08/26/2009 12:00AM

Retama looks to maintain big fields

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Retama Park's focus on turf racing, 2-year-old racing, and Texas-bred racing helped the San Antonio-area track achieve one of the nation's highest field-size averages last year. The lofty number was 9.6 starters per race, and it is one Retama officials would love to match again this year during the 32-night meet that opens Friday and runs through Nov. 7.

"I'm hoping to get close," said Retama racing secretary James Leatherman, who is off to a good start after drawing 102 horses for the nine-race Friday card.

Leatherman said that during the corresponding meet a year ago, Retama averaged three turf races a day and ran 59 races for 2-year-olds and 84 races for Texas-breds. The field size also was helped by an agreeable climate that enabled turf races to stay on turf.

"The nice thing horseplayers find about our racing is not only do we have a lot of starters per race, but our races seem to be pretty competitive," said Bryan Brown, chief executive officer of Retama. "We don't seem to have many 1-5 shots."

Retama's backstretch will be made up of a diverse mix of stables, with new barns coming from Arapahoe in Colorado, Canterbury in Minnesota, and Colonial Downs in Virginia. Larry Donlin is due in next weekend from Canterbury with a 22-horse division, Leatherman said. Shawn Davis has brought in horses from Arapahoe, while those in from Colonial include Thomas Cooper and Hilton Werneth Jr.

Danny Pish, who has won the last 10 training titles at Retama, is back, as is defending riding champ Eguard Tejera.

Purses for the meet are projected to be $80,000 a day, the same as last year, Brown said. In order to maintain that purse structure, the decision was made to reduce this meet's stakes calendar to four major races. There will be two $125,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes for 2-year-olds at six furlongs Sept. 26, while the $100,000 El Joven and $100,000 La Senorita for 2-year-olds at a mile on turf will be run Oct. 24.

"We felt it was important to put as much money as we could into our overnight races, so the horsemen that have been with us for many years and depend on that overnight money are given the bulk of our purse money," Brown said. "Our overnight purses per race will be the same as last year. That was important to the horsemen."

This meet represents a return to normalcy for Retama, which following its fall season a year ago picked up 43 dates from Sam Houston after that track was forced to cancel its meet because of damage from Hurricane Ike. The continuous season ended Feb. 28. Sam Houston then picked up Retama's spring meet for Quarter Horses, so Friday will be the first live card at the track since February.

Brown said Retama will again offer a reduced, 12 percent takeout on its rolling pick-three wagers. He also said inductions into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame will be held during a gala at the track Oct. 10.