Lone Star Park's Racing Surface Drawing Rave Reviews From Horsemen

(April 10, 2006) - Lone Star Park's main track is in its best condition ever, according to several horsemen who have been stabled in Grand Prairie, Texas for several weeks.
The 10th annual 66-date Spring Thoroughbred Season commences Thursday night at 6:35 p.m. for an action-packed 15-week run through Sunday, July 23.

"We really like what we've seen so far," said Bret Calhoun, the second-leading trainer at last year's meet. "You can walk across it and tell it's a complete different track this year. You can pick up the soil in your hand, squeeze it, and it binds."

Calhoun was especially impressed with the track's recovery from a late-March deluge.

"It already passed a pretty good acid test a few weeks ago when we had that nine inches of rain," he said. "Within two days it was in perfect condition. In past years it might have been in poor condition for a week."

Mr. Sandman

The high marks must come as a relief, but probably not a surprise, to Lone Star's new director of track maintenance, George McDermott, who was hired in October for one purpose-to develop the fairest and safest surface in racing.

McDermott came to Lone Star from Harrah's Louisiana Downs, where he spent 30 years developing what was then regarded as one of the best dirt tracks in the nation. He started at the Bossier City, La., oval in 1975, became assistant track superintendent in 1978 and assumed chief duties there in 1991.

Proper management of a one-mile dirt course takes far more than just driving tractors and water trucks around in a circle. It's not rocket science, but when a guy like McDermott's tilling your land, it's pretty close.

McDermott has amended the soils to bring silt and clay composition back to ideal levels. He has also begun implementing organics, such as choice sand, when called for. In addition, he re-graded the main track and brought it back to optimum angles for drainage and racing.

"That guy's always up there working on it and asking you what you think of it," said Cody Autrey, who finished fifth in the 2005 trainer standings. "I think he's got it going in the right direction."

McDermott also fine-tuned the 7/8-mile turf course, which gets more use over four months than nearly any other sod in the country. Last season, 28-percent of all races at Lone Star were run over the turf. McDermott implemented an aggressive aerification program in the off-season and purchased state-of-the-art maintenance equipment.

For the first time, Lone Star will race at zero, 10 and 20 feet on the turf course this season, as opposed to zero and 20 feet in the past. The new techniques are designed to help the course maintain its health throughout the entire season.

Keeping Horses Sounder, Longer

Top-notch racing surfaces are imperative for several reasons, the first of which is safety. With the lives of jockeys and horses at stake, anything less than the best could have dire consequences.

Veteran horsemen have long said that a new surface takes a few years to settle and it appears that Lone Star's main track, entering its 10th year of use, has finally found its groove.

"Everybody seems to be of pretty much the same opinion; everyone thinks it's a little softer and has a little more bounce to it," said Jack Bruner, who has been stabled here since December. "My horses are coming back from their works better and that's the main thing."

That sentiment was echoed by Autrey, who has been working horses over the Lone Star track for nearly three weeks.

"It's got more bounce," Autrey said. "You can't even hear the horses go around it. Instead of being hard and fast, it's deeper. It's not a slow track, though, just deeper. I don't think you'll find anybody complaining about it."

In theory, a forgiving racetrack should translate to more starts per horse, as the recovery time necessary between races should be shorter. That, of course, means more opportunities for everyone-owners, trainers, jockeys and handicappers-to earn additional money.

"It's definitely what we needed," Autrey said.

DOWN THE STRETCH: Autrey is hoping to get off to another fast start this season. He won four races on opening weekend last year and said he has 12 horses ready to run in the first four days of the 2006 meeting...Entries for Thursday night's 10-race opening night program will be drawn Tuesday morning...As usual, the first race of the season will be the $50,000 Premiere Stakes for older Texas-breds at one mile. According to stakes coordinator Mike Shamburg, probable starters (with trainer) include two-time Premiere winner Agrivating General (Danny Pish), Andanight (Juan Rivera), Corpus Sand (Gerald Romero), Lightsnatcher (Cole Norman), defending champ Rare Cure (Joe Petalino) and Senor Amigo (Steve Asmussen)... Saturday's feature race is the $75,000 Irving Distaff for older fillies and mares at 7 1/2-furlongs on turf - the traditional local prep for the Grade III, $200,000 WinStar Distaff on May 29. Beautiful Bay (Petalino), Comalagold (Larry Robideaux Jr.), D Fine Okie (Donnie K. Von Hemel), Equestrian Girls (Kelly Broussard), Homemaker (Bill Leach), Paz Ciudadana (Asmussen), Rose Hunter (Tony Richey) and Stela (Cole Norman) are the early probables. Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel's Elisa's Energy is possible, depending on flight availability. Entries for the Irving Distaff will be drawn Thursday...Grandstand gates will open early at 4:30 p.m. on opening night. All fans will receive an entry blank for a chance to win a $250 dinner for two at Bob's Steak & Chop House if they can correctly select the Premiere Stakes winner (entries must be in by 6:15 p.m.)...ESPN 103.3 FM's Galloway & Co. will broadcast live from Lone Star's East Gate entrance from 3-6 p.m. Thursday...The Project will perform live music between races Thursday night in the Courtyard of Champions from 7-11 p.m...Two country artists will help celebrate the start of the season with post-race concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. Two-time Grammy winner Lee Ann Womack with special guests Jason Boland & The Stragglers will perform after the horse races on Saturday (approximately 6:30 p.m.). Chris Cagle, who recently notched his eighth hit single with "Miss Me Baby," will take the stage the night before on Friday (approximately 11 p.m.). General admission for each concert is just $3 for those who arrive early for live racing. However, the price will increase to $15 after 9 p.m. Friday and after 5 p.m. Saturday...Friday is the first Party at the Park of the season with live music by Zane Lewis and $1.75 Bud Light cans in the Courtyard. Party at the Park will take place every Friday (except June 16) throughout the season...Fans who come through the gates Saturday and Sunday will receive a free Lone Star Park magnetic schedule, presented by Budweiser, while supplies last...Lone Star Park will host an Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday with more than 30,000 eggs filled with candy, toys, Six Flags Over Texas tickets and even iPod Shuffles. There will be three hunts for children 10 and under (ages 5 and under, 6-8 and 9-10). Festivities include bounce houses, balloon animals, games and appearances by The Easter Bunny, Tommy Pickles and Angelica of the Rugrats and clowns..."Inside Lone Star Park" will air Saturdays from 9-10 a.m. on ESPN 103.3 FM throughout the Spring Thoroughbred Season. The show will be hosted by Lone Star Park's Darren Rogers and track announcer John Lies...Saturday's featured simulcast races are the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes and Grade II Arkansas Derby, the final two major prep races for the May 6 Kentucky Derby...One of the new enhancements to lonestarpark.com for the upcoming season is the "Lone Star Park Press Box Blog." News items, observations and handicapping information will be updated on a regular basis. To access the blog, drag your arrow over the "News Center" icon on the left side of the homepage and click "Press Box Blog." It can also be accessed at the following address: http://www.lonestarpark.com/Media+Center/Blog.

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