04/01/2003 12:00AM

Magna banner flies over Texas


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Lone Star begins its seventh season of racing with significant changes, foremost among them a change in ownership. Magna Entertainment Corporation, the largest proprietor of racetracks in North America, purchased Lone Star in a deal completed in October, making this Lone Star's first Thoroughbred meet under the Magna banner.

A $3.7 million capital improvement project was completed during the off-season. Three new barns, which can accommodate 196 stalls, were built, as were 116 dormitory rooms. Numerous trees and shrubs were planted throughout the barn area to enhance the appeal of backside living.

Customers in the stands will notice, among other things, improvements in the decor in the Silks Terrace dining room, more big-screen television monitors, and additional seating in the Post Time Pavilion, Lone Star's simulcast facility.

More projects are in store for Lone Star as it prepares to host the 2004 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Most are in their final planning stages and work should begin at the conclusion of the Thoroughbred meet on July 13.

One phase of permanent improvements includes the construction of box seats along the track apron, as well as expansion of the winner's circle and paddock. Temporary seating will be installed at the conclusion of the 2004 spring Thoroughbred meet.

Another change is that Lone Star's races will be broadcast on the Magna-owned HorseRacing Television rather than on Television Games Network.

Competition for the entertainment dollar in the Dallas-Fort Worth area remains fierce. In addition to the playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars in the NBA and NHL, Lone Star faces the usual challenge from baseball's Texas Rangers, who opened their season Sunday, plus a new minor league franchise in Frisco, 45 minutes north of Dallas.

"Competition is good for all of us," said Jeff Greco, Lone Star's general manager. "It makes us perform at our best levels. We hope that we provide the most valued experience and the entertainment options we offer here are what make people want to come back."

Flowers for Asmussen

Steve Asmussen can't say he is unappreciated at Lone Star Park. The four-time leading trainer here, Asmussen found a surprise when he visited a few weeks ago. Lone Star management had installed flower beds outside his barn - white flowers in the shape of the numeral 1 against a backdrop of blue flowers.

White and blue are the Asmussen colors, and the number 1 signifies Asmussen's first-place finish in victories among all trainers in the United States last year.

"How about that," said Asmussen, "that was really nice."

Asmussen has been nice to Lone Star, too. Asmussen started 425 runners during the 2002 meet, an average of more than six a day during the 70-day meet. His 95 winners at Lone Star, a track record, accounted for nearly one-fourth of his 407 victories last year.

Possibly to the relief of fellow horsemen, Asmussen says he won't be able to match his lofty records this meet.

"We won't have as many to run this year. We used to ship a lot in from Squaw Creek Downs, the former Trinity Meadows, but we won't have any stabled there this year."

Lone Star Park, in partnership with the Grand Prairie Sports Facilities Development Corp., will present Asmussen with a bronze statue commemorating his 2002 national title between races Thursday.

Lanerie going for fourth title

Like Asmussen, jockey Corey Lanerie has dominated the local standings in recent years, and he is back to seek his third consecutive riding title and fourth overall.

Lanerie, the leading rider in 1999, 2001, and 2002, was not among the top 10 riders at Lone Star in 2000, when he left the meet early to ride at Arlington Park. Since then, Lanerie has waited until the end of the Lone Star meet before moving on to Arlington. Because of a schedule change this year, the Arlington meet will be into its third month before the Lone Star meet ends.

Lanerie and his agent, Rick Mocklin, have made winning the Lone Star title a high priority.

"We just hope we repeat like we did last year," said Mocklin. "We want to make it four."

- Admission gates will open at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, with a first post time of 6:35 p.m. Among the opening night festivities are a giveaway of 10,000 American flags to patrons, the unfurling of a huge American flag, a balloon release, a mounted color guard presentation, and renditions of "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner."

- Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, the guest of honor Wednesday night at a charity dinner celebrating Lone Star's sixth birthday, will hold a free autograph session near the paddock from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

- Country music star Willie Nelson will perform following the races on Friday night. Nelson performed at Lone Star last year before a crowd of more than 20,000. General admission will rise from $3 to $10 after 9 p.m. Friday.