Lone Star Park Attendance, Handle Figures Down for 2003 Thoroughbred Meet

Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie officials believe that a stagnant economy played a large role in sluggish attendance and handle figures during the North Texas racetrack’s seventh Thoroughbred season. The 70-date meeting, held April 3 through July 13, concluded on Sunday, July 13, with slower than usual business levels, just one year after the racetrack posted significant across the board daily average attendance and handle gains.

“Establishing momentum early is critical to the success of a 15-week season like we have,” said Lone Star Park Vice-President and General Manager Jeff Greco. “Understandably, the war with Iraq garnered much of everyone’s attention earlier this year, and we weren’t able to get off to a good start when the economy bottomed out.

“When one looks at the Dallas-Fort Worth sports and entertainment marketplace, we have more than held our own, and realize these difficult economic times are just a bump in the road. The good news is that economic data and our business levels have shown signs of encouragement in recent weeks; attendance and handle have been virtually even for the last five weeks compared to our strong meeting a year ago.”

Attendance during Lone Star Park’s meeting slipped 4.4% to an average of 8,600 customers daily compared to 9,000 in 2002. However since the first of June, Lone Star Park’s attendance was virtually even the last five weeks compared to the same dates in 2002 – 269,000 customers this year versus 274,000 a year ago. Wagering on the racing – on- and off-track – was close as well with $72.5 million wagered compared to $74.6 million.

“Attendance is an important indicator of the health of the entertainment value we offer,” Greco said. “Since the start of June, our attendance has been as strong as 2002. With a new national tax relief plan in effect and the stock market showing signs of growth, we hope that our customers’ disposable income can once again be enjoyed on a valued entertainment experience like the sport of horseracing.”

Overall, wagering on the live racing fell 6.1% from a daily average of $2.68 million to $2.51 million. On-track handle – both live and simulcast wagering – slipped 7.4% from $1.29 million to $1.19 million daily ($565,000 on live racing and $631,000 on simulcasts versus $632,000 and $659,000, respectively, in 2002). Off-track wagering at simulcast outlets across North America dipped 4.7% from $2.04 million to $1.94 million daily.

“Everybody has worked extremely hard to overcome the temporary declines in business caused by the slow economy,” Greco said. “We’re going to continue to exhaust our efforts in the second half of the year. With an improving economy, the excitement about horse racing which will be generated by the upcoming release of the movie ‘Seabiscuit’ and strong summer simulcast signals, our goal is to return to previous business levels.”

High points during the Thoroughbred season included a record two-day attendance total on July 3-4 and increased business on Lone Star Million Day.

Lone Star Park expanded its annual Fourth of July holiday post-race fireworks extravaganza from one night to two this season and set a two-day attendance record for the six-year-old facility. Crowds for the July 3-4 twilight racing programs totaled a hefty 46,456 – up 30% from 2002 totals. Each of the 10-race programs featured a 20-minute post-race fireworks show and concert. A legion of 20,138 attended July 3 (.38 Special in concert), while 26,318 came back July 4 (Charlie Robison).

Lone Star Park’s fifth annual Lone Star Million program, a day featuring seven stakes races cumulatively worth $1 million, was also encouraging. Total handle on the 11-race card was $5.38 million, up slightly from the $5.35 million bet in 2002. Wagers by the on-track crowd of 17,300 totaled $2.4 million versus $2.2 million a year ago. Off-track betting at simulcast outlets across North America reached $3.8 million, up marginally from 2002.

Other top draws were a post-race Willie Nelson concert on April 4 (21,000), Kentucky Derby Day (18,100), Belmont Stakes Day (16,500), a post-race Cross Canadian Ragweed concert on June 13 (14,000), NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship Night (13,500), Preakness Stakes Day (12,500) and Opening Night (11,300).

More than 603,000 patrons passed through Lone Star Park’s turnstiles during the 2003 live meeting. On-track wagers on live racing totaled $39.6 million and another $44.1 million was bet on-track on simulcast racing. Off-track bets at North American simulcast outlets totaled $136.4 million. The all sources total (all on- and off-track wagers) was $220.2 million or $3.14 million daily.

On the racetrack, Cole Norman ended Steve Asmussen’s four-year run atop the Lone Star Park trainer standings with a record 98 trips to the winner’s circle compared to Asmussen’s 80. The 34-year-old Louisiana native had finished second to Asmussen, Lone Star Park’s all-time win leader, the last three years at Lone Star Park. Grand Prairie native Bret Calhoun was a clear third with 51 victories, his best local season to date.

Corey Lanerie edged Eddie Martin Jr. 86 wins to 85 in the tightest race for leading rider in Lone Star Park history. Lanerie, Lone Star Park’s all-time win leader with 470 victories, collected his fourth title and third in a row.

Ken Murphy of Dallas bagged his third title as the racetrack’s leading owner with a record 26 wins, four more than Bobby Beck’s partnership Coast to Coast Racing and five ahead of Mark Cornett’s Turf Express Inc.

Sunday’s Bob Johnson Memorial winner Pie N Burger, who also won the Grade III, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap, earned Horse of the Meeting and Champion Older Male honors. Other champions honored by media and selected racing officials were WinStar Distaff and Allen Bogan Memorial Stakes winner Eagle Lake (Champion Older Female and Champion Texas-bred Female), Dallas Turf Cup champ Patrol (Champion Turf Horse), Lone Star Derby hero Dynever (Champion 3-Year-Old Male), Stonerside Stakes winner Miss Bridget Jones (Champion 3-Year-Old Female), dual stakes champ and track record holder That Tat (Champion Sprinter), two-time stakes winner Bluegrass Sara (Champion 2-Year-Old Female), Premiere Stakes champ Agrivating General (Champion Texas-bred Male) and three-time meet winner Ski Bum (Champion Claiming Horse). There was a three-way tie for Champion 2-Year-Old Male between Sunday’s Middleground Breeders’ Cup winner Korbyn Gold, TTA Sales Futurity champ Next Bandit and Texas Stallion Stakes hero There Goes Rocket.

Live racing returns to Lone Star Park on Friday, Oct. 3 for the Fall Meeting of Champions. The race meeting for American Quarter Horses will continue for 33 nights through Nov. 29. Until then, Lone Star Park’s Post Time Pavilion, the Las Vegas-style simulcast facility, remains open seven days a week for full-card simulcasting of racing action across the country. Popular summer race meetings Saratoga and Del Mar open Wednesday, July 23.

Two Thoroughbred meetings will be staged in 2004: April 15-July 11 and Oct. 1-31. The latter includes the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships – horse racing’s traveling year-end event with $14 million in purses – on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2004.

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