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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
|Thu.,April 13||Premiere Stakes||3YO & Up*||1 Mile||$50,000|
|Sat.,April 15||Irving Distaff Handicap||F&M, 3YO & Up||7 1/2 Furlongs (T)||75,000|
|Sat.,April 22||Littlebitlively Stakes||3YO & Up||5 Furlongs (T)||40,000|
|Sat.,April 29||Texas Mile (G3)||3YO & Up||1 Mile||300,000|
|Sat.,April 29||Grand Prairie Turf Challenge||3YO||1 Mile (T)||75,000|
|Sat.,April 29||JEH Stallion Station Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up*||6 1/2 Furlongs||50,000|
|Fri.,May 5||Ford Express Stakes||3YO & Up||6 Furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,May 6||Richland Hills Farm Stakes||3YO F||6 Furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,May 6||Gold Nugget Stakes||3YO & Up*||7 1/2 Furlongs (T)||40,000|
|Sat. May 13||Walmac Lone Star Derby (G3)||3YO||1 1/16 Miles||300,000|
|Sat.,May 13||TX. Stallion Stakes (Stymie Div.)||3YO C&G||1 1/16 Miles||125,000|
|Sat.,May 13||TX. Stallion Stakes (Got Koko Div.)||3YO F||1 1/16 Miles||125,000|
|Sat.,May 20||Connecting Terms Stakes||3YO & Up||1 1/16 Miles (T)||40,000|
|Mon.,May 29||Lone Star Park Handicap (G3)||3YO & Up||1 1/16 Miles||400,000|
|Mon.,May 29||WinStar Distaff Handicap (G3)||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 Mile (T)||200,000|
|Mon.,May 29||Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes||3YO||1 1/16 Miles (T)||150,000|
|Mon. May 29||Stonerside Stakes||3YO F||7 Furlongs||100,000|
|Mon.,May 29||Beck Auto Turf Sprint HANDICAP||3YO & Up||5 Furlongs (T)||100,000|
|Mon.,May 29||Valid Expectations Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||6 Furlongs||100,000|
|Sat.,June 3||Nevil/Kyocera Stakes||3YO||6 Furlongs||40,000|
|Sat.,June 10||TTA Sales Futurity (C&G Div.)||2YO C&G||5 Furlongs||100,000|
|Sat.,June 10||TTA Sales Futurity (F Div.)||2YO F||5 Furlongs||100,000|
|Sat.,June 17||Dallas Turf Cup Handicap (G3)||3YO & Up||1 1/8 Miles (T)||200,000|
|Sat.,June 17||Carter McGregor Jr. Mem. STAKES||3YO & Up*||6 Furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,June 24||Miller Lite Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||5 Furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,July 1||Alysheba Breeders' Cup Stakes||3YO||1 Mile||100,000|
|Sat.,July 1||Lone Star Oaks||3YO F||1 1/16 Miles (T)||75,000|
|Sat.,July 8||TX. Stallion STAKES (Staunch Avenger Dv.)||2YO C&G||5 1/2 Furlongs||125,000|
|Sat.,July 8||TX. Stallion STAKES (Pan Zareta Dv.)||2YO F||5 1/2 Furlongs||125,000|
|Sat.,July 8||Assault Stakes||3YO & Up*||1 1/16 Miles||100,000|
|Sat.,July 8||Allen Bogan Memorial Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up*||1 Mile||75,000|
|Sat. July 8||Harold V. Goodman MEM. Stakes||3YO*||6 1/2 Furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,July 8||Valor Farm Stakes||3YO F*||6 Furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,July 15||Fresa Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/16 Miles (T)||40,000|
|Sat.,July 22||Bob Johnson Mem. Stakes||3YO & Up||1 Mile (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,July 22||Silver Spur B.C. Stakes||2YO F||6 Furlongs||65,000|
|Sun.,July 23||Middleground B.C. Stakes||2YO C&G||6 Furlongs||65,000|