By Stacey Doud
I had the good fortune to get a behind-the-scenes tour at Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, which hosts horse races and special events for the city. I was there for the annual Lone Stars and Stripes Celebration for the 4th of July, but the tour overshadowed any fireworks display I could see.
My tour guide was Communications Manager Diantha Brazzell, who has been employed at the park since 1997. She said that the attendance on Independence Day is usually their busiest day of the year, with crowds ranging from 13,000 people to 15,000 people. Brazzell said that their record was in 2000, with over 33,000 people in attendance.
The celebration is as old as the Race Park. Every year, more family-friendly activities are added, such as a Family Fun Park with bounce houses, face painters, tattoo artists, pony rides and a petting zoo to make sure everyone of every age has a great time.
Lone Star Park opened in 1996, just in time for the Kentucky Derby. While “betting on the ponies” had been legal in Texas since 1987, Lone Star Park was one of the three “Class One” horse tracks to open in the state. This means that they may host unlimited races, as compared to Class Two, which only gets 60 racing days per year. The other Class One tracks are Retama Park in Selma and Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.
“Before I worked here, I came out to bet on the Kentucky Derby, back in 1996. I drove over an hour to get here, but I was turned away at the gate because they were already sold out!” Brazzell said. “Since the Park was so new, lots of people were coming to bet on the Derby for the first time.”
The main building opened the next year in 1997, and the original structure, which had been known as the “Post Time Pavilion” was redesigned into the “Bar & Book,” a seven-day-a-week simulcast wagering facility that features races from around the world as well as other sports, which is in operation to this day.
Brazzell took me up to the Penthouse floor to her office, where we chatted about the park. She suddenly stopped talking and looked at the television in her office. She had her eye on a particular filly named Lay M Out, and while she hadn’t placed any bets, she wanted to see how the horse performed. It came in first place.
After the race was over, Brazzell filled me in on some of the struggles the park has been facing. The owners of quality horses sometimes go to Oklahoma or Louisiana to run their stock because they can make more money in those locations due to gaming (gambling casinos) being on the premises. Currently, that type of gambling is illegal in Texas. Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon.
“With the bills that recently passed, that the governor signed last week, one of them is that it takes the tax dollars from any equine-related products, such as feed, hay and tack, and it puts it into the fund for the Texas Racing Commission to divvy out. It will be split between the four major tracks in Texas. The law goes into effect on September 1, and it’ll take some time to accumulate money. But it’s positive news, and I’m so excited because it’ll increase our proceeds and bring in better horses,” Brazzell said.
Part of my tour was to go into the judges’ room, where too-close-to-call races are re-watched on a special computer so that a winner can be determined. We were seven floors up, so the view was breathtaking. I could see the whole track, the paddocks and the public area below, where families gathered to eat and enjoy the races.
Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie is open seven days a week. Parking is free (except for special events) and admission is $5 per person.