Agreed Bret Calhoun: “Texas racing has gained a lot of momentum the last two years. I felt last summer was the best quality of horses they’d had there since the early days of Lone Star, so I thought it required a bit better horse to win the maiden and allowance races. You get better purses, you get better horses, fuller fields. It’s a domino effect, and I think you’ll see more of that this year.”
Opening day will include a 25th anniversary hat giveaway as well as a Steve Asmussen milestone celebration. The Hall of Famer comes into the Lone Star meet as North America’s all-time winningest trainer at 9,713 victories through April 18 and counting, with Asmussen quickly pulling away from the late Dale Baird’s 9,445 after breaking the record last Aug. 7 at Saratoga.
Asmussen holds particular affection for Lone Star Park, beyond being the track’s all-time win leader. He and his wife, Julie, have lived in nearby Arlington for years.
“All three of the boys were born there in Arlington, about 15 minutes from the racetrack,” said Asmussen, who won 17 races at Lone Star’s inaugural meet in 1997 and his first of 14 training titles two years later, “so it’s been a very special place to us. With all the trials of horse racing now, the agricultural tax that Texas has in place that is supplementing their racing is proving to be very effective.”
Indeed, it’s not a coincidence that Asmussen has won Lone Star’s two training titles since the purses have increased, with Broberg taking the crown in 2019 and 2018. Asmussen went 71 for 344 last year after going 50 for 266 in 2020.
“Financial opportunity allows you to run a little more expensive horse,” said Asmussen, who also claimed his 14th Sam Houston trainer’s title earlier this month with 51 wins. “I am blessed with opportunities as far as horses go, and I’m hoping that continues.”
With more money on the table, the competition overall is tougher - and that’s the point, he said.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, to build the product as well as the state-bred program there,” Asmussen said from Churchill Downs, where he is preparing Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter for the Kentucky Derby and unbeaten 2-year-old champion filly Echo Zulu for the Kentucky Oaks. “I think the last couple of Texas sales have been up dramatically, which (means) better horses get to run for more money.”
Broberg won five of the six Lone Star training titles between 2014 and 2019, with Asmussen on top in 2017. He had strong meets last year (54-for-280) and in 2020 (42-for-2020) while second in the standings but couldn’t match Asmussen’s horsepower.
Asked his expectations for the meet, Broberg said: “To finish a distant second to Asmussen in the standings as usual.”
That’s just being realistic, but Broberg said he’s not conceding anything.
“Lone Star Park is home to me,” he said. “I live 15 miles from the racetrack. I always try to make a full-out effort. I’m working as diligently as I can to stack the deck, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to play out in such a manner.”
End Zone Athletics, the partnership headed by Broberg, remains the owner to beat and comes into Lone Star as the 2022 Sam Houston meet leader with 29 victories. End Zone took last year’s Lone Star title with 40 wins, with Asmussen second with 22.
Stewart Elliott — the 2004 Kentucky Derby-winning jockey on Smarty Jones and who won his first Lone Star riding title last year — comes into this meet off the Sam Houston crown, where he edged Ry Eikleberry 62-59 in victories. Eikleberry left Lone Star for Minnesota’s Canterbury Park last year but will stay the entire meet this time, according to his agent, Jose Santos Jr.
David Cabrera, Lone Star’s leading rider in 2014 who is always in the thick of the jockey race, could resume riding by May 12 after being injured in a spill at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, Santos reports. Ernesto Valdez-Jimenez and Lane Luzzi are among others who should be prominent in the jockey standings.
Memorial Day features a blockbuster card, with six stakes forming Lone Star Million Day, headed by the $400,000, Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile and the $300,000 Texas Derby. New to Million Day will be the inaugural $100,000 Speightstown Sprint for 3-year-olds on dirt, a six-furlong stakes named for the winner of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Lone Star. The meet’s 21 stakes will total more than $2.8 million.
Calhoun said both Silver Dust, Tom Durant’s multiple graded-stakes-winner and near-millionaire, and Mr. Wireless are candidates for the Sexton Mile. Mr. Wireless was second in last year’s Texas Derby at Lone Star before winning the Grade 3 Indiana and West Virginia Derbies.
Promotional highlights include the May 7 Kentucky Derby, May 21 Preakness and June 11 Belmont Stakes simulcasts; May 1 crawfish boil; Dollar Days on May 14 and July 16; Lone Star BARK (featuring dog contests) May 22; 25th anniversary T-shirt giveaway June 4; Extreme Racing Day (camel, zebra and ostrich races) June 25-26; and fireworks July 3-4. Handicapping-contest qualifiers for the National Horseplayer Championship: April 30, May 28, 29 & 30 and July 16.