Texas: State-Bred Fund Cuts, Changes in Racing Dates

Major change is coming for Texas racing in 2007, with a decrease of more than a half-million dollars in funds for the Thoroughbred accredited Texas-bred program and almost three months without Thoroughbred racing.

The Texas Racing Commission at its Sept. 27 meeting opted to base revenue splits for state-bred awards on the number of racing dates offered for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The decision changed the splits from 70% Thoroughbred and 30% Quarter Horse to 56% Thoroughbred, 41% Quarter Horse, 1.5% Arabian, and 1.5% Paints.

According to statistics from the Texas Thoroughbred Association, the total net ATB awards of $2.69 million for 2005 are projected to drop to $2.18 million for 2007. The projected hit is $511,287 for Thoroughbreds, plus a loss of $52,927 for administration of the program by the TTA.

The Texas Quarter Horse Association had requested the change. In a letter to TRC executive director Charla Ann King, Texas Quarter Horse Association director of racing Rob Werstler said the state's Quarter Horse industry "has been allowed to slip due to inequitable revenue splits that have forced stallions and mares to other states with more lucrative programs." The letter said revenue for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses should be divided equally.

The TRC did maintain existing revenue splits from simulcasts--85% Thoroughbred to 15% Quarter Horse at Lone Star Park, and 80% Thoroughbred to 20% Quarter Horse at Retama Park and Sam Houston Race Park. Still, TTA executive director Dave Hooper expressed concern over the change in the ATB splits.

"We're going to push very strongly to have this issue revisited," Hooper said Sept. 29.

As for racing dates, it appears a year-round Thoroughbred schedule in Texas will take at least a two-year hiatus. Retama won't hold its usual Thoroughbred meet from August to early November next year, and in 2008, the San Antonio-area track will race from January through early April. Sam Houston will pick up some fall dates in 2007, and in 2008, will move its entire Thoroughbred meet to the fall.

Retama did apply for 12 Thoroughbred dates in 2007, but they will be held at Sam Houston in the fall. Retama will transfer about $500,000 from its purse account to support those racing dates in Houston.

Lone Star already announced it would cut back to four days of racing per week in 2007. The meet will open in mid-April and run through the end of July; Sam Houston was awarded the first weekend in April when it holds the Connally Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IIIT), the only graded stakes at the track.

"It's a targeted restructured dates schedule for 2008 that seems to fit the current state of racing in Texas," Hooper said. "It has been the position of the TTA to shorten the number of dates at Sam Houston and Retama to increase overnight purses, preserve our graded stakes, and be in the forefront of trying to make 2007 a transitional year to the new schedule."

Officials indicated there are advantages to the dates shift. In September and October, Sam Houston wouldn't have to compete with nearby Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino in Louisiana for horses, and in the winter, Retama could benefit from the milder weather and tourism in San Antonio. Purses at Retama, now less than $90,000 a day, are projected to clear $100,000 under the new scenario.

Under the new schedule, the Connally at Sam Houston would be held in the fall, perhaps as a Breeders' Cup World Championships prep.

The new schedule was developed in part by a working group that included officials from the TRC, racetracks, and breed associations. Texas racing and breeding is suffering from competition in bordering states; efforts continue on the legislative front to win approval for alternative forms of gaming.