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Texas Horsemen Welcome Potential New Austin Track

Plans are in motion for a third racetrack in Texas, which would be built outside of Austin and join Sam Houston Race Park and Lone Star Park as Thoroughbred tracks in the state. Thoroughbred Racing Commentary first reported the story.

According to the report, Penn Entertainment, which owns Sam Houston Race Park as well as several other tracks around the country, plans to “open the new venue within five to six years.”

“It’s an interesting development from Penn Entertainment. … Austin is such a fast-growing dynamic area. I think a track would do very well there,” said Marsha Rountree, executive director of the Texas Horsemen’s Partnership. “There’s a lot of young people looking for entertainment venues. So I think it’d be a positive addition to our racing circuit. If it comes to fruition.”

Penn Entertainment, according to Rountree, has held a Class 2 license at the now-defunct Manor Downs outside of Austin. 

Penn Entertainment vice president and general manager of Texas racing operations Bryan Pettigrew told TRC they are just beginning the process of finding the right property. 

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Bryan Pettigrew
Photo: Courtesy of PENN Entertainment

Bryan Pettigrew

He said, “It’s a long-term plan, and if all goes well we may be up and running in 2030.”

Calls to Pettigrew were not returned.

According to the report, Pettigrew said that Penn hoped to have approval from the Texas Racing Commission finalized this year.

Rountree said finding the land will probably prove to be the biggest factor in a hot real estate market such as Austin, which is rapidly growing. 

“Land prices are very, very expensive,” Rountree said. “And finding a piece of property that meets all their needs is probably going to be a challenge. But I think they’re serious about it.”

Rountree envisions a scenario in which Sam Houston, Lone Star, a new Austin track, and potentially Retama Park outside of San Antonio would create a Texas circuit that could keep horses and horsemen in Texas rather than going across state lines for larger purses. 

“Right now they’re only racing Quarter Horses (at Retama), but I know that Penn has made comments as recently as last week that they were hoping sometime in the future to be able to run Thoroughbreds there again,” she said. 

The report notes race dates can be applied for in Texas five years in advance, but while the new facility is being built the operator can offer simulcast wagering on-site or at an alternative location. Pettigrew told TRC that by the third year of offering simulcast wagering it needs to be on-site.

However, the state’s dispute over the legality of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority prevents tracks in Texas from sending their domestic simulcast signal out of state, limiting how much money it can generate. 

Sam Houston Race Park
Photo: Coady Photo

Racing on the turf course at Sam Houston Race Park

“As far as purses are concerned, we’re holding our own in Texas without the additional purse money that’s derived from export, and the proposed opening in 2030 is sort of too far in the future to speculate about HISA, or anything having to do with our export signal or those sorts of things. But I think it could work out,” Rountree said. 

Another factor, according to Pettigrew, is that the track needs the right business “alignments.” But Texas does not have legalized gaming or sports betting, but should that come to fruition in the years until this potential track is built, it would provide a significant revenue stream for the facility. Should sports betting and legalized gaming get the green light in Texas, purse sizes should see a significant increase. 

“We have 1,051 horses stabled at Sam Houston for the current meet, and I believe we have enough horses in training to run three main tracks in the state,” Pettigrew said. “We would like to offer trainers and owners more options. That we do not have any income from casinos or sports gambling affects our purses. Texans often ship horses out to race in New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, states where they are able to offer better purses due to revenue from other forms of wagering. 

“At the same time, we find it hard to attract runners from other states to our meets, except for on the big days, because our purses are not as competitive.”

And building a track near the state’s capital could also attract the Breeders’ Cup to return to the state after it was held 20 years ago at Lone Star. 

“What an awesome opportunity that was for Texas at our track up in Grand Prairie, and we’ve all been sort of hoping and waiting to see if we had something that we could offer to the Breeders’ Cup to lure them back to Texas, and this might be it,” Rountree said.

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