11/18/2008 12:00AM

Retama rolls on with added meet


Just three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced Fair Grounds and Delta Downs to run their meets at other tracks in Louisiana, Ike has inflicted enough damage in neighboring Texas that Sam Houston Race Park's 65-date meet was canceled and a portion of the season moved to Retama Park near San Antonio in a meet that opens Thursday night. The 43-date season will continue through Feb. 28, and it comes on the heels of Retama's traditional fall Thoroughbred meet that just wrapped Saturday.

"It made a lot of sense to have the meet here, since we were already racing," said Bryan Brown, chief executive officer of Retama. "We knew we could just roll on with the additional days. Many of the horsemen who would have been at Sam Houston have been at Retama. It just made sense all the way around, and in addition to that, the south Texas weather is pretty good here this time of year."

Hurricane Ike hit Sam Houston on Sept. 13, leaving the track without a toteboard and with significant wind and water damage to its grandstand roof, barns, and dormitories. Preliminary estimates put repair costs in excess of $10 million, according to Andrea Young, chief operating officer of Sam Houston. The grandstand roof will have to be replaced, and Young said the project cannot begin until January. She said she expects repairs to be complete by early April.

The cancellation of Sam Houston's meet prompted the Texas Horsemen's Partnership and the state's other tracks - Retama, Lone Star Park, and Manor Downs - to discuss options for running the lost dates. The decision to move to Retama was made, and $3.8 million in purse funds were transferred from Sam Houston to Retama after the Texas Racing Commission approved Sam Houston's request to cancel its meet Oct. 29.

Purses at the Retama meet will average between $95,000 and $100,000 a day. The track will have an abbreviated stakes schedule, with the main event being the Texas Champions Day program of eight statebred stakes worth $425,000 on Dec. 6.

Brown said the makeup of the meet will include many of the same trainers and jockeys that have been racing at Retama, including Danny Pish, who picked up his 10th training title at the track Saturday, and Eguard Tejera, who won the most recent riding title.

Retama's races will simulcast to the Ontario Jockey Club, one of several new sites for the signal, Brown said. The track will offer its signature 12 percent takeout on rolling pick threes. Retama also will have a $10 season pass to what it is calling its winter Thoroughbred meet. With the pass, fans will not be charged for admission or parking for the 43 live dates. Turf racing at Retama will resume with the Texas Champions Day card, as the course was overseeded with winter rye last Tuesday, Brown said.