04/12/2011 2:56PM

Lone Star Park meet opens, sale still pending


When Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, kicked off its Thoroughbred meet last April, it was expected to be the last under the direction of MI Developments before Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation tribe of Oklahoma, took over managing the track.

A year later, the status of Lone Star Park essentially remains as it was last spring. MI Developments remains at the helm, while Global Gaming Solutions seeks to get its paperwork in order for its long-awaited licensing approval from the Texas Racing Commission. That would clear the way to finalize Global Gaming’s $47.85 million offer to operate the track for the city of Grand Prairie.

“We’re all a year older and waiting for the same transaction to close,” said Drew Shubeck, Lone Star’s president and general manager. “But I’m confident it’s going to close.”

That possibility, as well as a video lottery terminal bill being considered in the Texas legislature this year, have Lone Star officials and Texas horsemen holding their collective breath following a reduction in betting and racing dates in the state.

To Lone Star management’s credit, they aren’t limping across the finish line in anticipation of Global Gaming being licensed. Promotions are aplenty, beginning opening week.

The Randy Rogers Band kicks off the Lone Star Music series Friday night, followed Saturday evening by guitar-legend Ted Nugent of “Cat Scratch Fever” fame. Both post-racing concerts are free with $5 general admission or $15 after 5 p.m.

Racing at Lone Star will largely resemble last year’s, with a few modifications. The meet was shortened from 60 to 52 days, which, along with some trimming of the stakes schedule, allows for average daily purses to rise from $150,000 to roughly $170,000 a day.

Lone Star Million Day on Memorial Day, May 30, features six stakes, including the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap and Grade 3 Ouija Board Distaff. Also added to the Million Day schedule for 2011 is the Lone Star Derby, which will undergo a switch from dirt to turf in an attempt to attract better horses after losing its Grade 3 status.

As usual, the opening-day $50,000 Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds at a mile on dirt gets the meet started as the first race Thursday night.

Coyote Legend, last year’s winner, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite. Unbeaten in four starts versus Texas-breds last year, he enters the Premiere off a third-place finish in a turf allowance at Sam Houston on March 5.

“I thought he ran extremely well in his prep,” said trainer Bret Calhoun, leading trainer at Lone Star in 2010. “He’s not really a grass horse, doesn’t care for it that much, so I thought he ran a very good effort on the turf off the layoff, and it should set him up well for this race.”

One change for Coyote Legend on Thursday: a replacement jockey in Jamie Theriot, who is in from Kentucky to ride both Thursday and Friday evening at Calhoun’s request.

Coyote Legend’s regular rider, Bobby Walker Jr., broke his left ankle in a pre-meet training accident, an injury that will keep him away from riding for four weeks, his agent, Shawn Berquist said Tuesday.

Lydia’s Last Step, a sharp Sunland Park invader, is Coyote Legend’s main adversary in the Premiere.

Cody Autrey, who has spent past summers in Delaware and Kentucky, is back at Lone Star this year, training for Midwest Thoroughbreds and other clients. He has three horses opening night.

He, Calhoun, and Steve Asmussen – the leading trainer in Lone Star Park history – will have full barns and are expected to dominate the trainer standings.

Chris Landeros, who successfully defended his riding title last year at Lone Star, heads a riding colony that includes, among others, Junior Chacaltana, Bryan McNeill, and Cliff Berry, the all-time leading rider in Lone Star history who will begin riding at Lone Star after Oaklawn finishes its meet Saturday.

Lone Star races will be televised sparingly on HRTV and TVG this meet due to scheduling conflicts, with Thursday nights on TVG likely offering the most opportunity for national television coverage, Shubeck said.