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Lone Star Million Day Continues Legacy of Horse Racing in Texas

$400,000 Gr.3 Steve Sexton Mile is the feature race on the $1.2 million Memorial Day card

Texas’ inaugural big event race day in 1993, Texas Day at Trinity Meadows. Jeff Hooper, then TTA Executive Director, greets the late Texas Governor Ann Richards on Texas Day.

Grand Prairie, TX – May 21, 2024 - Lone Star Million Day returns on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 with six stakes races totaling $1.2 million in purses at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.

The card is anchored by the 27th running of the $400,000 Gr. 3 Steve Sexton Mile, historically known as the Texas Mile, the first graded Thoroughbred stake in Texas.

From the beginning, the Texas Mile has been a who’s who of national connections, with Kentucky Derby runners and Hall of Fame trainers. Competitors are often spotted in graded stakes such as the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont, or the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs. Many also find success at Oaklawn, including last year’s Steve Sexton Mile winner Frosted Grace, who won the $500,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) this March.

On tap for the premier race day of the Lone Star Park Thoroughbred meet are five undercard stakes: the $300,000 Texas Derby, $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff, $100,000 Chamberlain Bridge Stakes, $100,000 Memorial Day Sprint and the $100,000 Speightstown Sprint.

Last year’s winner of the $100,000 Chamberlain Bridge Stakes, Cogburn, stayed in town to win the $150,000 Grand Prairie Turf Sprint at Lone Star before taking the $300,000 Troy (G3) at Saratoga. On Kentucky Derby day in 2024, the Steve Asmussen trainee won the $600,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The Texas Derby winner from 2023, Hayes Strike, hails from the Kenny McPeek barn, who recently swept the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) with Mystik Dan and the 2024 Kentucky Oaks (G1) with Thorpedo Anna.

Kenny McPeek trained Hayes Strike won the 2023 Texas Derby. Photo: Dustin Orona Photography.

It was through the mutual support of horsemen, fans and track management that Lone Star Million Day evolved into the national event we know today. The event traces its roots back 30 years when Trinity Meadows hosted the inaugural Texas Day on June 20, 1993. The festival day of racing featured seven stakes, all dedicated to Texas-breds.

Texas Day was brought to life through the staff and board members of the Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA).

Jeff Hooper, Chairman and CEO at Highlander Training Center in Sulphur Springs, TX, was the executive director of the TTA at the time. He recalled how the idea developed for the first Texas-bred day. “Curtis Kidd, a veterinarian on our board, introduced the idea of creating a special day of racing at Trinity Meadows. We were inspired by the success of events like Maryland Million Day, and we wanted to create the same kind of state-bred celebration day locally.”

Horsemen supported the idea, filling a 12-race card with full fields. Over 10,000 race fans attended what would be the first of many days celebrating Thoroughbred racing in Texas.

The card included the Ann Richards Handicap, honoring the recently elected Texas governor who had been instrumental in legislation that lowered the state pari-mutuel tax rate. The legislation supported tracks like Trinity Meadows and paved the way for Texas racing to expand with new facilities, including the opening of Lone Star Park in 1997.

The day sparked a tradition of annual Texas Champion Days, but the momentum of those early festivals also inspired leadership at Lone Star Park to test the waters with open stakes to attract attention on a national level.

General Manager Corey Johnson and Assistant General Manager Steve Sexton coordinated the first big days of racing in the early years of Lone Star Park. The opening meet featured a race card with the $250,000 Texas Mile Stakes and $250,000 Lone Star Derby.

Hooper also worked at Lone Star in the track’s early years. “It was a significant and prominent day, nationally,” he said of the early Texas Mile race days. “The track attracted top horses, owners and trainers from around the country, and we had large crowds with great energy.”

Over 24,000 race fans attended the first Texas Mile in 1997 to witness Isitingood win the race and set a track record at a mile on the dirt that still stands to this day. Multiple graded stakes winner and future Horse of the Year Skip Away finished third.

Isitingood was trained by Bob Baffert, who would win the Kentucky Derby a few weeks later with Silver Charm.

Two years later, the Texas Mile became the first graded Thoroughbred stake in Texas. 21,000 fans packed the stands to watch another Baffert trainee: Real Quiet, winner of the 1998 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1).

But in a repeat of his Belmont Stakes (G1) loss, Real Quiet again finished second by a nose in the Texas Mile, this time to Littlebitlively, a horse for the course defending his win from the previous year. Littlebitlively is the only two-time equine winner of the race, but Baffert would return to win the race three more times.

In 2022, the current all-time leading trainer by wins in the country, Steve Asmussen, tied that record with his fourth win in the race with Silver Prospector.

Steve Asmussen scored his fourth Texas Mile victory in 2022 with Silver Prospector. Photo: Dustin Orona Photography.

In addition to the Hall of Fame trainers, decorated jockeys have participated as well, including Mike Smith, Triple Crown winner and third-all time leading jockey by earnings. Smith won aboard Baffert trainee Mor Spirit in 2017.

The majority of Texas Mile winners have been bred in Kentucky, but in 2015, Texas Air proved that the Texas-breds could compete with the big names, defeating a field of nine for trainer Allen Milligan and owner/breeder Paul J. Rigali, Jr.

In 2017, Lone Star renamed the Texas Mile to honor Steve Sexton, who passed away in 2016. In addition to being part of the track’s leadership team in its early years, Sexton also held executive positions with Churchill Downs and served as the track’s president from 2002-2009.

In recent years, the slate of undercard stakes developed to complement the Steve Sexton Mile has created more racing opportunities for trainers and more excitement for fans to watch stakes-winning horses on their home turf.  

The excitement of Lone Star Million Day is reminiscent of the early Texas Days, but bigger and better than ever as stakes winning horses from across the country descend upon the track. Thanks to the support of nationally known horsemen and a strong local fan base, the 30-year tradition of celebrating racing in Texas continues. 


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