Lone Star Park Kicks Off Important Year Thursday

One of the most important years in Lone Star Park history officially commences Thursday when the Grand Prairie, Texas racetrack begins its 63-date Spring Thoroughbred Season at 6:35 p.m. (CT). Later this fall, Lone Star Park will host an international audience of about 50,000 when the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, horse racing's traveling year-end championship, ventures to the Southwest for the first time.

A number of capital improvements - part of a $7.9 expansion plan which began in November 2002 - have been made at Lone Star Park so the Dallas-Forth area racetrack could host the grandiose Breeders' Cup in October. Between live race meetings, about 1,600 permanent box seats were installed along the grandstand apron and a 10,000-square foot room called "Champions" was added to the second floor, complete with a spacious viewing balcony near the finish line. In addition, the winner's circle and saddling paddock were remodeled to accommodate more people and horses, and new rubber brick pavers connect the two areas.

"We've been working vigorously around the clock to get the facility ready for what we believe will be one of our strongest opening weekends ever," said Jeff Greco, Lone Star Park's Vice-President and General Manager.

The eighth annual Spring Thoroughbred Season will continue for 13 weeks through July 11, two weeks shorter than usual because Lone Star Park will run 19 additional Thoroughbred dates in October for its inaugural Fall Breeders' Cup Meeting. The 21st running of the Breeders' Cup, which features eight championship races totaling $14 million in prizes and awards, is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 30.

Track officials hope to break fast from the starting gate. The traditional first race of the season, the $50,000 Premiere Stakes, lured a highly competitive field of 10, including eight stakes winners. Horsemen flooded the entry box for the remainder of the 10-race program, as well. A total of 108 Thoroughbreds - an above average 10.8 horses per race - were entered to compete.

In addition, Lone Star Park landed Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone - the sport's all-time female win leader with 3,704 victories -- for a special opening night appearance and free autograph session. Also planned are season-opening ceremonies before the first race, including a massive balloon release and jockey introductions on the main track, and plenty of fanfare throughout the night with live entertainment and music between races. On Friday, country music icon Willie Nelson will perform after the races, followed Saturday by a concert from rock and roll legends The Beach Boys.

"With the Breeders' Cup coming to Texas this year, we have a lot of reasons to celebrate," Greco said. "There's no better way to start our live season than to throw a party which will last through the weekend. We hope to build momentum and keep it rolling throughout the year."

The presence of the Breeders' Cup, which has an estimated economic impact of about $52 million to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, may already be paying off. Wagering on simulcast races since the start of the year is up $2 million, or 4%, from comparative figures in 2003, and Breeders' Cup ticket applications are on a record pace. More than 35,000 Breeders' Cup seats, which range from $25 to $125 for the general public, have been requested since they were made available in late January. The deadline to be included in a random drawing for reserved seating is June 4.

The first live race on opening night and weeknights (Wednesday-Friday) is 6:35 p.m. Weekend and holiday action will begin at 1:35 p.m.

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