04/09/2007 11:00PM

Track hopes shorter week will reverse slide


Thursday marks the beginning of Lone Star Park's 10th season in the horse racing business, but call this anniversary more guarded than gala.

Lone Star began its history with a discernible bang, attracting excellent crowds from the rich Dallas-Ft. Worth sports-fan base during its first few seasons. But even as Lone Star gained international validity hosting the 2004 Breeders' Cup, its core business slipped. Louisiana Downs, which sits a couple hours down the highway in Shreveport, La., got slot machines that promised higher purses, and began racing head and head with Lone Star for a longer period of prime spring and summer dates. Attendance leveled off, purses stagnated - and visions of the future required some refocusing.

Now, the hope at Lone Star is that bottom has been hit, and that the track is back on the way up. But if a rebound is at hand, it will come with a new man at the helm. Corey Johnsen, billed as Lone Star's first employee, resigned his position as president in February and was replaced the next month by Drew Shubeck, who had come to Lone Star a year earlier after managing The Meadows, a Pennsylvania harness track that has four off-track betting sites.

Business during Johnsen's final season appeared to stabilize, though 2006 attendance and handle both declined slightly, and Lone Star has bowed to some realities. At 67 days, the 2007 meet is one day longer than last year's, but Lone Star will for the most part race just four days a week this year. Lone Star switched from a five-day week to a four-day week partway through 2006 and liked the results.

"We've had some four- and five-horse fields," racing secretary Larry Craft said. "This will make things easier, that's for sure."

Craft said field size at Lone Star dropped when the increased Louisiana Downs overlap began. But last year fields were short early in the meet, even before Louisiana Downs opened, and the track hopes to boost its numbers by carding fewer races per week.

Craft also plans on using more turf races, since Lone Star revitalized its grass course during the off-season. The turf course was peeled back and aerated for the first time in Lone Star's history.

Perennial leading trainer Steve Asmussen will be his typical Lone Star force, but Asmussen was pushed last year by Bret Calhoun and Cody Autrey, and both may do at least as well this year. Leading riders Cliff Berry and Quincy Hamilton are back. Jamie Theriot has left for Kentucky, but Ramsey Zimmerman plans to spend his first season at Lone Star. The 2007 stakes schedule - highlighted by Lone Star Derby Day on May 12 - is much the same as last year's, though the Dallas Turf Cup has been moved up on the calendar to May 28, and the WinStar Galaxy was renamed the Ouija Board.

The stakes schedule, as usual, starts immediately, with the $50,000 Premiere for Texas-bred milers kicking off Thursday's 10-race card, which attracted 99 horses and includes two grass races.

The Premiere has players from years past, like 8-year-old Agrivating General and 6-year-old Goosey Moose - both from the barn of trainer Danny Pish - plus last year's second-place finisher, Andanight. But the most likely winner and certain favorite is Sandburr, who was deftly plucked from a $20,000 claiming race this time last year at Sam Houston. Since then, Sandburr has won four times, including an open stakes win at Fair Grounds, and was a respectable fourth to Master Command in the Grade 3 Mineshaft two races ago. In his most recent start, Sandburr finished fifth, but that was in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.