/2009 11:00PM

Chalk players love Lone Star


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Identify the favorite and cash.

That could be the mantra for the current meet at Lone Star Park. Post-time favorites have been winning at a 41 percent rate over the first 38 dates of the meet, compared with the standard third of the time at most tracks. So far, 153 of the 366 races run to date have been taken by favorites, according to statistics provided by Lone Star. And the story was much the same last year, with favorites winning at a 39 percent rate over the course of the 65-date meet in Grand Prairie.

There appear to be a number of factors driving the high success rate of favorites. One is the reliability of leading trainers Steve Asmussen, who is winning with 29 percent of his starters at Lone Star; Bret Calhoun, who is hitting at 28 percent; and Jack Bruner, who is winning at a 33 percent clip. Together, they have won 121 of the 366 races run through Thursday.

Among riders, Cliff Berry, the meet leader, is winning at a 29 percent rate, and Chris Landeros, who is second in the standings, is hitting at a 21 percent clip. Together, they had combined for 104 wins through Thursday.

Also coming into play is Lone Star's races for 2-year-olds, which tend to be more predictable than juvenile races at other tracks in North America. Some of it has to do with breeding, as certain stallions in the state are well known for producing win-early types. In addition, some of the top barns here carry more 2-year-olds than a typical barn might, and that gives them the ability to train their young horses in larger sets, making the 2-year-olds better educated for their debuts.

"Our leading barns, especially those of Steve Asmussen and Bret Calhoun, put a lot of emphasis on winning 2-year-old races," said Rick Lee, the morning linemaker for Lone Star. "And they not only win here, but to show how strong they are, they also win in Kentucky.

"I also think favorites win more on our turf course than probably any other turf course because it consistently favors front-running types. So, handicappers know going in what kind of course they're going to be playing that night."

Despite the strong trends, there is value to be had for those playing Lone Star.

"Because of the high win percentage of our leading trainers, they are almost always overbet," said Lee, "which provides value for comparable horses trained by lesser-known barns."

There were examples of that Thursday night at Lone Star. Although favorites won four of the nine races on the card, Special Red Bird upset favorite Homeisahonkytonk in a 2-year-old maiden race and paid $66.20. Charles Haverkamp, who trains Special Red Bird, has, through the years, compiled competitive stats with juvenile debut runners from limited starters in that category at Lone Star.

Retama: Smaller stakes schedule

Retama Park near San Antonio will run just four Thoroughbred stakes during its 32-date meet that opens Aug. 28 and runs through Nov. 7. The track's premier stakes, the $100,000 El Joven and the $100,000 La Senorita, will both be renewed, on Oct. 24.

The stakes are for 2-year-olds at a mile on turf. The other returning stakes are the two $125,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes for 2-year-olds. Both are set for Sept. 26.

Last year, Retama ran 35 days and had 13 stakes for Thoroughbreds. Among the stakes missing is the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame for statebreds on turf, a race that had anchored the annual Texas Hall of Fame Night program of stakes that last year was worth $500,000.

Retama officials informed the Texas Racing Commission at a meeting earlier this week of its intent to cut back on its stakes schedule for the upcoming meet and reduce the number of races it runs per card in order to maintain its overnight purses. The moves, officials said, were discussed with horsemen's representatives.