05/13/2002 11:00PM

Cup may go to Lone Star earlier

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When Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, was announced as the tentative site for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in 2005, you could hear the whoops and hollers from management at this track from New York to California.

And now that a new site might be needed to host the 2004 Breeders' Cup, the same can-do spirit that impressed the Breeders' Cup selection committee has made Lone Star the choice to potentially host the Breeders' Cup one year earlier.

Churchill Downs, which has played host to the Breeders' Cup five times, is scheduled to have the event again in 2004. But Churchill Downs is in the process of a complete makeover. The first step already is under way. The second, more elaborate step, will take place if the track's board of directors gives approval next month to the millions of dollars needed to fund construction.

If that approval is given, as expected, the construction will not be completed by the fall of 2004. So, the Breeders' Cup has put Lone Star on notice that it may be asked to swap dates, and host the Breeders' Cup in 2004, with Churchill Downs pushed back to 2005.

At Lone Star, the attitude is, "Bring it on."

Corey Johnsen, the track's president and general manager, last weekend showed off elaborate architectural drawings of the transformation Lone Star Park will undergo in order to host the Breeders' Cup. Here it is more than three years until Lone Star is scheduled to have the event, and more than two years before it may be asked to host the event, but they are way, way ahead of the game.

"The Churchill Downs board of directors vote at the end of June on the renovation plans," Johnsen said during an interview in his office. "My understanding is that if the vote is positive, we'll host in 2004. We're fine with that."

D.G. Van Clief Jr., the president of the Breeders' Cup, on Tuesday said his organization "at this point is anticipating" the schedule will need to be juggled. He stressed that the likelihood of Lone Star moving up to 2004 is the most obvious change, but it is "not a final decision." Van Clief said support funding for the Breeders' Cup, which involves financial and volunteer support at the local and even state level, must be in place for any track, including Lone Star, to play host.

"Just like with Arlington Park this year, we have to make sure the support funding is available," Van Clief said from his office in Lexington, Ky. "This is something that goes back to the first time we visited Gulfstream Park in 1989. There's a whole package of support funding, which ranges from the infrastructure at the track to the purse structure. In Florida, they had to award dates to Gulfstream, and Calder was compensated for it.

"The support funding for Lone Star is supposed to be effective and available in 2004," Van Clief said. "That is critical. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro-plex is very event oriented. They're very supportive of sports events of all types. The pieces are in place, but we really can't say it's a done deal."