Texas racing has been losing ground to tracks in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, all of which have varying forms of gaming to supplement purses. Texas racetrack officials, led by Lone Star Park president Drew Shubeck, have been meeting for months to address the issue, and have presented a plan for 2011 to horsemen that calls for Sam Houston Race Park in Houston to give up its usual 60 Thoroughbred dates and transfer its purse fund to Lone Star Park near Dallas for a meet of about 65 days in length. The meet would feature purses of approximately $280,000 a day, said Andrea Young, the president of Sam Houston.
The proposal is similar to what Monmouth Park has done this year to add new life to its racing product: consolidate racing dates and increase daily average purses in the hope of attracting larger fields and increasing handle and attendance.
The Lone Star meet, Young said, would be held over the same spring-summer dates Lone Star traditionally races. Another proposal under consideration would be to run a traditional Lone Star meet and then add a shorter "festival" type of meet later in the year at Sam Houston. Retama Park near San Antonio, meanwhile, could reduce its 32-day Thoroughbred meet to a festival over a few weekends next year, and divert additional purse funds to the Lone Star meet, said Bryan Brown, the chief executive officer of Retama.
"We've made some proposals to consolidate dates in order to offer some of the most competitive purses in the region," Young said. "They're proposals. Change isn't easy [but] there are some things we need to do. We can't stand by and not have a competitive product."
Horsemen would like to meet with the tracks next week and hammer out a concrete plan.
"Everybody agrees we can't continue with the way things are," said Jan Haynes, chairman of the Texas Horsemen's Partnership. "We've got to try to come up with some kind of solution.
"We also realize that while running only 65 days a year might be great for some, there are a lot that can't compete that have the smaller stables. We've got to find some happy medium there."
Young and Haynes both said slot machines at the state's track will be a primary focus for the upcoming legislative session. Texas does not currently have any form of gaming at its tracks, and there is no offtrack betting in the state.
Any dates plan agreed upon between the tracks and horsemen is subject to approval by the Texas Racing Commission, which is aware of the negotiations and has extended the timeframe for tracks to submit their calendar requests for 2010.