Larger purses, Monday cards key track growth at Sam Houston
By Hal Lundgren | March 18, 2013 | Updated: March 18, 2013 11:15pm
Distant and red-faced, rivals couldn’t keep up with Joyful Victory in Sam Houston Race Park’s top thoroughbred race, the Jan. 26, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic.
Seven weeks later, Joyful Victory again distanced a field in the final 300 yards. This time, the mare took a $300,000 feature at Santa Anita.
Andrea Young, Sam Houston’s president and chief operating officer, had to chuckle at those two Joyful Victory wins. Her Sam Houston romp came in a race worth $100,000 more than the Santa Anita event.
Young has dedicated herself to winnowing through annual budgets to increase stakes dollars. Stakes races are the most prestigious events and offer the highest purses.
This thoroughbred season at SHRP, which ended Monday, included the $400,000 Classic, exceeding the track’s largest previous thoroughbred prize by $150,000.
“Those are the races that get your track on horse racing’s map,” Young said. “Owners and trainers notice.”
She cited several horses, including Joyful Victory, lured to Sam Houston by high-dollar races. Departing, for example, shipped here for the Texas Heritage Stakes. Departing raced wide on both turns but still won under minimal urging. Should he win the March 30 Louisiana Derby, the 3-year-old will rank among Kentucky Derby favorites.
Young said the track will almost surely elevate its purse structure again in 2014.
There might also be a new racing day.
Sam Houston has struck gold on Mondays, one of national racing’s two light days. During Monday’s program, Houstonians wagered only about $59,000 on the track’s 10 closing-day races. Legal wagers placed outside Sam Houston on the same 10 races totaled more than $1.94 million.
According to Young, dropping the track’s last two Sundays in favor of Monday racing was “a no-brainer.”
She said Sam Houston’s races attracted about $500,000 more in daily wagers on Mondays than Sundays. On one Monday, Feb. 11, more dollars were bet on SHRP races than at any other track.
Now Tuesday, the other light racing day nationally, has become a discussion item.
Texas Racing Commission granted the track Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday thoroughbred dates for next year. If SHRP asks TRC to switch Sundays to Tuesdays, the commission would honor that request.
“There’ll be no hard discussion about Tuesdays until after our (March 28-May 18) quarter horse season,” Young said.
In addition to more stakes dollars, the just-ended season produced other rising numbers. The track reported a 10 percent attendance increase over the 2012 thoroughbred season, and total wagers reached $43.91 million, up from last year’s $43.07 million.
Hal Lundgren is a freelance writer.