By Shelby O’Neill
For everyone with a stake in the Texas racing industry, all eyes are now looking toward 2011, when the Texas legislature will next convene and presumably discuss bringing alternative gaming to the Lone Star state.
In the meantime, the picture of the future became a bit clearer on Sept. 15 when the Texas Racing Commission met to approve the 2011 racing calendar. In a departure from previous years, the racing schedule now includes more than a three-month gap during which Texas horsemen will need to ship their horses outside state lines if they want to run.
"The schedule is a good compromise," said David Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association. "Something different than the status quo of trying to run year-round in Texas had to be created in an effort to address the serious declines in handle in recent years."
The calendar, which was agreed upon prior to the meeting by all three Class 1 tracks and the two state breed associations, includes 100 dates for Thoroughbreds, down from the 151 that were approved for 2010. Lone Star Park will continue to offer traditional dates for both Thoughbreds and Quarter Horses, while Retama Park and Sam Houston Race Park have moved their Thoroughbred meets so that they will run consecutively before their Quarter Horse meets, with Retama even opting for a mixed meet format to bridge the gap between the two meets.
"The 2011 schedule is good for Sam Houston and Retama especially because their Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meets will be offered back to back, which means incurring costs of only one opening and closing rather than two," Hooper said.
Sam Houston’s Thoroughbred meet will open Jan. 21 with average daily purses of $150,000. The meet will run on a Friday through Monday weekly schedule through March 7. From there, Thoroughbreds move to Lone Star Park, where purses are expected to average $170,000 to $180,000 per day ($25,000 higher than 2010) over the 52-day meet from April 14 to July 10. Retama hosts an abbreviated mixed meet to bridge the gap between the two breeds, with 14 days of racing from July 29 to Aug. 27 before Thoroughbreds take over exclusively for 21 dates from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15. Purses for the Thoroughbred meet at Retama will average $80,000 per day.
Manor Downs, which ceased all operations in July, did not apply for its traditional spring mixed meet in 2011, although track management expressed interest in opening again in 2012, a request that was tabled for future discussion. The Gillespie County Fair was also granted its usual eight days of mixed racing for July and August.