04/02/2002 12:00AM

Lights on Broadway gets star rider

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Thursday's opening night card at Lone Star Park should appeal to everyone, with the possible exception of those who struggle to be punctual. There are no warm-ups, no lesser undercard races to begin the night. Here they start big and start fast.

As in past meets, the featured $50,000 Premiere Stakes begins the meet as the evening's first race. But this year, the focus will not be entirely on the horses, but also on the riders, or perhaps more accurately - the rider.

Jerry Bailey, a Dallas native, will ride opening night and will be aboard favored Lights on Broadway in the one-mile Premiere for Texas-breds.

For Bailey, the race represents more than a live mount, but also an opportunity to ride for trainer Bubba Cascio, a trainer he admired when he grew up riding at Sunland Park, just outside of El Paso, Texas.

"Bubba had won all the big races when I was growing up," said Bailey, who moved from Dallas to El Paso with his family at age 3. "I just had to walk over and introduce myself to him at last year's Jockey Championship, because I didn't know if he knew who I was. I told him that I always admired him and wanted to ride for him when I was younger. Now, I'll finally get my chance."

Lights on Broadway may provide a winning opportunity for Bailey. A 5-year-old Majestic Light gelding, Lights on Broadway won 4 of 14 races and over $228,000 last year - including the $150,000 Assault Stakes at Lone Star, the richest race of the year for Texas-breds. He later was voted Texas-bred Horse of the Year.

His greatest obstacle appears to be a four-month layoff. He hasn't raced since winning the Star of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston on Dec. 1, but has trained well leading up to his seasonal bow. Lights on Broadway breezed five furlongs Sunday in 58.20 seconds.

"He's a real hard-knocker," said Cascio. "He was training down at Retama Park for about a month and a half before we got back up here, and he's ready to go."

Among his six rivals, his main challenger figures to be Captain Countdown, the defending champion. He won the Jersey Village Stakes at Sam Houston Feb. 16, the same race he won last year before winning the Premiere. Glen Murphy has the mount for Steve Asmussen, Lone Star Park's leading trainer in each of the past three years.

Post time for the Premiere Stakes is 6:35 p.m. Central.

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