Lone Star Park (www.lonestarpark.com) has been the premier racing venue in Texas since 1997. Situated on 315 acres in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie, Lone Star Park features a one-mile dirt racing surface and a seven-furlong turf track. The backside sports 32 barns that can accommodate 1600 horses as well as grooms and other racetrack workers. The grandstand offers seating for approximately 8,000. Lone Star Park is a part of an entertainment mecca that also includes nearby Six Flags over Texas, water parks, and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum as well as a world class concert venue.
The History of Lone Star Park
Not long after Texas approved pari-mutuel wagering on horseracing the residents of Grand Prairie approved a tax increase to support financial bonds that would be used to build a racetrack. The track was owned by the city and plans were made to lease it to a racetrack operator. Grading work began in 1994 and not long after a company, Lone Star Race Park, Ltd., was formed and assumed the day to day operations of the track.
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On May 3, 1996, the day before the Kentucky Derby, Lone Star Park opened its simulcast racing facility. The following day more than 5,500 people came to the track and wagered more than $932,000 on the Kentucky Derby. Over the remainder of the year more than 400,000 people attended simulcast racing at Lone Star Park and wagered nearly $100 million.
Almost one year later the first live races were contested at Lone Star Park on April 17, 1997 before a crowd of 21,754 enthusiastic race fans. The track surged in popularity and began to attract the top horses, trainers, and jockeys.
Rich racing in Texas
The early days of live racing at Lone Star Park produced large purses that were driven by the amount of money being wagered on live racing and simulcasts. This spawned the creation of races with rich purses like the Texas Mile. The inaugural running of the race drew the likes of Skip Away, a horse that would go on to become Horse of the Year in 1997. Skip Away ran a distant third in the inaugural running behind Isitingood and Spiritbound. More marquee races were added such as the Lone Star Derby, Dallas Turf Cup, and Middleground Stakes.
In 1998, Lone Star Park became the first racetrack in modern history to increase attendance in its second year of operation, thanks in part to the presence of trainers such as Bob Baffert (trainer of Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah) and jockeys such as Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Julie Krone.
In 1998 the Texas Mile was awarded graded stakes status in its first year of eligibility.
The 2004 Breeders’ Cup
Lone Star Park scored a major coup by being chosen to host the 2004 Breeders’ Cup world championships. It was a major validation of the track’s importance to racing in just its eighth year of operation.
On opening night of the Breeders’ Cup event, jockey Pat Day became the only jockey to ride in each of the first 20 Breeders’ Cup events from 1984-2004. The event was sold out within days of tickets being made available.
Additional seating was built to accommodate the 51,034 ticket holders on event day, helping to make the Breeders’ Cup of 2004 one of the most attended cards in racing history.
Lone Star Park today
Lone Star Park still hosts yearly race meetings for both thoroughbreds and quarterhorses. While the purse values have diminished some as track attendance has dropped, the track is still the most highly regarded in Texas.
As of 2016, horseracing in Texas is facing a crisis that has left it in limbo. State lawmakers have been debating whether or not to defund the racing industry, a move that could ultimately shutter Lone Star Park and other racing venues across the state. It is unclear if Lone Star Park will ever return to the quality of racing that made it one of America’s best racetracks in the 1990s.
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