Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie provides grownup entertainment in a neighborhood of family theme parks along the I-30 corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth. The pari-mutuel horse racing track is a stone's throw from Ripley's Palace of Wax, Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park, and Texas Rangers baseball.
Opened to live racing in 1997, Lone Star Park is a beautiful playground for the "sport of kings." Taking up approximately 315 acres at Belt Line Road north of the interstate, the park includes two tracks and a seven-story, 280,000-seat grandstand with restaurants, bars, gift shops, and air-conditioned seating.
My two favorite areas of the park are the Saddling Paddock and the bench seating area between the grandstand and the track. The European-style Saddling Paddock is where the pre-race pageantry of horse racing takes place. For most of us amateur bettors, I don't know if seeing the horse before the race is any help in deciding on which nose to place our $2, but the area gives us a close-up look at the athletes. The bench area gets you within a few feet of the tons of energy and power as it races to the finish line.
Basic admission price to the park ranges from $2 to $5, plus $2 to park your car. This can be an entertainment bargain, depending upon how much you lose at the betting windows. For beginners and those looking for inside tips, the track handicapper offers race seminars before the races at 5:40pm on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and at 12:40pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday is billed as Family Day with picnicking allowed on the grassy slope overlooking the track and special children's entertainment facilities set up around the park. For a real entertainment value, visit the track on one of the regularly scheduled Kid's Club free Saturday morning play days. Beginning at 8:30am, visitors are treated to pony rides, a petting zoo, games, and a continental breakfast. The park is usually open on Saturday mornings, 8:30-11am for free tours and to watch morning workouts.
In an effort to attract the 25 to 40-year-old crowd, the track offers Party at the Park specials with live music and drink specials. If it's your birthday on the day you visit the park, join the Birthday Club and receive free general admission, parking, and a copy of the track's racing form.
For me, it is the horses that bring me back for my occasional visit to the race track. The roar of the crowd behind me pushes me over the railing, straining to see the blurry figures speeding down the track past me to the finish line.
Then a tense stillness grips the crowd as they wait for the official standings posted in lights on the black billboard and TV screen. With a yelp the crowd exclaims the results of their wagers. No matter how much the bet, I have the same rush of relief when I win and a sick emptiness in the pit of my stomach when I lose. My Baptist upbringing lets me rationalize gambling when I win and makes me feel guilty when I lose.
Since voters approved pari-mutuel betting in 1987, Texas race tracks have seen their fortunes rise and fall. Tracks in Bandera and west of Fort Worth closed after a few seasons. Facilities in San Antonio and Houston survive on a thin profit. Lone Star Park has managed to attract a significant number of regular fans to support their operation.
All four of the surviving race tracks offer simulcasts, betting on races at other tracks. Post times for evening races is generally around 6:30pm and day races on weekends are around 1:30pm. Live racing schedules around the state are:
Lone Star Park's spring race season began April 1 and runs through July 19. The Meeting of Champions features quarterhorses Oct. 2 through Nov. 29. For more information on the track, call 800/795-7223 or visit http://www.lonestarpark.com/.
Retama Park in Selma, north of San Antonio on
I-35, began its race season May 1; it runs through June 28 on Thursdays through Sundays. The next season runs July 24 through Oct. 27 on Wednesdays through Saturdays. For more information, call 210/651-7100 or visit http://www.retamapark.com/.
Sam Houston Park in northwest Houston off the Sam Houston Parkway at Fallbrook opens for a quarterhorse meet July 3 through Sept.13. Post times Friday and Saturday are at 7pm. July 4 and Sept. 7 post times are at 5pm. For information, call 281/807-8760 or visit http://www.shrp.com/.
Manor Downs east of Austin had live racing Feb. 28 through May 31. For information, call 272-5581 or visit http://www.citysearch.com/aus/manordowns.
The Gillespie County Fairground outside of Fredericksburg is not a year-round facility, but does offer wagering on the ponies during special events. The next races are June 13 and 14, July 4 and 5, 18 and 19, Aug. 8, 9, 22 and 23. For information, call 830/997-2359.
Coming up this weekend...
Chisholm Trail Roundup in Lockhart's City Park brings the carnival to town along with lots of barbecue, parades, arts and crafts, and dancing, June 11-14. 512/376-2632.
Texas Water Safari races down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers to the Gulf from San Marcos' Aquarena Springs, June 13. 512/393-5900.
Antique Auto Swap Meet at Traders Village in Grand Prairie, one of the largest flea markets in the Southwest, June 12-14. 972/647-2331.
Juneteenth Celebrations will be happening next weekend in Waco, 254/756-0933; San Antonio, 210/533-4383; Brenham, 888/273-6426; and San Marcos, 512/393-5900.
Gulf Coast Jam features a wide variety of music at Pleasure Island Music Park in Port Arthur, June 19-20. 409/722-3699.
Messina Hof Wine Cellars in Bryan offers a unique Father's Day gift - give the old man a weekend or part of a weekend at the winery enjoying good food, cigars, wine, and relaxation. Free tours (reservations required, though) are at 1 and 2:30pm on weekdays, 11am, 12, 2:30, and 4pm on Saturday, and 12 and 2:30pm on Sunday. 409/778-9463.