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Horse Racing / Bill Christine : Texas Voters Finally End a 50-Year Ban Against Betting on Horse Races

November 05, 1987|Bill Christine

Texans were betting legally on horses 82 years ago.

In 1946, the Texas-bred Assault swept the Triple Crown, and four years later, Middleground, another Texas-bred, won the Kentucky Derby.

This year, Groovy, a Texas-bred now owned by Texans, is one of the fastest horses in the country and will be favored in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park Nov. 21.

Alysheba, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness this year, is owned by Texans. The American Racing Manual lists 139 thoroughbred farms in Texas, almost as many as California, and by one estimate there are more horses in Texas than any other state.

Yet for 50 years, betting on horses has been illegal in Texas. That ban ended Tuesday, when about 1.7 million voters--twice the projected turnout--approved by a 16% margin a referendum that will allow parimutuel betting on horse and dog racing in the state.

According to Jeff Steen, director of the Texas Horse Racing Assn., those bumper stickers must have worked. They read: "Don't raise taxes, race horses."

Largely because of the suffering oil industry, Texas' economy has been crippled, and there had been talk of introducing a state income tax.

"The economic issues were a major factor in racing being approved," Steen said. "Racing will enable the state to diversify its economy."

A study a couple of years ago said that racing in Texas would account for 20,000 new jobs and add $1.2 billion to the annual economy.

The introduction of racing in Minnesota and Alabama in recent years, however, has not produced a windfall. Canterbury Downs near Minneapolis is struggling, and the Birmingham Turf Club, which opened early this year, almost went out of business and recently sputtered to the finish of its inaugural season.

Texans are optimistic about racing, though, because of the sizable populations of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, the three cities that will have thoroughbred tracks. The closest racing competition, at Louisiana Downs, is more than 150 miles from Dallas, and neighboring Oklahoma, which is opening a $90-million track next year, is also new to racing and has less of a tradition in the sport than Texas.

Dog racing, which the new track in Birmingham must compete with, is restricted to three coastal counties in Texas and is believed to be far enough from the horse tracks so that it won't be a deterrent.

Opposition to the Texas referendum, besides coming from religious groups within the state, also came from neighboring states with racing.

Backers of racing in Texas included Kentucky breeders, who are always looking for new places where buyers of their bloodstock might race.

A one-time breeding right to Seattle Slew was contributed to the racing cause. A Houston man bought it for $125,000 and the Seattle Slew breeding syndicate turned over the money to the Texas Horse Racing Assn. That accounted for more than 10% of the group's budget.

Horsemen are sometimes not the best of spellers. Plugged Nickle, Temperence Hill and Deputed Testamony are some of the better examples of that.

Incorrect spelling ran heavy in racing last weekend. But the horses involved were all winners, so whereas grammarians might have cringed, the victorious owners made no apologies.

Nelson Bunker Hunt, whose 2-year-old colt Antiqua won the Laurel Futurity, confessed that a typographical error prevented the horse's name from being Antigua.

The fact that another young colt's name is Firery Ensign didn't prevent him from winning the Young America at the Meadowlands and now program proofreaders at Hollywood Park probably will have to worry about Firery Ensign. After much vacillation, his owner apparently is going to make him one of the few Eastern horses who will be running in the Breeders' Cup.

Allez Milord, winner of the Oak Tree Invitational at Santa Anita, had his named misspelled in a newspaper headline and then, because his name had also been misspelled on a Breeders' Cup list, he was thought to be ineligible for those races. But a Breeders' Cup official found Allez Milord under his misspelled name, and now he will be able to run.

Last Friday night, Chris Antley, a 21-year-old jockey, was driving home from the Meadowlands in New Jersey when his $75,000 car was struck by a New York Daily News delivery truck.

Though uninjured, Antley wasn't in a very good frame of mind when he went to work at Aqueduct the next afternoon.

His attitude changed though, and by Saturday night, Antley had given the Daily News and other newspapers something to write about. He won four races on six mounts at Aqueduct in the afternoon, then added five wins on eight rides that night at the Meadowlands, becoming the first jockey to ride nine winners in the same day.

Only five jockeys--David Gall, Robert Williams, Chris Loseth, Hubert Jones and Jorge Tejeira--have ever won eight races in one day. Jones, now a steward at Santa Anita, won his eight at Caliente in 1944 and Tejeira, like Antley, spread his winning over two tracks in 1976.

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