Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Little Sparkle, A Little Zest Found at Lone Star

Attendance up. Handle down. But one burning question remains unanswered: What the heck did they add to my margarita that turned it so green?

Regardless of its color, it’s still the same tasty refreshment. Likewise, I can say the same thing about Lone Star Park’s 2010 Spring Thoroughbred Meet – perhaps the racing product wasn’t exactly “top shelf”, but it was still a fun and enjoyable refreshment.

Last year, racetrack management, toiling in bankruptcy misery and imminent auction, couldn’t provide a spark of innovation if they had a flamethrower. However, this year – energized with the impending transfer to Global Gaming – fan-friendly fresh ideas blossomed. Here’s a sampling of a few of the recent zesty racetrack happenings:

Jockeys & Java. I’ve been touting this trackside program since Dan Leary and his media/marketing posse whipped it up in May. People are eager to learn about horse racing and what better way than to ask questions, tour the backstretch, and walk down a shedrow while being bit by evil horseflies. After eating a free breakfast burrito, of course. The “special guests” featured on these programs were informative and entertaining; gladly fielding fans’ numerous questions. Of note, teeming millions showed up for the final installment of the program with guest, jockey Chris Landeros; don’t have the actual attendance figure but according to Hospitality Man, they went through 500 burritos.

Additionally, Lone Star’s track announcer, John Lies, deserves a shout out for his involvement with Jockeys & Java. His interview style put the guests at ease and encouraged interesting topics and anecdotes. And not once did he say my questions were dumb.

Lone Star Music Series. Okay, I didn’t go to any of these concerts, but lots of other people did.

Dollar Day. Lots of people went to Dollar Day. Value entertainment. Wish every day was Dollar Day.

Clarence Scharbauer, Jr. The famed Texan of Alysheba lore is steadfast and true to the Lone Star State, lending dreams of greatness to Texas horse racing one day. His Coyote Legend won the $50,000 Premiere Stakes on opening day, won the $100,000 Texas Stallion Stakes on May 8, and won the $75,000 Assault Stakes on July 10. He earned the meet’s Champion Texas-Bred Male Award.

Party at the Park. Friday nights with $1 beers and great local bands, one of which included my favorite Beatles tribute band, Hard Night's Day. I danced at the track – literally. The cheap beer helped ... with the dancing, that is.

Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia. Winning trainer/jockey combo was formidable here. Mythical Power won the Texas Mile (gr. III). Game on Dude won the Lone Star Derby (gr. III).

Recognition of racehorse rescue organizations. Lone Star Park aided Donna Keen’s fundraising efforts for her non-profit organization, Remember Me Rescue, with raffles and a chili cook-off. The care and well-being of horses after they’re finished racing is a concern for so many fans, and there’s a perception of indifference by the industry. I was glad to see Lone Star give the issue some high profile attention.

Chris Landeros. Last year’s leading jockey defended his title with 101 wins this year, just shy of a record. A couple of years ago, disgruntled with short fields and a shortage of mounts, this young man left California and was lured to ride in this region. At this writing, he’s committed to Lone Star Park and the PGA Tour. He’s loaded with talent and promise – California’s loss has been our gain. And he’s never had any kind of weight issue, which pisses off a lot of us chubby people.

Yes, there are money woes and sagging purses and handle decline, yet the spring meet was pleasurable. At this time, there are plans being hatched to improve the racing quality and make it more attractive to the serious bettors, however, I hope they don’t neglect those of us who enjoy horse racing as a tasty treat.


The_Knight_Sky said...

I am following this episode.

Texas Racing must drastically reduce their Takeout Rates to the lowest in the nation.

Consolidating race dates will only go so far. Texas simply does not have the marquee horses, or nationally reknowned horsemen to garner interest nationwide. They must do the best thing: 12% WPS and 15% exacta and trifectas.

That'll set the wheels in motion for a recovery. Any half-hearted approach won't cut it at this stage.

suebroux said...

Texas racing is no longer just an "episode" ... it's ballooning into a soap opera!

Reduce the takeout and appeal to bettors to increase handle. However, takeout funds purses, and Texas' purses are already sagging; quality stock have already left the state via The Money Trail. So there would still be mediocre racing product - and, seriously, would that improve handle?

I agree that consolidating the race dates is not the savior, and it appears to be causing a rift among horsemen; the proposal for consolidation is a whopping 48% reduction! However, I think that perhaps some restructuring and tweaking of race dates, along with racetracks reducing takeout (maybe not as drastic as you suggest), might provide the industry with a little more solid footing.

Meanwhile, the industry needs to focus on other sources of revenue that might be palatable to the Texas Legislature and the religious conservatives, i.e., ADW and/or OTB wagering. Seems to me their gambling their whole future on slots.

Applebys Traveler said...

I liked A Hard Night's Day.