Modest On-Track Gains Despite Record Rainfall at Lone Star Park

Despite enduring its wettest spring/summer in track history, Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie concluded the 2007 Spring Thoroughbred Season on Sunday, July 29 with modest increases in both total and average daily attendance and on-track total handle. Wagering on the live product, however, declined both on and off-track.

Total attendance during the 2007 Spring Thoroughbred Season, which was conducted over 67 dates between April 12 and July 29, increased 4.0% to 475,000, compared to 457,000 during the 66-date 2006 season. Average daily attendance grew 2.5% to 7,100 versus 6,900 a year ago.

Total on-track wagering, which includes betting by on-track customers on Lone Star Park's live races and simulcast races imported by the track, was $73.2 million, a jump of 5.1% from the $69.6 million in 2006. The daily total on-track wagering average increased 3.6% to $1.09 million, compared to $1.05 million one year ago.

"The North Texas climate is often unpredictable, but this year's record deluge certainly impacted attendance, handle, field sizes and the training of horses," said Lone Star Park President and General Manager Drew Shubeck. "To show growth in on-track attendance and total on-track handle in a year that featured such obstacles is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our entire team and partners. Our dedicated fans and horsemen were resilient and we thank each of them for their growing support during our 10th anniversary year."

According to the National Weather Service, 27.68 inches of rain fell in the Grand Prairie, Texas area between April and July - up 15 inches from the previous 10-year average and 21 inches more than 2006. May and June, victimized by more than 19 inches alone, combined to be the wettest two months in Dallas-Fort Worth history.

In spite of the inclement weather, total on-track wagers on live racing only declined 3.0% from $29.2 million in 2006 to $28.4 million this season. Off-track export business, however, significantly dipped 14.9% to total $83.4 million versus $97.9 million a year ago. As a result, wagering on Lone Star's live races by on and off-track customers totaled $111.7 million compared to $127.2 million in 2006, a 12.1% decline.

"The decrease in off-track wagering is attributed to several factors," Shubeck said. "Obviously, the weather greatly impacted our product offering and made it less attractive to bettors. That led to soft business in several key markets. California is a prime example, which imported 36-percent less races this year than 2006."

Favorites won a record 39.3% of the time and the average field size dipped to an all-time low of 8.49 horses per race, largely due to a record 527 late scratches (up 42.4% from the 370 in 2006). There was an average of 7.8 late scratches per day, including 10 or more on 18 occasions - all on days that featured "off" tracks and cancelled turf racing.

All told, 60 races originally scheduled for the turf were transferred to main track due to rainfall over 21 different racing dates, including closing day. Lone Star Park also had to cancel its final six races on Sunday, July 1 due to a severe downpour that washed out the main track.

"Notwithstanding the record rainfall and scratches, we'll be exploring ways to make our live product more competitive and appealing to bettors nationwide for 2008," Shubeck said.

Three-time national training champ and area resident Steve Asmussen, who earlier this year won the Preakness Stakes with Curlin, outlasted Grand Prairie native Bret Calhoun, 73 wins to 67, to earn his ninth Lone Star training title in the last 10 years. Asmussen trailed Calhoun by as many as 14 victories on June 9, but won with 49 of his next 142 starters (a 34.5% win clip over the last 31 race dates) to snare another crown. Calhoun, who won his 1,000th career race July 12, has finished second to Asmussen three years in a row. Danny Pish finished third with 47 wins, followed by Cody Autrey's 42. Together, they won 35.3% of Lone Star's 649 races.

The local riding title went to a new face at Lone Star: Ramsey Zimmerman. The 25-year-old, who moved his tack to the region last November, defeated two-time defending champ Cliff Berry and Luis Quinonez, 82-72. Both Zimmerman and Berry reached career milestones at Lone Star this season. On May 6, Zimmerman won his 1,000th career race. That same day, Berry surpassed Corey Lanerie as Lone Star Park's all-time leading rider (he now has 530 career local wins) and later rode his 3,000th career Thoroughbred winner July 8.

