Business at Lone Star Park 2009 Thoroughbred Meet Reflects Local and National Economic Recession

Following a national trend experienced by most other racetracks across the country, Lone Star Park ended its 2009 Spring Thoroughbred Meet, which was run from April 9 through July 26, with decreases in both attendance and handle.
Average daily attendance decreased by 7.7 percent to 6,883 in 2009 compared with 7,460 last year. Overall, 447,426 people attended the meet, 37,453 fewer than the 484,879 a year ago.

All-Sources wagering slipped 12.8 percent from $146.3 million last year to $127.5 million in 2009. On track, wagering on live racing was $20.8 million down from last year’s $26.3 million, 20.9 percent, while handle on imported simulcast racing decreased by 14.4 percent from $40.3 million to $34.5 million.

Wagering on Lone Star Park live races off track was $72.1 million, a 9.4 percent drop from last year’s $79.6 million.

“These are obviously disappointing results,” said Lone Star Park President and General Manager Drew Shubeck. “The biggest reason for the decreases in both attendance and handle is the global economic downturn that has negatively impacted the local Dallas/Ft. Worth economy. Our racing fans didn’t come out as often and wagered less money when they were here.

“In addition, two major challenges to racing at Lone Star Park, the purse structure and a lack of a level playing field, continue to have a significant negative impact on our business,” added Shubeck. “Higher purses in the surrounding states continue to draw horsemen and their better horses out of Texas, which impairs our quality of racing. As well, illegal internet wagering platforms are coming into our market attracting wagering dollars resulting in a reduction in the percentage of contributions to our purses and reducing our live on-track attendance.

“While we are disappointed with our results, we would like to thank our dedicated and loyal horsemen and employees who continue to create winning experiences for our customers as evidenced by our big event days, which indicate that our product offering is still an attractive entertainment value in a very competitive market even with the current economic conditions,” concluded Shubeck.

Locally, the Dallas/Fort Worth unemployment rate for June jumped to 8.2 percent, a 60 percent increase from the 5.1 percent rate in June 2008. Also, the nearby Arlington General Motors plant was closed for eight weeks during the height of the Lone Star Park season. In addition, the soft economy also impacted the Lone Star Park Group Sales business, which was down 34 percent in attendance, or almost 16,000 customers compared to 2008, as area businesses severely cut back on corporate entertainment.

In response to the soft business levels in May, Lone Star Park launched several Discounted Value Pack offerings including admission, programs, reserved seats and food and beverage offers. These packages included a Family Four Pack, Box Seat Value Pack and Counter Seat Value Pack that were very popular and well received throughout the second half of the season.

Other factors that negatively impacted the 2009 Lone Star Park Spring Thoroughbred meet were severe weather conditions and an outbreak of Swine Flu.

Severe thunderstorms and a local health department advisory on the outbreak of the Swine Flu, which caused the cancellation of several major events in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area that weekend, negatively impacted both attendance and handle during Kentucky Derby weekend. The weather caused the cancellation of three live races on Derby Day. Rain on Preakness Day and a three-week period of extreme heat with temperatures at 100 degrees or above from June 25 through July 12 also hurt business levels.

Due to the decrease in business levels throughout the meet, Lone Star Park announced a 6 percent overnight purse decrease effective May 22, cancelled six stakes races for 2009, downgraded another stake, and reduced the number of scheduled races by seven from 626 to 619.

On the track, there were a total of 5,387 runners in 616 races during the 65-day, 2009 Lone Star Park meet for an average field size of 8.7 per race, a decrease of 0.4 from last year’s average of 9.1 when 5,776 starters ran in 632 races.

Newcomer Chris Landeros, who turned 21-years-old on July 12, battled all-time Lone Star Park leading jockey Cliff Berry, who has three previous riding titles (2008, 2006 and 2005), into the last week of the meet before pulling away to win the title with 97 victories, nine more than Berry’s 88. Lone Star Park’s all-time stakes winning jockey Eddie Martin, Jr. was third with 57 wins.

Lone Star Park’s all-time training leader Steve Asmussen shattered the previous record of 98 wins in a single season set by Cole Norman in 2003 with 117 trips to the winner’s circle to win his 11th training title. His record-breaking 99th victory came on July 11 with Big Texas Daddy in the $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes (Staunch Avenger Division). Bret Calhoun was the runner up with 59 wins and Danny Pish finished third with 51.

The owner’s race was won by Tom Durant, who previously won the award in 2008, 2005 and tied for leading owner during the 2004 Fall meet, with 26 wins, more than twice as many as his nearest rival. The battle for second came down to the last week with the duo of Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s 12 victories edging Nelson Bunker Hunt, and Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, who each finished tied for third with 11 wins.

Jonesboro, winner of the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile on Lone Star Million Preview Day on April 25 was voted as the Horse of the Meet, as well as Champion Older Male. In the Texas Mile, Jonesboro surpassed the $1 million mark in career earnings. Jonesboro went on to finish second, only a head behind Meet It’s a Bird in the Lone Star Park Handicap on May 25.

On May 10 in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Derby, Mythical Power, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, who teamed up to win this race with Wanna Runner in 2006, was an impressive 7 ½-length winner. With that victory, Mythical Power earned Lone Star Park 3-Year-Old of the Meeting honors.

Also on Lone Star Million Day, Monday, May 25, Wasted Tears, the Champion Older Female, set a new turf course record of 1:32.81 in winning the Grade 3, $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff. The previous record of 1:33.56 had been held by Kiraday (July 4, 1997).

Another highlight occurred on July 19, when Champion Claiming Horse of the Meet, Waylay, owned and trained by Darrell Bravenec, set a new track record by winning his sixth race of the meeting.

On Stars of Texas Day, Saturday, July 11, trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Justin Shepherd, who returned to Lone Star Park for the day and won five races, teamed up to sweep both divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes with Big Texas Daddy in the male division and Camille’s Appeal in the Pan Zareta Division for females.

Off the track, season highlights included crowds of 16,771 and 20,476 for racing and holiday fireworks on July 3 and 4, respectively. The highly successful Lone Star Music Series, featuring six shows, attracted a total of 85,490 fans, an average of 14,250 per concert, which was double the average daily attendance during the meet.

Live racing at Lone Star Park will resume on Friday, September 25, 2009 with opening night of the 31-day Fall Meeting of Champions for American Quarter Horses. During that meet, there will be special simulcasts of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Santa Anita Park on Friday, November 6 and Saturday, November 7.

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