While industry analysts continue to watch closely for the signals that might spell the death of Texas horse racing, Saturday’s conclusion of the Spring thoroughbred meet at Lone Star Park at least kept those possibilities out of mind.
Favorite Vivian Da Bling throttled the field in the $100,000 TTA Sales Futurity, winning by 6 1/4 lengths over Santacafe. Red Phone ran third and Carol’s Flyer finished fourth.
It was Vivian Da Bling’s second win in as many races in 2014. The Futurity was one of four stakes races on the season finale card Saturday.
“We’re thrilled,” owner J. Rita Young said. “We really just do whatever trainer Bret Calhoun says with her, and we feel like she’s got a chance to make it to Saratoga. I think what she did here says a lot about Texas horse racing.”
In the third race, Lasting Bubbles defended her victory from a year ago with a five-length win over Molly’s Honour in the $50,000 Valor Farms Stakes.
Lasting Bubbles is a 6-year-old grey mare from Avery owned by Judy Peek. It was her fourth win of the year and pushed her earnings to over $131,000 in 2014.
As to how the Spring meet met expectations and the idea that Texas racing is in critical condition, track director Scott Wells wasn’t as fast to insist on funeral plans.
“Lone Star Park is one of the top five tracks in the country,” he said. “Belmont Park just had a night where they gave away $2 million in purses and drew 11,000 spectators. That same night we did $150,000 in purses and drew 13,000. That’s not out of luck.”
Still Lone Star Park produced 346,675 patrons through the turnstiles as of Friday and just under $70 million in wagering.
Those numbers entering Saturday’s final race day appeared to be slightly lower than last year’s meet, in which the track averaged 7,519 fans each racing date and $1.4 million in wagering.
“It’s been a great season,” Wells said. “The horsemen have been very happy because the racing surface has been safe, we’ve had great weather and we have such a great facility. It’s great to see so many people coming out.”
The track’s crown jewel is still the 2004 Breeder’s Cup, which took place 10 years ago in Grand Prairie.
It was the only season in which the track had two thoroughbred seasons. Lone Star Park will race quarter horses and Arabians in the fall.
“I did my first work when they were building the grandstand here,” Wells said. “I wouldn’t have come here if I thought we didn’t have a future here. Texans have such a deep appreciation and tradition of horsemen in this region. I don’t know of another city that can make such a claim.”
As far as bolstering future track purses, the debate rages on with adding slot machines or other parimutuel wagering vehicles.
“When I was at Remington our purses were half what they were here and now that’s reversed, “Wells said. “We’ve got thousands of letters being delivered to the Texas Horse Racing Commission supporting wagering on historical races. It’s been very successful in other states, and I feel like it could raise our purses by 40 percent or more. That alone would make us sustainable.
“There’s a deep-seated appreciation of horses in this state, and I really feel like we have a bright future here.”