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It’s time. If you’ve ever thought about it or considered it, if you’ve ever pondered the potential or fantasized about the possibilities - or even if you haven’t — the time to get involved with Texas horse racing hasn’t been this inviting or favorable or attractive in many years. It’s time to get involved — for millions of reasons.


For the first time in nearly two decades, Texas horse racing is moving in a positive direction, and everything indicates a continuation of that progress. Last year, even as the nation grappled with the harsh and sometimes deadly consequences of the COVID pandemic, Texas horse racing showed signs of resilience. Even as racetracks limited their dates and crowds, the comeback began. Texas racetracks paid $31,052,099 in purses in 2020, according to the annual report by the state racing commission. For the 89 days of Thoroughbred racing in the state, purses averaged $195,967, which represented a 42-percent increase from 2019, when Thoroughbred purses averaged a mere $137,681. But this was only the beginning.


The purse increase was largely due to House Bill 2463. Passed in 2019, it amended the tax code to require the deposit of state taxes collected on the sale of feed, supplements, and tack into a Horse Industry Escrow Account, capped at $50 million for the biennium. This supplementary source of funds added $17.5 million to purses in 2020, and the purses are growing.


This year, Sam Houston Race Park enjoyed what was arguably the best season in its history. For its 43-day Thoroughbred meeting that concluded April 3, the Houston racetrack paid $12.6 million in purses, or a record $293,000 a day. The high purses attracted Letruska, who won the Houston Ladies Laddies Classic on her way to what almost certainly will be an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top older female. And all-sources handle increased more than 28 percent, to $2,242,807 a day.


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The momentum then rolled north. During its recent Thoroughbred season that concluded July 11, Lone Star paid $13,692,325 in purses, or $285,256 a day, a level not seen in Grand Prairie since 2005. Lone Star Million Day, a one-day festival of racing, returned for the first time in a decade, and the track set an all-sources handle record, excluding the 2004 Breeders’ Cup, with $6,944,947. Daily handle for the season reached $1,693,866, the highest level since 2006.

The oldest tradition in horse racing is to reach for the money, which in the 18th century hung from a pole in a literal purse, waiting there to be grabbed by the lucky winner. That tradition endures. And as purses increase, better horses race and the quality of racing improves, which in turn attracts more handle, which in turn leads to even better racing and further purse increases, and so the momentum rolls. It’s rolling in Texas.

Everywhere you look, the signs are as clear as … well, as clear as the creation this year of the $300,000 Texas Derby and jockey Joel Rosario in the winner’s circle with Warrant; as clear as the creation of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Derby and Oaks at Sam Houston in 2023; and as perfectly clear as the stunning 40-percent increase in the average price at the TTA sale of 2-year-olds in training, from $23,352 in 2019 to $32,671 this year.


That’s why it’s time. Yes, it’s time, for millions of reasons, to get involved.

Story By Gary West   

exan Gary West is a nationally-acclaimed turf writer who has covered the sport of horse racing for 35 years.

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