Things Could be Sweeter for Lone Star Park as it Begins its Sixteenth Season of Horse Racing and Entertainment
By: Dic Humphrey
The 16th season of thoroughbred racing at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie opened last weekend. This is the first full season under the new ownership of Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, who took over ownership of Lone Star Park last May. There was definitely a more fan-friendly environment last year under the new owners, and attendance in 2011 averaged 7,621 per race date, a 4% increase over 2010 despite a nationwide recession in the horse racing industry.
Global Gaming, which also owns and operates Remington Park in Oklahoma, purchased the track for $47.85 million, and has followed with a $3 million renovation of the facility. The main improvement is to the Post Time Pavillion, which has been re-named Bar & Book. More improvements are on the way.
The 2012 season has 53 racing dates over 13 weeks. In general, the track is open each weekend – Thursday and Friday evenings with the first race at 6:35 PM, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons with the first race at 1:35 PM. The season runs through July 8, and there will also be races on Tuesday and Wednesday July 3rd and 4th. Some of the key dates include the Saturdays of the Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby (May 5), the Preakness (May 19) and the Belmont Stakes (June 9); as well as WinStar Win A Million Day (May 28) and Lone Stars and Stripes Celebration July 3 & 4.
Lone Star Park is a tremendous entertainment value at the low-end of the spectrum, as general admission tickets are just $5.00; and at the upper end of the spectrum, the track does an outstanding job of food service and customer service at the Silks dining area and private suites. There are also numerous dates that the price of admission includes a concert after the last race, with performers such as Ted Nugent, who appears this Saturday.
There is optimism that the deep pockets and operating expertise of the new owners of Lone Star Park can keep the track afloat until such time as legislative change comes that will allow increased revenues that are necessary to promote a quality racing environment. Purses have been reduced in recent years, including drastic reductions this year. The most significant racing weekend at Lone Star Park in the past has been Memorial Day weekend with the $200,000 Lone Star Derby, the $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff, and the $150,000 Dallas Turf Cup. All of those races are gone, as the track aims to hold the purses to $140,000 per day average. The only remaining races of significance are the Texas Mile on April 28 and the Lone Star Park Handicap a month later.
Owners and trainers are looking for other alternatives. Other tracks pay significantly larger purses and run at the same time of the year as Lone Star Park. From a local owner’s standpoint, the cost to run a horse at one of these other tracks, as opposed to staying home at Lone Star Park, is simply the one-time transportation charge to transport the horse each way to one of the other tracks. A claiming race at Lone Star may have a purse of say $12,000. A similar level race at Hialeah likely will pay $60,000 – $80,000.
The end result is that better horses are racing elsewhere, and Lone Star Park is offering inferior thoroughbred talent. Nationally known trainer Steve Ausmussen is based in the area and is still committed to racing at Lone Star Park, though he has shifted a significant number of horses to Kentucky. It is critical for this venue to survive as a significant thoroughbred track to have increased revenues coming from sources such as slot machines. These are sources that need to be approved by the Texas legislature.
Lone Star Park is not only the best facility in Texas, but clearly a top-of-the-line facility compared with tracks around the nation, as evidenced by its selection for the 2004 Breeder’s Cup, the Super Bowl of horse racing. The track’s ownership is now on solid footing with Gaming Solutions. Racing fans can only hope that the Texas legislature will loosen restrictions soon which will allow increased revenues that will facilitate larger purses necessary to make the quality of the racing on the track at Lone Star Park equal to the quality of the beautiful facility in Grand Prairie.