SELMA -- Jockeys took their thoroughbreds around the mile-long track at Retama Park on Thursday morning for one last training session before a new race season begins on Friday.
“People who come out here for the first time are shocked by how much fun it is," General Manger Kevin Whalen said. "You might be able to make a little two-dollar bet on a horse that’s running a race and it’s just so much fun to follow that horse.”
Last year, that fun was tempered as the park had to temporarily shut down after a funding dispute between the Texas Racing Commission and the State Legislature.
The commission had approved rules to implement historical racing -- where bettors could place money on past races with identifying markers removed -- and the legislature responded by cutting its funding.
A day later, though, funding was restored and the commission nixed its plans for historical racing.
“We like to think we’re finally past it, that drama that we had," Whalen said. "We just wanted to be open, I think that was the most important thing to us. We didn’t want to lose our customers.”
Now Retama Park is set to host 13 weeks of thoroughbred action, and they're starting it off with an interesting promotion; "Pay what you want" on opening night. Half of the proceeds will be donated to the Louisiana Red Cross to assist flood victims in that state.
"We’re going to have some great racing. We’ve got 26 nights of great thoroughbred racing and also hopefully a lot of fun too. We try to be a lot of fun for families," Whalen said.
In the stables, Danny Pish was brushing off one of the horses he trains at Retama. He's been training at the park for years and, with the state funding issue now a year in the past, he's looking forward to this season.
"I certainly have quite a few horses I think should fit the races quite well and I anticipate doing well, but then again you can take nothing for granted," he said.
While the short term outlook for Texas horse racing looks good, Pish is still worried about its long term future.
"It’s very frustrating that the avenue of revenue that other states have been able to get through historic racing, we were not allowed," Pish said.
Whalen notes that Retama Park is ready to leave that dustup in the past.
"So that fact that it was ended quickly was important,” Whalen said.
He's focused on this season and trying to get more people out to the track. They've got a bunch of promotions lined up, and they're introducing a new way to wager on races called "MBet." Just download the app, skip the lines, and settle in for the race.
(© 2016 KENS)