Sam Houston Gets OK to Apply for Laredo License

by Raymond Whelan

A Sam Houston Race Park management team has received the green light from the Texas Racing Commission to begin applying for a license to operate a Class 2 racetrack in southwest Texas.

If the application is approved by February 2004, Sam Houston president and general manager Bob Bork said the plant could open by April 2005. Bork said three sites are under consideration for the facility, which would feature a 50-day live meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The group plans to open the track near Laredo.

"It's one of the fastest growing cities in the United States," Bork said. "The economic development going on there is huge, so we figured now would be a good time to step in there."

Also during its Oct. 21 meeting, the racing commission turned down requests to alter the allocation of simulcast revenue for purse funds and the accredited Texas-bred program at Manor Downs near Austin. TTA and Manor representatives requested a revenue split of 30% for Thoroughbreds and 70% for Quarter Horses. Manor now receives 20% for Thoroughbreds and 80% for Quarter Horses.

TTA executive director David Hooper told commission members the change would raise Thoroughbred purses for the 18-day mixed meet in 2004 at Manor from $240,000 to $360,000.

"It's very simple," Hooper said. "Better purses equal more entries. More entries equal more handle."

About 17% of the Thoroughbred races held last year at the Austin track had as few as five horses in the starting gate, Manor president Howard Phillips said.

"We recognize more purse money attracts more entries," Phillips said. "It's important that we offer sufficient purses, or else the horsemen might dismiss the meet completely."

However, Texas Quarter Horse Association director Rob Werstler asked the commission not to change the split, and he was backed by Sam Houston, Lone Star Park, Retama Park, the Gillespie County Fair, and the Texas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Werstler said Quarter Horses lost 129 racing dates between 2000 and 2003 at Manor, and its mixed meet there has been reduced from 29 to 18 days.

"We've seen it dwindle away each year, and we would like to see the dwindling stop," Werstler said.