04/10/2006 11:00PM

Local fans targeted as meet opens


When its Thoroughbred meet of 2005 opened last April, visions of the 2004 Breeders' Cup still danced in the Lone Star Park air. A year later, after a so-so season, and with no legislative assistance visible on the ontrack gaming front, Lone Star is trying to breathe fresh air into its program.

The track, which starts a 66-day meet Thursday night, sports a new general manager and a revamped main track, and it has ramped up and recalibrated its local marketing efforts.

"Last year, there's no question we struggled a little of it," said the general manager, Drew Shubeck, who replaced Jeff Greco earlier this year. "It was a tough year, no doubt about it."

Shubeck, 44, came to Lone Star via The Meadows, a harness track, but has previous Thoroughbred experience, and said his focus has zeroed in on horsemen and fans.

"It's definitely paying attention to the racing programs," Shubeck said, "to make sure the horsemen are satisfied, and also listening to our customers and understanding what their needs are."

Once again Lone Star will have to go head to head during most of its meet with Louisiana Downs, which sits a couple of hours to the east and houses a slots parlor. Lone Star's purses were slightly higher at many levels in 2005, but the simultaneous meetings strain the horse population. Lone Star hopes to keep the 1,500 horses in its stables healthier and sounder this season with a main track that has been gentled down by new trackman Greg McDermott.

Lone Star, which has lost some traction in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, also will try to lure back local fans. There are two concerts on opening weekend, and Lone Star has introduced a player rewards program, albeit on a small scale. The $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup on June 17 will have graded status for the first time.

Also new for 2006 is Lone Star's tote provider: The track switched April 3 from United Tote to Amtote, and with the changeover comes a new, more fan-friendly infield board.

Meet highlights are the May 13 Lone Star Derby and the May 29 Lone Star Park Handicap, boosted in value this year from $300,000 to $400,000.

As usual, Steve Asmussen is the one to beat in the Lone Star trainers' race, and Asmussen has horses in five races opening night, including .