There was an air of optimism and renewed energy at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie Texas on Memorial Day. Even while looking back in remembrance of those who have made great sacrifices in the service of our country, there was also an air of anticipation and looking forward toward the future of horse racing in Texas.
With the passage of HB 2463, purses at Texas tracks have begun to rise and the breeders of accredited Texas-breds have also begun receiving cash awards when horses they bred are successful in a Texas race. The effects of this financial resurgence could be seen on Memorial Day at Lone Star Park as evidenced by the nature of the horses, trainers, and jockeys who were competing that day.
Though trainer Steve Asmussen considers Texas his home base, it was still notable that his stable was in full evidence with 11 horses running throughout the day’s races, including 3 who were in contention for the inaugural running of the Texas Derby. While the best placing Asmussen’s Derby horses could manage in the slop following a torrential downpour was a fourth place by Super Stock, the very presence of Super Stock at a race in Texas appeared to be evidence that the vital signs of Texas racing may no longer be on life support.
Another sign that Texas racing may be coming back to life was the presence of Breeder’s Cup winning trainer Peter Miller who traveled from his home base in California and was rewarded by the first-place finish of Laura’s Light in the Ouija Board Distaff. The four-year-old mare managed to score a Beyer figure of 102 even after it appeared that she hit her head in the gate, and as a result, ran the race with a bloody tongue over the sloppy track.
The inaugural running of the Texas Derby was won by Warrant, another horse who traveled to Texas just for this race. Trainer Brad Cox shipped Warrant from Churchill Downs and recruited Joel Rosario to ride him in the race. It is notable that the purses on Memorial Day were now significant enough to also pull Rosario away from Belmont, Pimlico, and Churchill Downs and bring him to Lone Star Park. Rosario piloted Warrant five-wide turning into the backstretch and the chestnut son of Constitution responded by steadily striding into the lead and earning a Beyer figure of 104 on the waterlogged track.
Even though the inaugural Texas Derby was won by a horse, trainer, and jockey who are all based in other areas of the country, many of the local Texas favorites were able to enjoy the increase in purses even though they were facing a higher caliber of competition. Local favorite jockey Sasha Risenhoover successfully piloted Magna Punch to break his maiden in the sixth race, and eight of the eleven first-place jockeys are all regular riders at Lone Star Park. While none of the accredited Texas-breds running on Memorial Day were able to clinch a first-place finish, five of the winning trainers claim Texas as their home. Lone Star Park can also take pride in the fact that even though several of the races had to be run through the rain or over a muddy track, none of the 81 horses or their riders experienced any significant injuries. Even as we remember those who have made great sacrifices for our country and how their sacrifices made our lives today possible, it seems that we may now be able to think about a possible future for Texas racing and be grateful for all those who have invested their efforts to make this hope a realistic possibility.
By Cheryl Wooten