07/31/2001 11:00PM

Purses hit $100,000


If you build purses, they will come. That's been the mantra at Retama Park near San Antonio, which will offer its richest purse structure ever when it opens for its seventh season of racing Friday night. The 51-day meet runs through Oct. 27.

Retama will distribute $100,000 in purses a day, a significant improvement from the $58,000 the track paid out just a few years ago in 1997. Each year since, increased handle on simulcast races has enabled Retama to build its purses, and this season the track got an added boost when it received a portion of the unpaid purse revenues from the canceled Thoroughbred meet at Manor Downs in Austin.

"We've hit that magic level of $100,000 a day in purses, and when our first condition book came out it got a lot of horsemen excited," said Bryan Brown, chief executive officer of Retama. "The quality [of horses] we've got this meet is something we've never seen before."

Racing secretary Larry Craft said the talent in the stable area is deeper than last year because Retama has lured more stables than usual from Lone Star Park, which closed July 15. Craft added that in addition to quality, Retama has quantity this season. The barn area is filled, and last Saturday's work tab had more than 120 names on it, believed to be a record for Retama.

New faces at the meet include trainers Gerald Romero, Bret Calhoun, Mindy Willis, George Northrop, and Larry Donlin. They join last year's co-leading trainers Danny Pish and Jerenesto Torrez. Among riders, Roman Chapa will look to defend his title against newcomers like Steve Bourque.

The $100,000 El Joven and $100,000 La Senorita, two 2-year-old races over a mile on turf Sept. 1, top a 21-race stakes program worth $1 million. Other stakes include the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame, one of seven restricted stakes worth a cumulative $275,000 on Oct. 6. The races complement inductions into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame, an annual ceremony held at Retama.

Jo Ann Weber has been named executive director of the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame, and her first order of business is to raise $1 million to build a permanent hall of fame structure at the track, said Brown.

Like last season, Retama's takeout on its pick three wagers is 12 percent. The track will race on Thursdays through Sundays through Labor Day, then revert to a Wednesday through Saturday schedule. Post time is 6:45 p.m., except Sundays, when first post is 5:30 p.m.