08/20/2010 2:41PM

Texas tracks take step toward consolidating dates


A plan to consolidate the Texas racing calendar in 2011 took another step forward this week when the state’s tracks submitted their dates requests to the Texas Racing Commission. Their proposals are expected to be considered at a meeting Sept. 14.

Lone Star Park near Dallas is seeking its traditional spring meet, racing 60 days from April 7 to July 17, said Drew Shubeck, the track’s president. But purses could rise drastically – from last meet’s $150,800 a day to $230,000 – if $4.8 million in purse funds are transferred to Lone Star from Sam Houston in a plan that has been discussed for months among state racing leaders in the face of declining handle in Texas.

Sam Houston, meanwhile, has requested an amendment to its dates that seeks to eliminate its upcoming Thoroughbred meet that starts Nov. 26, 2010, and runs 60 days to April 2, 2011. The track has instead asked for a 28-date mixed meet for 2011, from June 2 through July 30. Its emphasis is expected to be on Quarter Horses.

The Texas Horsemen’s Partnership represents the state’s Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse owners and trainers and has not yet endorsed a dates plan. The group must approve all purse fund tranfers, which must then be approved by the commission.

“None of us just love this plan, but it’s business,” said Jan Haynes, president of the THP. “That’s what it is. You can’t just look into what’s going to happen 30 days from now. We’re trying to make things work long-term. There is no official calendar as of yet, and probably the commission is going to have to come up with one the way it’s looking. As a board, we’ve got one side that is Thoroughbreds and one side that is Quarter Horses, and we’ve got to make sure our partners have the dates they need.”

Haynes said the horsemen’s board is opposed to Sam Houston’s desire to drop the 16 dates it is scheduled to run this November and December. A concern for Quarter Horse interests, according to Haynes, is the lack of racing opportunities early in the year, a time when trainers prepare 2-year-olds for futurities.

Retama Park near San Antonio is seeking a 24-date mixed meet for 2011, from Aug. 26 through Oct. 22. Bryan Brown, the track’s chief executive officer, said the meet would be heavier on Thoroughbred racing because Lone Star holds a fall meet for Quarter Horses. That 26-date meet would run from Sept. 16 to Nov. 12.

Brown said Thoroughbred purses are projected to be $80,000 a day. The track would not be part of the purse fund transfer between Sam Houston and Lone Star. According to a horsemen’s official, Retama could receive leftover purse funds from the now shuttered Manor Downs, a Quarter Horse track near Austin that ceased operations in late July.

Shubeck has been fielding a lot of comments on the one-year plan to consolidate.

“As you can imagine, the people that normally participate at Lone Star Park like the idea, and people in south Texas don’t favor the idea,” he said. “That’s pretty much what I get in the form of feedback from horsemen.”

Texas for years has been losing ground to racing programs in surrounding states that are supplemented by various forms of alternative gaming. Such gaming is not allowed in Texas, but the state’s racing leaders are hopeful that might change with the upcoming legislative session. But as things stand, horsemen know there must be some form of consolidation for next year, Haynes said.

“We understand the position of the tracks, and we’re trying to be sympathetic to it and sympathetic to every horseman no matter how large or how small their stable is,” she said. “This affects everybody.”