GRAND PRAIRIE -- Lone Star Park's 2012 thoroughbred meet came to a quiet close on Sunday evening in front of a modest crowd of 4,907. The track showed signs of promise in its first season under the new ownership of Global Gaming Solutions, buoyed by a surge in simulcast wagering due in part to the overhauled Bar and Book area.
The leading trainer title went down to the wire with Danny Pish besting longtime rival Bret Calhoun for his first title at Lone Star Park.
"I came to this game as a horse lover and not a gambler," said a smiling Pish. "Everyone has their own way but that's the way I approach it. From the hot walkers to the grooms all the way down, they were all an invaluable part of our success."
Despite strong turnouts on concert and promotional days, Lone Star Park suffered a 3.2 percent decrease in overall attendance with all-sources handle down a disappointing 7.5 percent, roughly $6 million less than last year's numbers.
Lone Star has struggled in recent years to attract top-level horses and trainers that are lured to other tracks with larger purse structures. With purse size directly related to a track's overall handle, Lone Star faces an uphill battle.
"A lot of tracks like us that don't have the benefit of slot machines struggle to be competitive," said Lone Star Park president and general manager Drew Shubeck.
"You have to have the tools the big boys have."
In the off-season, management plans to add a state of the art 60-foot high-definition video board to the infield, additional seating and picnic tables along the grandstands.
Despite the numbers, Shubeck is optimistic about Lone Star's 2013 thoroughbred campaign.
"We are looking to have 50 live racing days with the same purse structure of $140,000 a day and waiting to finalize the negations [with the Texas Horsemen's Partnership] to get that done."
Jockey Cliff Berry added a fifth riding title to his résumé as Lone Star's all-time leading jockey, which follows his 2011 riding title at Remington Park. The self-effacing Berry, who turns 50 next month, shows no signs of slowing down.
"I struggled early in my career so I don't take any of this for granted. That's what a guy wants to do, be a leading rider. If you can get in with the right trainers that's all it comes down to."
Berry will return to Remington Park in the fall to defend his title and attempt to notch his 4,000th career win.
"I love Lone Star. There are a lot of good people here and I think [Global Gaming Solutions] has big plans. I'm hopeful," said Berry. "But I'm just gonna take it one race at a time."
Lone Star Park's 2012 Fall Meeting of Champions for Quarter Horses will start on Sept. 14 and run through Nov. 10.
Jared L. Christopher