The nearly two years of lawsuits, restraining orders, bad blood and smack talk is over (for now), and horse-racing enthusiasts are pumped (for now).
Last September, the Texas Legislature blew its deadline to renew funding for the Texas Racing Commission over the contentious “instant racing” rules — which would’ve allowed gambling on electronic simulations of historical races on slot machine-type devices. Critics say the Lege allowed the deadline to lapse because a handful of state lawmakers, apparently fearful of casino-style gambling infiltrating the state, weren’t feeling historical-racing gambling one iota.
As a result, Texas’s major race parks, such as Houston’s Sam Houston Race Park as well as San Antonio’s Retama Park and Grand Prairie’s Lone Star Park, were ordered to keep the lock-and-chains on the gates for a day.
“After an entire summer with the cloud of a shutdown hanging over the industry’s head, I am bewildered that certain members of the Texas Senate appear to have blocked the release of essential funds to the Texas Racing Commission,” wrote Andrea B. Young, Sam Houston Race Park president, last summer. “We thank our friends in the Legislature and other branches of government who have fought to protect the Texas racing industry and the hardworking individuals it employs.
“The Legislature did not intend this result, which will now shutter Texas racing facilities, putting thousands of jobs at risk. We believe that this result is irresponsible. We urge the Lieutenant Governor to stand up for 36,000 jobs now before this goes any further. In the meantime, we will continue to examine our legal options. We plan to continue our fight for all the hardworking Texans that make up the Texas Horse industry."
After the brief shutdown, the commission and the Legislative Budget Board were able to agree on a compromise that extended funding through February. The catch: Get rid of historical racing gambling or else. The Texas Racing Commission had little choice but to cave to the ultimatum, which it did by a 5-4 vote on February 18.
But forgot all that (for now).
Over at Sam Houston Race Park, thoroughbred season recently wrapped up, which means Quarter Horse Opening Day is at the post (that’s horse for starting gate). At 7 p.m. Friday, March 25, the country’s most popular breed of horse that’s made for short-distance sprinting will gallop up to 55 miles per hour around Sam Houston’s fast track. The gates open at 5:30 p.m. and there will be beer for 50 cents apiece from 6 to 9 p.m.
New for the quarter-horse season, which continues on select days through May 16, is food trucks on April 8 and May 13, and it's not roach-coach fare.
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“Some of the larger, best and well-known food trucks in Houston will be here,” says Jamie Nielsen of Sam Houston Race Park about the gourmet roster that includes Cupcake and a Smile, Pho-jita Fusion, Los Tacos Hermanos and Happy Endings Asian Fusion.
Nielsen says that though the transition from thoroughbred to quarter-horse racing is involved, park staff has the process down pat (plus it’s helpful that “the track is maintained throughout the year,” says Nielsen, and not just during racing season).
Arduous or not, horse racing in Houston continues.
Quarter-horse races take place each Friday, Saturday and Monday at Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West. General admission tickets cost $7. For more information, go to www.shrp.com.