Updated on 09/16/2011 7:55AM

Texas-bred stakes lure Asmussen


Retama Park near San Antonio will be home to some of the top Texas-breds in training during its eighth season of racing, which opens Friday night with two of the state's best older horses, Lights on Broadway and Boots on Sunday, taking on open company in the $30,000 J.R. Straus Memorial Stakes.

The 51-night season runs through Oct. 26.

In many ways, the Retama meet is a celebration of everything Texas. That point will be driven home Oct. 12, when the track inducts six new members into its Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Along with inductions that night, there will be seven restricted stakes worth $470,000, and among the locally-based Texas-bred stakes winners eyeing those races are Desert Darby, Coastalota, Miss Ritz, Front Nine, Action Tonight, Leo's Last Hurrahy, and Tiffany Jennifer.

Retama's list of races for statebreds is one of the reasons Steve Asmussen, the nation's leading trainer by wins, decided to return to the track for the first time since 1995. His 36-horse string complements a strong cast of Texas trainers, including Danny Pish, who is after his fourth straight title at Retama, Jerenesto Torrez, Gerald Romero, Bret Calhoun, Bubba Cascio, Amos Laborde, Bob Young, Tommie Morgan, and Jim Hudson.

Newcomers to the meet include trainers Cindy Navarre, James Jones, and Mike Teel, who won the recent title at Fair Meadows in Tulsa, Okla.

"Last year was the best year we'd ever had in terms of number of stall applications and quality, and this year was quite a bit better," said Bryan Brown, chief executive officer of Retama. "This is by far the highest quality we've ever had."

Brown hopes that translates into handle growth offtrack. "We'd love to see the continuation of how we started the meet last year, when wagering on our signal was up 30 percent prior to Sept. 11," he said.

Last year, Retama handled slightly more than $1 million a night on its races offtrack. To further boost commerce this year, Retama will bring back its reduced, 12 percent takeout on rolling pick three wagers. (Typical takeout on the bet is 25 percent.)

The track is also expanding its signal's reach with the addition of an important new site, Connecticut OTB.

Purses at the meet will average $100,000 a day, the same as last season. The track has 21 stakes on tap, including the $100,000 El Joven and $100,000 La Senorita, a pair of turf stakes for 2-year-olds to be run Aug. 31.