Lone Star Park opened its 10th season of racing last night, but judging by the horse racing coverage in The Dallas Morning News, a rat peed on cotton somewhere in Grand Prairie. Ten years, folks—at a time when horse racing is struggling to survive as a spectator sport in various parts of the country, under siege by braindead forms of gambling like slots. (Which doesn't mean I'm opposed to Lone Star getting them as an adjunct to live racing.)
I've always argued that horse racing isn't like any other form of gambling. Greedy lawmakers never seem to get this. Horse racing supports an entire industry—a sprawling network of farms, breeding operations, auctioneers, shippers, trainers, veterinarians, riders, grooms—employing hundreds of thousands of people in widely distributed locales. If it's jobs we're concerned about, Thoroughbred and quarter horse racing supports buckets of them—in Texas and throughout the country. No other type of gambling can boast the same.
I've been a horse racing fan since I was a kid and discovered a way to sneak into the clubhouse at Chicago's Arlington Park without having to pay the big $3 extra. And I've always thought Lone Star Park does horse racing right. A clean and attractive facility, friendly people, good food, competitive racing and, behind the scenes, a track that has a reputation for treating horsemen right—all these things stand out. As a kid, I'd return from the racetrack feeling kinda grimy; the place was full of seedy-looking guys with cigars and Polyester sports coats, probably betting away the grocery money. Racing did a pitiful job of marketing itself, offering minimal amenities and doing little to dispel that sleazy feel. (And I was at some of the nicer tracks: Hollywood Park, Hialeah, Arlington.)
Lone Star has always been different—a family place, welcoming to people who just love horses. Of course they're especially lovely when you're holding a $10 win ticket. It gave me a satisfying feeling to see how impressed the big shots were with our little Lone Star Park during the 2004 Breeders' Cup, a beautiful day of racing. (Lone Star was the smallest, lowest-tier track to snag the Breeders' Cup.) Right on the eve of the Breeders' Cup, the DMN dumped its excellent racing writer, Gary West, who was promptly snatched up by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Now racing coverage at the DMN—what little there is—is handled by people with no passion for the sport and about as little knowledge.
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So get out there and support our Lone Star Park. Yep, I'm kind of a booster; no shame here. It's good for the city, good for Texas horsemen. The crowds seemed a little sparse last night, but you couldn't have had a better day for racing. The first race, the $50,000 Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds, was won by a homegrown horse—Senior Amigo—and Texas' homegrown superstar trainer, Steve Asmussen. My 6-year-old son didn't want to leave when I dragged him home after the fourth race. (Bedtime.) Lone Star has all kinds of special events scheduled for opening weekend. So pull yourself away from our wretched Rangers and try some real excitement. —Julie Lyons