06/18/2002 11:00PM

Eyes of Texas are upon Lone Star Park


NEW YORK - It is appropriate for Lone Star Park to host Friday night's colorful All Star Jockey Championship, and to be awarded the prestigious Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, probably in 2004, for this is one of the most successful racetracks ever introduced in this country.

The sports and entertainment markets in the Dallas area are keenly competitive, but Lone Star's business has grown steadily since it opened for live racing in April 1997, to the point it expects to attract 1.3 million patrons this season. By providing first-class facilities, building purses to lure good horses, and spicing the season with events such as the fireworks evening of July 3, Lone Star has earned an enviable reputation in the industry. More than 30,000 saw the fireworks program last summer - the noise level is reduced out of consideration for the horses - and with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra scheduled to join in the festivities next month, that figure could be topped.

One of Lone Star's administrative strengths is extensive planning. Though its Breeders' Cup commitment is more than two years away, a detailed examination of every aspect has been ongoing for some time. With a target attendance of at least 50,000, management is prepared to spend between $5 million and $6 million in permanent improvements and another $2 million for temporary facilities.

"The Breeders' Cup is a great tool for the marketing of racing," said Lone Star Park president and general manager Corey Johnsen, who was Lone Star's first employee. "Its presentation at our track should be of considerable help to the industry throughout Texas."

Parimutuel legislation passed in Texas in 1987. Lone Star received its license in 1992, and Johnsen came aboard as general manager in the spring of 1994. He was hired by Preston Carter and Jim Musselman, then managing partners of the group behind the track. Johnson was general manager of Remington Park in Oklahoma City and director of marketing for the group of tracks owned by Edward DeBartolo.

Carter and Musselman were unable to secure appropriate financing for the project, however, and the Trammel Crow family became the principals. Lone Star opened a simulcasting operation in May of 1996, and got off to an excellent start.

"The simulcasting was of considerable benefit," Johnsen said. "It gave us a year to build up purses. We had time to market the product extensively, and it helped our cash flow. When we opened for live racing on April 17,1997, we were off to a running start."

Lone Star races a 70-night Thoroughbred meeting, from early April to mid-July and a 33-night Quarter Horse meeting in October and November. The track is increasingly popular with residents of the greater Dallas area, and 23,000 were on hand for this season's opener, which was highlighted by a Willie Nelson concert.

Lone Star's success has been widely noted throughout the industry, and that attention climaxed this spring when the track was purchased by the Magna Entertainment Corp. The transaction is expected to be completed next month and Lone Star will join the rapidly growing group of tracks directed by Frank Stronach.