07/20/2004 11:00PM

Racing back after long break


More rain than usual has hit south Texas this year, but still there has been something of a drought in the San Antonio area. There has been no live racing in the region since last October, the longest stretch of inactivity in the 10-year history of Retama Park.

That will be remedied Friday night, when the track opens for a 39-day meet that will run through Sept. 25.

"Everybody's like caged animals, wanting to get back to live racing," said Doug Vair, spokesman for Retama.

Retama's calendar was adjusted this year, partly because the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships will be held in October at Lone Star Park near Dallas. Retama's spring meet for Quarter Horses was moved to Sam Houston Race Park, and its Thoroughbred meet has been shortened from 48 days, ending before the start of a fall Breeders' Cup meet at Lone Star.

Other than the length of the meet, there are not a lot of changes this fall at Retama. The track will again offer a reduced, 12 percent takeout on rolling pick threes, but has added a rolling daily double to its wagering format, as well as a pick four on the last four races of every card.

Retama will also pay out $100,000 a day in purses, the same as last year, and its 14-race stakes schedule will again be highlighted by the $100,000 Ketel One El Joven and the $100,000 La Senorita, two turf stakes for 2-year-olds on Sept. 4.

The Niner Account, who has won 13 of 19 starts, will make his stakes debut Friday night in the first stakes of the meet, the $40,000 J.R. Straus Memorial. A six-furlong race, the Straus Memorial has drawn a strong group of sprinters, including Gold Storm, Front Nine, and Ghannam, who is part of an entry with Aledo Pass.

Jeremy Beasley has been named on both halves by trainer Cody Autrey.

Beasley, the defending Retama riding champ, will take on a colony that includes Roman Chapa. Chapa has won two Thoroughbred titles at Retama and is back at the track this season after competing at Louisiana Downs for a year.

One of Chapa's biggest patrons is Danny Pish, who has won the past five training titles at Retama. Other trainers expected to be major forces at the meet include Steve Asmussen, Tommie Morgan, John Locke, and Jim Bausch.

The first race is at 6:45 p.m.

- Patrons will notice a new voice calling the card. Tom Harris, 42, was hired during the off-season. He was an announcer at Retama from 1996-98 and has also called races at Garden State Park, Playfair, and Yakima Meadows.