04/17/2017 10:16AM

Premiere Stakes highlights opening of 20th season

Dustin Orona Photography
Supermason, who won the Premiere Stakes last season, is expected to run in the race again this season.

Lone Star Park near Dallas opens its 20th season Thursday night with the $50,000 Premiere Stakes. It is carded as the first race of the meet, as has been the tradition since I Are Sharp won the inaugural running on April 17, 1997.

Lone Star will race 50 dates through July 30. The meet will pay tribute to its history with several key events. One of its biggest races, the Grade 3, $200,000 Texas Mile on May 7, has been renamed the Steve Sexton Mile in honor of a central member of the track’s original management team who died in December.

Sexton also will be inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame, along with Cliff Berry, the retired all-time winningest rider at Lone Star, and G.R. Carter, a top Quarter Horse jockey. The inductions are scheduled for May 28 during a ceremony coinciding with the meet’s other major race, the Grade 3, $200,000 Lone Star Park Handicap. That same day, there will be a bobblehead giveaway, with the toy in the likeness of the track’s all-time winningest trainer, Steve Asmussen.

“The big thing that we’re highlighting is our 20th anniversary,” said Bart Lang, director of racing for Lone Star.

The track is opening its meet a week later than usual for several reasons, according to Scott Wells, the president and general manager of Lone Star.

“That’s going to help our turf track be ready for action the first weekend,” he said. “It’s going to help us avoid the home opener of the Texas Rangers. It’s going to help us avoid the big Texas Motor Speedway race, which has been a conflict in the past. I think we’re going to be able to ride the interest in the Kentucky Derby by opening much closer to that.”

Supermason is expected for the Premiere, the first of the meet’s 11 stakes that will be worth a cumulative $1 million. The Premiere is a 6 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up bred in Texas. Supermason won the race last year, and trainer Bret Calhoun said he cut the horse back to one turn for his last start with an eye toward this year’s running. The most notable change to the stakes schedule is the Sunday placement of both the Steve Sexton Mile and Lone Star Park Handicap.

“We moved them to [Sundays], trying to get a little more exposure by putting them there,” Lang said. “There’s not as many stakes on a Sunday as a Saturday. We just think that’s a good spot for them.”

Lang said Lone Star will have a new 2:35 p.m. Central post time for Sundays. The track’s races will start at 6:35 on Thursday and Friday nights and at 5 p.m. on Saturdays – with the exception of Triple Crown dates, when first post will be 1:35 p.m.

Purses at the meet are projected to average $150,000 a program, said Lang, the same as 2016. Lone Star has drawn a handful of new barns such as trainers Austin Gustafson and Sarah Delaney, in addition to such regulars as Asmussen, Karl Broberg, Calhoun, and Danny Pish. The riding colony is expected to include Iram Diego, coming off the title at Sam Houston, Richard Eramia, and Eddie Martin Jr.