by Raymond V. Whelan
The Saddle Brook Corp. of Amarillo, Texas, is blazing a new trail on undeveloped land expected to be home to a new racetrack in the Lone Star State.
More than 100 contractors, officials, and race fans were expected to attend a ground-breaking ceremony June 19 for the construction of Saddle Brook Park, a Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred facility that will also serve as an entertainment complex. Dignitaries at the ceremony included Amarillo Mayor Trent Sisemore, Saddle Brook Corp. chief executive officer Drew Alexander, and Texas Racing Commission vice chairman R. Dyke Rogers.
Corporation officials said Saddle Brook Park would cover 285 acres, with room for 550 stalls, a simulcasting pavilion, and a grandstand that will be able to seat about 3,500 fans for live racing. The one-mile racing surface will have a 550-yard chute for Quarter Horse racing.
Saddle Brook will have an outdoor amphitheater within in the infield that can accommodate up to 30,000 spectators for concerts.
"It's going to be a nice, multi-use facility, without a doubt," said Don Essary, the corporation's vice-president.
Saddle Brook will employ about 350 people, and officials say it could generate close to $42.2 million for nearly 200,000 residents that live Amarillo, which lies about 400 miles northwest of Dallas. The park will be located 2 1/2 miles west of the Amarillo city limits on Interstate 40, a stone's throw from the Cadillac Ranch, a famous tourist attraction that features a "cemetery" for old Cadillac cars.
Essary said the new facility should attract thousands of sightseers and racing fans from north Texas, southern Colorado, Kansas, eastern New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
"It's an excellent location," Essary said. "Approximately 20,000 cars a day on Interstate 40 alone will go by the entrance to our racetrack. There are a lot of people in the area that have been missing horse racing since Santa Fe Downs and La Mesa Park (in New Mexico) closed years ago. We feel like it's a market that is totally untouched, and it's going to be an operation proportionate to the market."
Officials expect to see the simulcasting pavilion open its doors by spring 2003. It will have more than 300 television screens and be open year-round for wagering on horse and Greyhound races. Saddle Park's contractors hope to build the racetrack and amphitheater concurrently with the pavilion, but to date they haven't set a completion date.
Officials said they would ask the racing commission for permission to offer day and night racing.
"The only thing we don't want to do is race during the dead of winter," Essary said. "From November to the first part of March, it gets very cold, and we don't expect to race during that time."