04/07/2015 2:01PM

Lone Star meet kicks off with Premiere Stakes

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F J Uncle Vic wins the Star of Texas Stakes in January at Sam Houston.

Earlier this year, Texas racing lost its bid in court for historical racing – the electronic parimutuel game that plays like a slot machine – but for one night at least, Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, has hit a jackpot. For opening night Thursday, riding at the track is Hall of Famer Russell Baze, the winningest jockey in North American racing history.

Baze rides the first two races, the $50,000 Premiere Stakes aboard He’s a Bling and an optional claimer on Popalicious. Both horses are owned and trained by Henry Dominguez.

Baze riding at Lone Star was something of a marketing gift for the track. In addition to riding the two races, Baze is expected to sign autographs, director of racing Bart Lang said.

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After opening night, reality sets in for the remaining 49 days of the meet. The racing at Lone Star for this spring and summer, its 19th Thoroughbred meet, offers little change from past years. The purses are essentially the same, and the composition of the backstretch barns differs little.

Trainers such as Steve Asmussen and Bret Calhoun, with long ties to Texas racing, will continue to run a large number of horses, and Cliff Berry, the leading rider in Lone Star history, will again head the jockey colony once he finishes the Oaklawn Park meet that ends Saturday.

One of the few deviations from the track’s racing schedule is moving the Texas Mile – one of its two graded stakes – from a Saturday to a Friday night. It will be run April 24.

“Hopefully, it will stand out a little more,” said Lang. “Saturdays are pretty crowded in the marketplace.”

Along with the Texas Mile, the Lone Star Park Handicap is the other graded stakes of the meet, though it will keep its traditional Memorial Day slot May 25.

Those races, along with the $175,000 Governor’s Cup in August at sister track Remington Park, will again be linked to form the Global Gaming Triple. There is no bonus this year, but there are incentives like free start fees for participation in more than one race.

This Friday, Lone Star will host the third annual Remember Me Rescue Celebrity Fundraiser and Gala – a benefit raising money for out-of-service racehorses – with retired jockey Rosie Napravnik the keynote speaker, accompanied by Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who will have a string of horses at Lone Star this year, as he did last year.

The Lone Star meet, as always, will be heavily promotion-driven, with its concert series regularly taking place Fridays and Saturdays, and with every Sunday offering free admission to eligible patrons for Senior Citizens/Military Day.

In typical opening-night custom, the 6 1/2-furlong Premiere goes as the first race on the card at 6:35 p.m. Central.

KEY CONTENDERS

F J Uncle Vic (Last 3 Beyers: 85-41-86)

◗ He ran fourth in the Maxxam Gold Cup to graded stakes winner Albano and is sure to appreciate the class relief of dropping into a Texas-bred stakes.

Texas Air (Last 3 Beyers: 93-82-90)

◗ An Oaklawn Park invader, he owns the strongest recent Beyer Speed Figures in the field but seemingly prefers longer distances and was edged by F J Uncle Vic when they met at Sam Houston on Jan. 17 in the Star of Texas Stakes.

He’s a Bling (Last 3 Beyers: 78-79-77)

◗ Baze comes in to ride this consistent runner, who has been first or second in six consecutive races, with all but one of those races coming in open company at Sunland Park.

Internet Success (Last 3 Beyers: 87-81-75)

◗ He has rattled off three straight victories, all with ascending Beyers, for high-percentage owner Danny Keene; he gets a class test at this stakes level after running in claimers and starter allowances.