04/14/2006 12:00AM

Right tone set in meet opener


If Lone Star Park were old enough to have a Hall of Fame, Steve Asmussen would be a charter member of it, so how better to kick off Lone Star's 2006 season than with an Asmussen horse in the winner's circle? That is exactly where Senor Amigo ended up after capturing the $50,000 Premiere Stakes, the traditional Lone Star opener, by four lengths.

It was less than two months ago that Asmussen took over the training of Senor Amigo, and on Feb. 26, Senor Amigo ran for a $32,000 claiming tag at Oaklawn Park. But Thursday night, he went straight to the lead under jockey Glen Murphy and was never threatened by his Texas-bred rivals.

If Senor Amigo was out of the gate quickly, that was also Lone Star's hope for its 2006 season, which comes after a fairly troubled year for the track. And while opening-night attendance was virtually the same as in 2005 (8,715 compared to 8,603 last year), total handle for the evening jumped significantly, rising 16 percent from last year, to about $3.2 million. Ontrack handle also increased 5.5 percent, to $790,107.

And now, on to the rest of the season. Sunday's nine-race card filled quickly when entries were taken Friday. A total of 91 were entered for the program, and if field size were to stay at that 10-per-race average, track officials would be grinning for the next decade or so.

As so often is the case, however, the highest-class race of the day got the fewest horses. This would be race 8, a "nonwinners-since" allowance carded for six furlongs and offering an attractive $36,000 purse. Trainer Bret Calhoun won two races opening night, and he has a contender for the Sunday feature in The Penguin. The Penguin won going long on turf at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, but has shown some ability in dirt sprints, too.

And while The Penguin is by no means an exceptional racehorse, her rivals are not especially daunting, either. has gone only 8-1-1-0 at Lone Star, and both have mainly kept Texas-bred company. Bridal Gal appears to need more distance than she gets Sunday - and so we are back to The Penguin.