Lone Star Wins Dates' Battle

A contentious--albeit civilized--battle over racing dates highlighted a Texas Racing Commission meeting on Tuesday that also included new appointments, revised claiming rules and a state-wide increase in the scale of weights.

The most vigorous dispute over racing dates centered on the first week of April. Though the dates had traditionally been part of the Sam Houston Race Park season, Lone Star Park officials requested that they be allowed to open their Thoroughbred seasons on April 5. Lone Star President Corey Johnsen said the desire to start the meet a week earlier was fueled in part so that they could contest the Lone Star Derby approximately one month before the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)--thus making it a more viable Derby prep race--and to minimize overlap with nearby Louisiana Downs during the latter stages of the meet.

“We believe that (allowing Lone Star to open April 5) is in the best interest of horseracing in the state,” Johnsen told the commission.

Bob Bork, general manager of Sam Houston Race Park, vehemently opposed a change in the schedule. He told the TRC that proposed changes to the schedule would cost his track as much as $700,000 in incremental operating expenses.

“This change would cause a great negative impact (at) Sam Houston,” Bork said. “We feel that Lone Star's request for days that have traditionally been ours are an infringement on Sam Houston Race Park.”

In the end, the TRC voted unanimously to approve a revised calendar that grants Lone Star Park its requested dates, April 5 through July 15. Retama Park will contest a 51-day Thoroughbred meet from August 3 through October 28, along with four days of Thoroughbred-only races during its mixed meet. Sam Houston will conduct 82 of racing from November 2 through April 1, 2001, 10 fewer than the 92 days it raced during its 1999-2000 Thoroughbred meet.

“We're disappointed in the April dates and the effect it will have on our key races like the (John) Connelly Cup,” Bork said after the meeting. “The commission was faced with a difficult decision and they made it, but it will have a significant impact (on Sam Houston's bottom line).”

Interestingly, the new schedule offers no Thoroughbred racing in the state for an 18-day period, beginning with the close of the Lone Star Park meet to the beginning of the Retama meet. Tommy Azopardi, executive director of the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, said the break will allow state horsemen to comfortably relocate from one track to another while giving the horse population a brief rest.

In other action at the commission meeting:

--At the request of a Jockey's Guild representative, the commission unanimously approved a uniform increase in the scale of weights. The scale is now 116 for 2-year olds, 121 for 3-year-olds and 126 for 4-year-olds and up.

--Terri Lacy, an attorney from Houston, was elected to replace Larry Christopher as chairperson of the commission. Christopher, whose wife, Pat, died August 4 after a battle with cancer, will remain a member of the commission. David Garza was elected vice-chairman, replacing James L. Schulze, whose term in office expired.

--Claiming rules were changed so that a horse claimed in Texas may not start at a racetrack other than the one it was claimed until the conclusion of that race meet. Horses claimed in another state are subject to the same eligibility requirements.

--A rule was passed that prohibits Quarter Horses from starting in a race until two years after their foaling date. There was no such measure taken for Thoroughbred racing.