Retama Ups States Monies for Quarter Horse Meeting

Purses for eight quarter horse stakes scheduled during the 21-evening Retama Park meeting that begins May 4 have been increased by a total of $30,000.

The first to benefit from the Cross Species Fund, distributed by the Texas Quarter Horse Association, is the Ben E. Keith Stakes that was boosted $2,500 to $17,500 on opening night.

\"No quarter horse stakes will be less than $17,500,\" said James Leatherman, Retama\'s racing secretary. A dozen stakes will be worth more than $350,000, including three on the June 15-17 closing weekend.

Promotional events such as 50-Cent Nights, the brainstorm of publicity-marketing director Doug Vair launched in 1997, keep patrons coming back to the track in Selma, a short gallop from the northeast San Antonio city limits.

There will be four such Friday nights: May 11 and 25, June 1 and 15. Admission is free. Soda and programs are 50 cents while hotdogs and draft beer cost $1. Free activities for kids include pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting and clowns.

Retama officials have their fingers crossed that on-track business will improve over last year when total money bet was down 1 percent for 24-days compared to ’05. On-track simulcast wagering, which comprises 80 percent of the track’s annual business, was up 5 percent.

However, wagering at off-site locations in Texas and out of state plummeted 37 percent last year compared to ’05.

“This shows what we are up against,” Retama CEO Bryan Brown said. “All surrounding states -- Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico -- have alternative gaming which enhances purse money. Those states offer much higher purses, some almost 300 per cent greater than Retama Park.”

Those neighbors have casino-type gambling, including video slots, that attracts many fans and racing interests from their respective regions, including Texas. That increases business, propelling higher purses for stakes as well as lesser races.

Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature has failed to even approve a referendum that would allow voters to decide whether video slots should be installed at Retama, Sam Houston Race Park and Lone Star Park.

So Retama, hoping to increase its thoroughbred business, wanted to move its traditional fall meeting to winter dates in ’08, skipping this year. And track brass thought such a deal was a sure thing.

“Back in the fall of 2006, all of the different groups, horsemen, breeders, racetracks and the Texas Racing Commission, worked toward moving Retama Park to those dates,” Vair said. “We all believed we had an agreement.”

Those dates would have covered January through March. That would have meant Sam Houston shifting some dates to the fall. “Sam Houston received and accepted purse money ($500,000) for 12 fall dates in ’07 that would have been staged at Retama as part of the agreement.”

Then Sam Houston in a letter from president-general manager Robert L. Bork four days before the Racing Commission meeting on March 20 made its intentions clear:
“Our best months are December, February and March. Replacing these months with fall dates would create a financial loss, a decrease in purses and ultimately the failure of a successful racing program.”

The bottom line: “Sam Houston claimed there was nothing in writing and protested,” Vair said.

After the lengthy session, the Racing Commission turned down Retama’s request, 5-3.

Now track executives will resubmit fall thoroughbred dates, Vair said, that will be slashed from last year’s 51 days.

Brown will request a 32-day meeting from Sept. 7 through Nov. 17 at the commission’s May 14 meeting.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing from the opening season in  ’95 when the track cancelled the last two weeks of the quarter horse meeting because operating funds evaporated. “Wagering was way less than projections,” general manager Bob Pollock explained.

Retama filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on March 20, 1996. On Feb. 13, 1997, a judge approved the track’s reorganization and funding plan, and six weeks later it emerged from bankruptcy.

The track has had ups and downs, but manages to survive. There’s no reason to think otherwise.

Retama Park is located in Selma off Interstate 35. General admission is $2.50 and $1.50 for senior citizens 62 and older, $1 more for the clubhouse; kids 15 and younger or active or retired military are admitted free. Post times are 6:45 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays except Saturday afternoons on Triple Crown race days and Sundays, 5:30 p.m.

About the author: Greg Melikov has been handicapping and writing about horses for decades. His articles and columns on a variety subjects appear globally in print and on the Internet. Greg, a retired newspaperman, spent more than four decades as an editor and writer. He became a racing fan at 13 when he saw 1948 Triple Crown champ Citation whip 20 older horses at old Arlington Park. His website is and he can be contacted at