10/03/2012 4:54PM

Retama Park meet opens; sale of majority interest proceeding

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Retama Park near San Antonio opens a 26-date meet Friday night with an improved purse structure, two new stakes races and the promise of a “strong financial partner” coming on board as early as December. The track will race every Friday and Saturday night through Dec. 29.

Retama is opening its meet later than ever, as the season had traditionally started in either August or September. The new date has played a role in boosting the track’s average daily purse structure from $90,000 to $100,000, and adding a pair of $50,000 stakes for Texas-breds on turf: the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame on Nov. 10 and the $50,000 Fiesta Mile on Dec. 8.

“The main generator of our purses is simulcasting, and our simulcast business has been up 8 percent for the year,” said Bryan Brown, the chief executive officer of Retama. “And because we’re racing later in the year, we’ve given ourselves more time to generate purse funds through simulcasting.”

Retama through August reported $30.5 million in simulcast handle, compared to $28.3 million during the same period a year ago. The track is also coming off a strong Quarter Horse meet in which handle on its live races was up 7 percent, and attendance 12 percent, to 4,081 patrons a card. The season closed in August, about seven weeks before the new start date being introduced for Thoroughbreds.

“We’re excited about the timing of the meet,” said Brown. “It really helps the horsemen bridge the gap between our meet and Sam Houston’s meet and it provides a break during the hottest months of the year. It’s a great time of year for horse supply; there are more horses to fill races. And with fewer tracks running, it helps our signal.”

Retama will also be getting some financial assistance soon. Pinnacle Entertainment, a Las Vegas-based company that owns River Downs in Ohio and casinos in Louisiana, Missouri, and Indiana, announced in April that it had an agreement to purchase majority interest in Retama. In a $22.8 million deal, Pinnacle is buying 75.5 percent ownership of the “entity that holds the racing license,” as well as its debt, said Brown. The Retama Park physical plant is owned by the town of Selma, Texas.

Brown said Retama in August made an application to the Texas Racing Commission for approval to transfer the majority interest in the license to Pinnacle, which is now undergoing the required background checks. Brown said he expects the application to come up for approvals in either December or January.

Retama will be bringing back Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Night for the first time in two seasons, with Bill Casner, Allen and Jeanette Moehrig, T.I. “Pops” Harkins, Valid Expectations, and Kool Kue Baby to be inducted during a gala at Retama on Nov. 10. The track will also run its marquee races that night, the El Joven and La Senorita, a pair of one-mile turf stakes for 2-year-olds that are each worth $75,000.

The track will again offer a reduced 12 percent takeout on rolling pick threes, said Brown. There are also plans for a pick four, he said. The 10-race card Friday night is led by a $25,000 optional claimer at six furlongs that drew multiple stakes winner Ruby’s Big Band.