Instability will affect Lone Star Park meet

Fewer stakes races are scheduled with track in midst of ownership transfer

Updated: April 6, 2010, 9:19 PM ET
By Randy Jennings | Special Contributor

Lone Star ParkLone Star Park for ESPN.comThe sale of Lone Star Park to the group that owns WinStar World Casino isn't expected to be completed before the end of the spring meet, which runs this Thursday through July 18.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas -- The uncertainty swirling around the start of Lone Star Park's 14th spring thoroughbred meet is not isolated to the art of picking winners on the track.

Financial questions abound as Thursday's opening day approaches.

There's a very good chance Lone Star's operator for the past eight years, Magna Entertainment Corp., won't be calling the shots very long beyond the July 18 conclusion to the 60-date, 15-week season.

Magna, the nation's biggest operator of horse racing tracks, filed for bankruptcy a month before the start of Lone Star's 2009 spring meet.

Five months ago, a Delaware bankruptcy judge approved Magna's sale of Lone Star to Global Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, for $47.8 million.

Global Gaming operates 17 casinos, the most prominent being WinStar World Casino, a popular destination for North Texans just across the Red River in Thackerville, Okla.

"Global Gaming's expertise in the gaming and entertainment management business easily translates to a facility such as Lone Star Park,'' said company spokesperson Kym Koch Thompson.

Although it is doubtful the sale will be approved by the Texas Racing Commission before the conclusion of this meet, Global Gaming's involvement should signal better times ahead.

Lone Star president and general manager Drew Shubeck is encouraged by the moves Global Gaming has made in the three months since taking control of Lone Star's sister track, Oklahoma City's Remington Park.

Lone Star management is in the odd position of serving two masters during the potential sale, but Shubeck said the goal is to make what appears to be a transitional meet a smooth one for customers.

Trainer Bret Calhoun, a Grand Prairie native, said the ownership change can't come soon enough. He said the stables on the track's back side are deteriorating and need improvement.

"I have a lot of confidence that as soon as the deal is finalized, there will be a significant amount of money invested in the track,'' Calhoun said. "Hopefully, we can get it turned around.''

[+] EnlargeSteve Asmussen
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSteve Asmussen saddled a record 117 winners in the 2009 meet on the way to his 11th trainer's title at Lone Star Park.

Like many racetracks in a challenging 2009 climate, Lone Star struggled.

Attendance fell 7.7 percent from the previous year, and on-track live racing handle was off 20.9 percent.

Faced with making cuts in either daily purses or stakes races, Lone Star chose the latter for 2010, reducing the stakes schedule by 11 races (to 21) and $1.35 million in purses (to $2.2 million) compared to last spring. Lone Star's three Grade 3 races -- Lone Star Park Handicap, Texas Mile and Lone Star Derby -- took a combined $400,000 purse reduction.

Despite the cuts, Shubeck points to the loyalty of Lone Star's top trainers and jockeys as an encouraging sign.

And the list begins with Steve Asmussen, top U.S. trainer by wins five times in the past eight years.

It is easy to see why regulars might think Asmussen is the real Lone Star Park owner.

The Arlington, Texas, resident saddled a record 117 winners (shattering Cole Norman's record by 19 wins) in the 2009 meet on the way to his 11th trainer's title at Lone Star.

Asmussen will be back, along with Calhoun, runner-up in the Lone Star trainer standings the past five years.

Why do they keep coming back when purses are bigger elsewhere?

"We have strong owners in Texas that want to run here," Calhoun said

Lone Star's top two jockeys in 2009, 21-year-old Chris Landeros and veteran three-time meet riding champion Cliff Berry, also will return.

Lone Star will stick with its familiar mixed schedule of night racing on Thursday and Friday (6:35 p.m. first post) and day racing on Saturday and Sunday (1:35).

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