Sandy and Jerry Heflin of Rockwall and Ywachetta and James Driver of Irving merged into a partnership earlier this year with hope of becoming Lone Star's leading owners. Not only did they achieve their goal, they won a single season record 30 races, which eclipsed Kagele Brothers Inc.'s 2004 mark of 27. They finished 12 wins clear of Bill and Corrine Heiligbrodt's 18 victories. Last year, the Heflins led the Lone Star owner's standings themselves with 17 wins.

Gold Coyote, with 82-year-old owner/breeder Clarence Scharbauer Jr. on hand, won Sunday's $70,000 Middleground Breeders' Cup Stakes by 5 ¾ lengths over South Branch Storm for his second straight stakes win. On July 7, the Bret Calhoun-trainee also took the $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes by 10 lengths and was awarded a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 - the highest for a 2-year-old in Lone Star's Spring Thoroughbred Season history. His effort Sunday was deemed a 97.

As a result, Gold Coyote snatched Horse of the Meet honors from Bob and John, the Champion Older Male who earned $295,000 at the meet while running second in the Grade III, $300,000 Texas Mile and beating Sweetnorthernsaint in a memorable renewal of the Grade III, $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap.

The Lone Star Park Handicap was the centerpiece of Lone Star Park's ninth annual Lone Star Million on Memorial Day, which lured a crowd of 16,196 and $1.9 million in on-track total wagers, increases of 29.5% and 21.3%, respectively, from 2006.

Lone Star Million, which features six stakes events, helped comprise 14 major racing and/or promotion-driven events during the season. After severe thunderstorms and bitter cold helped cripple opening weekend business (attendance was off 18.2%, on-track wagering fell 11.6% and a post-race concert by Foreigner was cancelled), Lone Star rallied to show healthy gains of 9.9% for attendance (166,055 versus 151,133 on comparable dates in 2006) and 1.8% for on-track total handle ($22.1 million compared to $21.7 million a year ago) for its remaining big event days.

"To commemorate our 10th anniversary year, we directed additional marketing dollars toward specific events and racing days, and the results were very positive despite rainfall on several of those dates," Shubeck said.

Season highlights included crowds of 25,040 and 16,047 for racing and holiday fireworks on July 3-4 - typically the two most attended days of the meet. A simulcast of the Triple Crown series again proved popular with 38,047 customers (up 0.8% from 2006) who wagered in excess of $8.1 million on-track (up 8.5%) for the three-race series. Stars of Texas, a day completely devoted to Texas-breds, also showed significant gains in attendance and handle. The July 7 attendance of 8,110 jumped 31.9% while on-track total handle was $1.4 million, a 13.8% increase.

Live racing at Lone Star Park will resume Friday, Oct. 5 for a 32-date Fall Meeting of Champions through Saturday, Dec. 1. The nine-week meeting for American Quarter Horses will run Wednesday through Saturday nights at 6:35 p.m. CT with a special 5 p.m. first race on Saturday, Oct. 27 to complement a simulcast of the Breeders' Cup World Championships from Monmouth Park.

Until then, simulcast wagering in Lone Star's Post Time Pavilion continues seven days a week, topped by popular summer signals such as upstate New York's Saratoga and Southern California's Del Mar. The smoke-free second floor of Lone Star's grandstand will be open Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day for simulcast wagering, as well.

"Onsite simulcast wagering has been extremely positive, especially over the last 13 weeks," Shubeck said. "Currently, we're ahead of last year's pace ($98.0 million since the first of the year compared to $97.2 million in 2006) and we've increased simulcast wagering by $4.1 million, or 9.8-percent, since the first of May. We'll work very hard this off-season to continue the positive trend, which is important to our bottom line and the horsemen's purse account for 2008."

Lone Star Park expects to have a similar race schedule for the 2008 Spring Thoroughbred Season.

"Unlike years past, we dropped five Wednesday programs this year in exchange for an additional week of racing," Shubeck said. "A four-day racing week was the prudent move for our current horse population and business model. If it weren't for the constant severe weather, we truly believe there would have been growth in starters per race because entries were on par with last year. Unfortunately, we had an unprecedented number of late scratches and the training of numerous horses were compromised. Therefore, we are pursuing a similar race schedule for 2008 at this time with hope for more favorable and typical weather patterns."

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