09/04/2007 11:00PM

New schedule seen as business boon


Retama Park near San Antonio will start its 32-date Thoroughbred meet about a month later than usual on Friday night, a change that will move its most noted stakes races, the $100,000 El Joven and $100,000 La Senorita, to October. The track will race through Nov. 17.

The later start should be good for business on several fronts, according to Bryan Brown, chief executive officer of Retama.

"I think being able to race in better weather at a time when there's more horses available and less competition for our signal is very exciting to us," he said. "A lot of tracks that we typically attract horses from - Canterbury, Prairie Meadows, Ruidoso, and Arapahoe, to name a few - close down either on or around Labor Day weekend. So, we're going to be able to get more horses than we would typically get.

"And then we're also racing just three days a week, so our fields should be more full, and should give the bettors a better plate of races to bet on."

Retama sought changes to its racing calendar earlier this year, in part to take advantage of mild winter weather in San Antonio. Its first bid to the Texas Racing Commission was opposed by Sam Houston Race Park because Sam Houston, in Houston, traditionally races during the dates that were sought. But its second bid, the current meet, received approval in May.

"We had originally targeted a January, February, March of '08 meet, and that left a potential big gap in the racing calendar," said Brown. "So, when we went back to the racing commission and requested these dates, the horsemen were very, very pleased."

The El Joven and La Senorita, for 2-year-olds at a mile on turf, have been moved from their typical Labor Day weekend date to Oct. 27.

"They're going to be run on Breeders' Cup Day, so we're hoping that the big crowd enjoys some great racing," said James Leatherman, racing secretary at Retama.

Officials said the later date gives the race's young participants more time to establish turf form. Leatherman said 86 horses have been nominated to the El Joven, including Justaclown, a recent turf stakes winner at Louisiana Downs. There are 76 fillies nominated to the La Senorita, including Timely Reflection, also a turf stakes winner at Louisiana Downs.

"I think we're going to have better betting races in those two races, because you will have more past performances to judge the horses from," said Brown.

Retama's purses are up from $80,000 a day to about $105,000 a day, the result of racing fewer dates than last meet, when the track ran 51 nights. The new purse schedule puts maiden special weight races at $17,000 versus $14,000 in 2006, said Leatherman.

"Basically, all the allowance races went up $3,000," he added.

Danny Pish, who has won the last eight training titles, leads a group of horsemen at the meet that includes Cheryl Asmussen, Brent Davidson, Michelle Lovell, Mark Whitton, and Bob Young. Retama's riding colony is led by two-time defending champ Larry Taylor. Others set to compete are Steve Bourque, Roman Chapa, Ted Gondron, Bobby Walker Jr., and Perry Whetstone.

Friday night's featured eighth race, a $35,000 optional claimer over 5 1/2 furlongs, drew stakes winners War Bridle and Toga Too. As in past meets, there is a reduced, 12 percent takeout on pick three wagers at Retama.