Racing: Europeans arrive for Lone Star jackpot
The allied forces of Europe began buzzing into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport yesterday for Breeders' Cup XXI, which will be held 10 miles south of the landing spot at Lone Star Park in Texas on Saturday.
With the greatest of respect to Jeremy Noseda's Wilko, who has been given the sort of mission which usually has the spools disappearing in a cloud of smoke, the legitimate British challenge arrives in a single Spitfire.
Ouija Board will be ridden by Kieren Fallon in either the Filly & Mare or the Turf section of the so-called world thoroughbred championships and connections will continue the brinkmanship about exactly which race until tomorrow's cut-off point. The filly should really have Daniel between her shoulders as she goes into the lion's den of a Breeders' Cup.
At least Ouija Board has the consolation of knowing this is a new cave also for the American horses. Lone Star Park has never hosted a Grade One race, never mind the weekend's eight-race series at the highest level.
Its selection is partly down to Breeders' Cup Ltd's desire to deviate from the main horseracing centres such as Churchill Downs in Kentucky, New York's Belmont Park and Santa Anita, out west in California.
Two years ago it was Arlington Park in Chicago for the first time and, two years hence, Monmouth Park in New Jersey will make its debut on the rota. For now, though, the circus pitches at Grand Prairie and a campaign which was mounted before the concrete had even set at Lone Star comes to fruition. "We've always had the Breeders' Cup as our target since we started building the place," Jeff Greco, the course's general manager, says.
Lone Star is the youngest of the nine tracks to have staged a Breeders' Cup, having opened in 1997. Despite its horseback history Texas has a limited pedigree in racing horses and that is because of another of its characteristics, the puritanical one.
When the first Breeders' Cup was held in 1984 gambling on horseracing was still outlawed within the borders of America's second largest state. It was three years later that Texans voted to allow the return of pools betting after a break of 50 years. After that ballot there was some meaning to constructing a new racecourse. Thus we have Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie.
Unlike the airport, the track is no monster in its particular field. There is permanent accommodation for just 12,000 racegoers, while over 50,000 are expected on Saturday. The course executive will pray there is no repetition of Arlington, when those in the bleachers were left horribly exposed on a dismal fall day.
Lone Star may be small, but it is also bijou. The grandstand is seven storeys high and the simulcast arena, the Post Time Pavilion, is without parallel. The most significant edifices though have come with the recent $7.8 (£4.3m) improvement plan.
That has allowed two new 50-stall barns and a quarantine facility which enables Lone Star to become home to 1,600 horses. In addition, the winners' circle and paddock have been extended with the addition of 1,600 permanent seats and "Champions" has become home to 400 VIP seats.
Now that the Texans no longer horsewhip anyone caught gambling, the financial benefits of betting palaces such as Lone Star have become clear. The award of Breeders' Cup XXI is the jackpot and the staging of the games is expected to rake in over $50m to the local economy.
Now it is down to Ouija Board to repatriate just a fraction of that amount, most probably, according to the noises emanating from connections, in the Filly & Mare section of racing's Olympian day.
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