08/30/2011 1:38PM

Retama meet opens with growth potential


Retama Park near San Antonio opens a 21-night Thoroughbred meet on Thursday with the potential for a purse increase and new investors before the close of the season Oct. 15.

The track, which is racing one additional day a week this meet, has also incorporated a new fan-education program, is offering free admission every Saturday night, and will maintain its reduced, 12-percent takeout on pick threes.

The meet is the third leg of a three-tiered racing season that began with a Quarter Horse season in July and included a mixed meet that ended last Saturday.

Retama moves into its Thoroughbred season with purses projected to average more than $80,000 a program, said Bryan Brown, the track’s chief executive officer. And there is potential for growth, he said, as Retama has been exceeding projections in simulcast handle.

“We had originally budgeted for a reduction in ontrack simulcast figures, but our business has actually been up this year with ontrack simulcasting,” Brown said. “We’re up 4 or 5 percent, and that makes a huge difference in the amount of purse money. We raised purses during the Quarter Horse meet because business was going so well, and we hope to have the same issue pop up during the Thoroughbred meet.”

Brown is also hopeful that Retama, which like all tracks in Texas has no form of alternative gaming, might soon attract some new investors.

“We’re continuing discussions with several groups that might want to invest in Retama,” he said, declining to name potential investors. “We have a couple groups that we’ve been dealing with quite a bit over the past few months, and hope in the very near future to have an agreement in place that would bring in new capital, to both help us the next few years in the legislative [effort], and shoulder some operational costs.”

Retama, which raced just two days a week last meet, will now offer cards every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. It will be an opportunity for the track’s new fan education program, The Starting Gate, to get a workout. Retama this year has focused on social-media marketing, particularly using Facebook and Twitter.

“It’s bringing first-timers in, a lot of new faces,” Brown said. “It’s been exciting to see.”

The situation created the need for a more basic fan-education program, which was launched last month at Retama.

“The Starting Gate is an area brand-new customers can come to learn how to use self-service machines, and get a good feel for what happens at the racetrack.

“We’ve also put more experienced people on the grounds, walking around looking for people who have questions.”

The biggest nights of racing will be Sept. 24, when Retama puts on two $100,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes, and Oct. 15, the date of the $75,000 El Joven and $75,000 La Senorita.

The track’s opening-night card of nine races is led by an $18,000 optional claiming sprint for fillies and mares. All of the races are on dirt, as Retama will not have turf racing over its opening weekend because of drought conditions in Texas.