04/11/2006 12:00AM

Softer surface should provide smoother ride


Texas is a big, loud state with a history of Quarter Horse racing, and it only made sense for the state's most important Thoroughbred venue to produce notably quick times. That's been Lone Star Park, a fast-playing racing surface that bakes hard as a highway during June and July. But often, faster is not better, and Lone Star starts its 10th racing season trumpeting the virtues of a revamped track surface that, by many accounts, will be much easier on the vulnerable legs of the horses that race and train over it.

In October, George McDermott took over as Lone Star's director of track maintenance, leaving the same job at Louisiana Downs, and while McDermott calls his work on the Lone Star surface "a tune-up," he and his crew have made significant alterations.

"I started out with the simple process of going out and seeing what was there, that everything was graded out properly, and the banks are set in to the specifications of the track," McDermott said.

In fact, the track was not banked according to its original specifications, and McDermott's first order of business was gradually "changing the angles," he said. "Every day I'd grade a little more in the curves, a little more on the straightaways"

Once he banked the track, McDermott began working sand into the existing mix of substances that composed the surface, 2,200 tons of sand by the time he was finished.

"Right now I'm extremely happy," McDermott said. "It took an extreme amount of weather very well. We had 7-9 inches of rain, and we trained the next day."

Horsemen echo McDermott's optimism. Trainer Danny Pish, who gallops many of his own horses, said the track "definitely feels like it's got more bounce" than in previous seasons. "I'm surprised to see that it's still fast, because it feels deeper," said Pish. "Race day, the track was never an issue for me. It was in the mornings I had problems, but it doesn't seem that way to me."

"Walking out on it, you can tell," said trainer Bret Calhoun. "It's a lot more fluffy surface, a lot more kind to the horses."

McDermott also has worked on the grass course's aeration, and another running lane has been added to the turf, giving Lone Star three positions for its turf rail.

Agrivating General back in Premiere

The Texas Premiere Stakes takes its usual place as the meet-opener Thursday at Lone Star, and Agrivating General will take up his usual place in the Premiere starting gate. A 7-year-old, Agrivating General won the Premiere in 2003 and 2004, but finished third last season.

That was the story of his year. Agrivating General has earned more than $350,000, and he won three straight times in 2004, but lost all 10 of his starts last year and three more in 2006.

"The poor old fella hasn't been able to find the winner's circle for a while," said his trainer, Pish, who has worked with Agrivating General since his debut in the spring of 2002.

"He trains about the same as he has all along," Pish said. "He should be competitive [Thursday], but who knows? It's hard to say. He's not as hearty as he once was."

Pish said he operates his stable as pragmatically as possible. "I try to keep [the horses] at arm's length," he said. "But I do get emotionally attached to the horses, especially him, as good as he's been to me. When the day comes for him to stop racing, I'm going to be pretty assertive in where he gets to spend the rest of his days."

Agrivating General will find a good retirement home, but can he find the winner's circle? He actually fits the Premiere as well as any of the 11 horses entered, but may have to run down Corpus Sand, who has been shipped to trainer Gerald Romero from Hawthorne after an impressive allowance victory.

* Paz Ciudadana, unraced since last fall, is expected to head a field of 11 or 12 in Saturday's Irving Distaff Handicap at 7 1/2 furlongs on turf.

At a glance: Lone Star Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 66 days; Thursday through July 23; racing Wednesday-Sunday through May 21; racing Thursday-Sunday, May 25 to July 23; racing Monday, May 29 and Monday July 2, Tuesday July 4; dark Thursday June 1 and Thursday July 6.

POST TIME: Weeknights, 6:35 p.m. Central; weekends and holidays, 1:35 p.m. Central; 5 p.m July 2-3.

ADMISSION: General, $3; clubhouse (second and fourth floors of Grandstand), $6. Children 3 and under admitted free.

