08/30/2017 1:56PM

Retama Park meet opens with new general manager and tote board, focus on juvenile turf stakes

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Sky Promise, shown winning a maiden race in July at Ellis Park, is nominated to the El Joven Stakes.

Retama Park near San Antonio opens on Friday night with a new general manager, a new tote board, and an uptick in nominations to its signature races, the El Joven and La Senorita. The 22-night season will run through Nov. 11.

Bill Belcher became the new general manager of Retama on Aug. 1, said James Leatherman, the track’s longtime racing secretary. The new digital tote board was put in place after straight-line winds hit the old tote board in February.

“The way it’s formatted, it’s like a big TV,” said Leatherman. “There’s digital graphics, so it’s pretty neat.”

Leatherman has been fielding strong interest in the El Joven and La Senorita, a pair of one-mile turf races for 2-year-olds that will be worth $75,000 each on Oct. 14. He said early nominations for the races were up 10 percent over 2016. A recent late nomination, Sky Promise, won a maiden special weight on turf at Ellis Park, and Leatherman looks for additional candidates to emerge at this meet.

“We’ll be watching the 2-year-old maiden special weights on the turf to see if there’s any standouts for the El Joven and La Senorita,” he said.

Leatherman plans to make good use of the turf course at Retama. The track’s six-race stakes schedule includes two other grass races, the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Stakes and the Fiesta Mile, both Oct. 21.

The races share top billing with the annual Texas Hall of Fame gala and induction ceremony. This year’s class comprises Steve Asmussen, O.C. O’Quinn, Johnny Trotter, the late Steve Sexton, and the Quarter Horse champion Ochoa. The late Terry Blanton will be honored with the Joann Weber Distinguished Service Award.

The other major race date at the meet is Nov. 4, when Retama cards a pair of 2-year-old divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes.

Retama is projecting that purses will average $85,000 a program, the same level as last season, said Leatherman. Karl Broberg and Danny Pish, who shared the training title last year, both have divisions in town for the new meet, while Ted Gondron, who tied atop the rider standings last year, is back in a colony that includes newcomer Ronald Richard. Also new to the meet is trainer Brent Davidson, who also has a division at Remington Park.

The card Friday night includes the five-furlong leg of a turf starter-handicap series that runs throughout the meet. Retama is scheduled to race every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 6:45 Central.