Approximately 12,000 horse racing fans packed Lone Star Park on Saturday for the final day of the 2013 thoroughbred season.
On a warm but not unseasonably hot day, fans sipped from aluminum cans containing their adult beverage of choice. The faintest smell of cigar smoke hung in the air as gamblers gazed down at their programs, painstakingly deciding which horse to bet on. Dozens of women held on to their floppy, oversize hats as the occasional gust of wind swept through.
Indoors, in the air-conditioned refuge, fans pecked at electronic machines and stood in line to place their bets. When the horses prepared to enter the starting gates, the crowd did the same dance time and time again, spilling outside onto the patio then flocking toward the railing. As the horses rounded the track’s homestretch, the crowd’s murmur grew into a roar. Then, the horses crossed the finish line and the crowd’s reaction became many different things. Some fans raised their hands in triumph, celebrating a winning ticket. Some hung their heads in disappointment or swore loud enough for others to hear.
“What did I tell you about that horse,” one woman gloated triumphantly about Coyote Legend’s photo-finish victory.
Lone Star Park president and general manager Drew Shubeck declared the 2013 season a success. After a tough spring, when the lack of rain affected the turf course, Lone Star Park was able to rebound. Shubeck estimated average attendance up 2 percent and average handle — how much people bet on races — up 1.5 percent from a year ago.
“We’re very happy about that,” Shubeck said. “Number one is because we started off the meet very poorly. That weather played against us in the beginning of the meet and we had a late spring. We couldn’t use the turf course for the whole month of April essentially and almost half of May.”
In addition to the improved weather, Shubeck also credited tweaking the number of days races are held per week as a reason for the success. With three weeks left in the season, Lone Star Park started holding races three days a week, instead of four.
“The competitiveness of our races vastly improved,” Shubeck said. “I had individual customers tell me ‘Wow, I’m starting to look at your races again.’ We hope to continue that. I’m very excited for us next year.”