08/26/2008 11:00PM

Stalls packed with newcomers, regulars


Changing dynamics in the Southwest and Midwest have combined to alter dramatically the makeup of the Retama Park backstretch for its meet that opens Friday night. Nationally prominent trainers Steve Asmussen and Bret Calhoun will both have divisions at the San Antonio-area track this season, while a handful of horsemen from Louisiana and jurisdictions farther north are also sending barns back to Retama.

The reasons for the stable shift range from a near two-month gap in racing in south Louisiana - between the close of Evangeline Downs to the opening of Delta Downs - to the shuttering of the Woodlands in Kansas City. In addition, horses who shipped in to run last meet from Lone Star Park, which was operating as a training center in the fall but is not doing so at the present time, are now bedded down at Retama.

"All of those things kind of have come together like a perfect storm," said James Leatherman, the racing secretary at Retama.

Leatherman's office has been flooded with stall requests, and he said all 1,240 on the backstretch have been allotted, with horsemen from as far away as Canterbury Park in Minnesota awaiting accommodations. It's a situation that could threaten an incredible streak put together by Danny Pish, who has won the last nine training titles at Retama.

He is anxious about the chase for a 10th.

"I'm a nervous wreck about it, because there's some returning faces, some that haven't been here in recent years," Pish said. "And then I watered down my herd by taking part of them to Oklahoma. So, I'm a nervous wreck about that 10th title."

Calhoun has brought more than 30 horses to town for the 35-night meet that runs through Nov. 15. He believes it's been about eight years since he last had a division at Retama.

"I thought the condition book was pretty good, and I had some horses that fit there," he said. "We've got a little bit of everything there. We've got horses for a lot of different spots.

"I've been pretty proud of the way Retama's handled their meet the past couple of years. They've got their purse structure up, condensing their meet and running for better purses. I think they've made some good moves."

Retama will average about $100,000 a day in purses. Calhoun said first-level allowance races worth $18,000 and maiden special weights at $17,000 were attractive. Asmussen said he will have a number of young horses and Texas-breds on hand for the meet.

Trainers Paul Duhon and Amos Laborde, who have been racing in southern Louisiana, are back at Retama after an absence, said Leatherman. Also back after being away is Dallas Keen. Other new faces on the grounds include Terry Romero and Clyde McLean.

Eguard Tejera will defend his riding title against a colony expected to include Bobby Walker Jr., who will be a regular aboard Calhoun trainees, and Steve Bourque and Ricky Faul.

And while some of the faces are new, the meet's staples have not changed. Retama will still offer a reduced, 12 percent takeout on its pick threes, said Doug Vair, a spokesman for the track. And the $1 million stakes program will again be led by the $100,000 El Joven and $100,000 La Senorita, for 2-year-olds on turf Nov. 1, and the $500,000 Texas Hall of Fame Night program of restricted stakes Oct. 4.

There will also be 11 Fifty-Cent Night promotions this meet, said Vair. To be held almost every Saturday, the promotion offers free admission and reduced concessions. First post Friday is 6:45 p.m. Central.