PARKING: General, $2; preferred, $4; valet, $9

LOCATION: 1000 Lone Star Parkway in Grand Prairie, Texas, 12 miles west of Dallas, 20 miles east of Fort Worth

SIMULCASTING: Daily except Tuesday

PHONE: General information, (972) 263-RACE; reserved seating or reservations, (972) 263-PONY

INTERNET: lonestarpark.com

Thu.,April 13Premiere Stakes3YO & Up*1 Mile$50,000
Sat.,April 15Irving Distaff HandicapF&M, 3YO & Up7 1/2 Furlongs (T)75,000
Sat.,April 22Littlebitlively Stakes3YO & Up5 Furlongs (T)40,000
Sat.,April 29Texas Mile (G3)3YO & Up1 Mile300,000
Sat.,April 29Grand Prairie Turf Challenge3YO1 Mile (T)75,000
Sat.,April 29JEH Stallion Station StakesF&M, 3YO & Up*6 1/2 Furlongs50,000
Fri.,May 5Ford Express Stakes3YO & Up6 Furlongs50,000
Sat.,May 6Richland Hills Farm Stakes3YO F6 Furlongs50,000
Sat.,May 6Gold Nugget Stakes3YO & Up*7 1/2 Furlongs (T)40,000
Sat. May 13Walmac Lone Star Derby (G3)3YO1 1/16 Miles300,000
Sat.,May 13TX. Stallion Stakes (Stymie Div.)3YO C&G1 1/16 Miles125,000
Sat.,May 13TX. Stallion Stakes (Got Koko Div.)3YO F1 1/16 Miles125,000
Sat.,May 20Connecting Terms Stakes3YO & Up1 1/16 Miles (T)40,000
Mon.,May 29Lone Star Park Handicap (G3)3YO & Up1 1/16 Miles400,000
Mon.,May 29WinStar Distaff Handicap (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 Mile (T)200,000
Mon.,May 29Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes3YO1 1/16 Miles (T)150,000
Mon. May 29Stonerside Stakes3YO F7 Furlongs100,000
Mon.,May 29Beck Auto Turf Sprint HANDICAP3YO & Up5 Furlongs (T)100,000
Mon.,May 29Valid Expectations StakesF&M, 3YO & Up6 Furlongs100,000
Sat.,June 3Nevil/Kyocera Stakes3YO6 Furlongs40,000
Sat.,June 10TTA Sales Futurity (C&G Div.)2YO C&G5 Furlongs100,000
Sat.,June 10TTA Sales Futurity (F Div.)2YO F5 Furlongs100,000
Sat.,June 17Dallas Turf Cup Handicap (G3)3YO & Up1 1/8 Miles (T)200,000
Sat.,June 17Carter McGregor Jr. Mem. STAKES3YO & Up*6 Furlongs50,000
Sat.,June 24Miller Lite StakesF&M, 3YO & Up5 Furlongs (T)50,000
Sat.,July 1Alysheba Breeders' Cup Stakes3YO1 Mile100,000
Sat.,July 1Lone Star Oaks3YO F1 1/16 Miles (T)75,000
Sat.,July 8TX. Stallion STAKES (Staunch Avenger Dv.)2YO C&G5 1/2 Furlongs125,000
Sat.,July 8TX. Stallion STAKES (Pan Zareta Dv.)2YO F5 1/2 Furlongs125,000
Sat.,July 8Assault Stakes3YO & Up*1 1/16 Miles100,000
Sat.,July 8Allen Bogan Memorial StakesF&M, 3YO & Up*1 Mile75,000
Sat. July 8Harold V. Goodman MEM. Stakes3YO*6 1/2 Furlongs50,000
Sat.,July 8Valor Farm Stakes3YO F*6 Furlongs50,000
Sat.,July 15Fresa StakesF&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 Miles (T)40,000
Sat.,July 22Bob Johnson Mem. Stakes3YO & Up1 Mile (T)50,000
Sat.,July 22Silver Spur B.C. Stakes2YO F6 Furlongs65,000
Sun.,July 23Middleground B.C. Stakes2YO C&G6 Furlongs65,000