Hurricane Damage Stymies Houston Meet

Hurricane damage is expected to force Sam Houston to delay opening its 2008-09 meet.

by Shelby Downs

The 2008-09 Sam Houston Race Park meet probably won't make its Nov. 28 start date given extensive damage sustained by the track during Hurricane Ike, according to chief operating officer Andrea Young. Officials in Texas are studying alternatives should that be the case.

“We’ve asked questions about our ability to have construction during a live meet,” Young said during the Oct. 7 meeting of the Texas Racing Commission. “Decisions have to be made in everyone’s interest, and this impacts a lot of people other than us at Sam Houston.”

Hurricane Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast Sept. 13 and prompted the cancellation of the final two days of Sam Houston’s Quarter Horse meet and the loss of eight days of simulcasting.

“We were able to reopen simulcasting in what I would call a contained environment,” Young said. “We are in the process of determining options for the roof between a significant repair and complete reconstruction. The dorm rooms will either be gutted or demolished to start over.”

Track officials estimate the cost to repair Sam Houston will be more than $10 million. The grandstand roof physically lifted off the structure, compromising every seam and screw in the portion that remained, and the barn area, especially dorm and tack rooms, suffered significant flooding and water damage.

The racing surface lost about an inch of material, but much of that was able to be salvaged. The pump house has been rebuilt, and the destroyed track lights will be replaced quickly.

“It will be challenging to have live racing given the scope of repairs,” Young said.

After Young’s remarks, Texas Thoroughbred Association executive director David Hooper expressed his concerns for horsemen if race dates are lost.

“I can’t tell you how critical it is to have these race dates; if not in Houston, they must be somewhere else in Texas,” Hooper said. “If we lose race dates, more owners and breeders will quit this business, so we can’t afford to lose these days.”

Sam Houston’s management expressed a willingness to explore contingency plans, which could include extending the current meet at Retama Park, set to end Nov. 15, or moving up the start date for the 2009 Lone Star Park meet, now scheduled for April 10.

“We’re amenable to trying to find alternative homes for race dates, but we need to get a handle on the damage first,” Young said. “We will move forward with the repairs very quickly. We’re in the live racing business, so of course we want live racing.”

On Oct. 14, representatives from the Sam Houston, Retama, and Lone Star will meet with breed and horsemen’s organizations to further discuss alternatives. Any date transfers must be approved by the racing commission.

Gulf Greyhound Park, located 10 miles from Galveston in LaMarque, also suffered extensive wind and water damage, but opened Sept. 27 for simulcasting, and resumed its live meet Oct. 3.