Manor Downs comes up short as in­dus­try fal­ters

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE -

There are no peo­ple or horses to be seen at Manor Downs lately. Weeds grow thick near the track, and trash blows around un­der the grand­stand. The op­er­a­tors of the track in east­ern Travis County say the end is near: They have not sought to sched­ule any races for next year, and simul­cast­ing is end­ing later this month.

Con­tin­ued from A1 time and never wa­vered,” he said.

Manor Downs cov­ers 165 acres on the north side of U.S. 290 in Manor. It fea­tures a 71⁄ fur­long oval track for thor­ough­breds and a 550yard straight­away for quar­ter horses. The grand­stand can seat 3,500, and the Turf Club, a bar and res­tau­rant, can hold 200 pa­trons for simul­cast races, which are shown Wed­nes­days through Sun­days.

On Ken­tucky Derby day, tra­di­tion­ally the track’s busiest day of the year, there might be 500 fans out­side in ad­di­tion to those in­side the Turf Club. Manor Downs has park­ing for about 1,200 cars.

Al­though Manor Downs of­fered thor­ough­bred rac­ing, its real niche was spring quar­ter horse rac­ing, a way for 2-year-olds to test their green legs.

Bryan Brown, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Re­tama Park in Selma, north of San An­to­nio, said he is in dis­cus­sions with Manor of­fi­cials and with horse­men to see if Re­tama, which does not have quar­ter horse rac­ing, could pick up some of those dates.

“It would be very, very dif­fi­cult for us to do,” Brown said. “We don’t have a good an­swer at this time.”

Brown said that all Texas tracks are hav­ing trou­ble deal­ing with com­pe­ti­tion from neigh­bor­ing states, where Texas own­ers and breed­ers are tak­ing their horses be­cause of the larger purses.

“What’s go­ing on is that they’re pretty much leav­ing the state for greener pas­tures,” Wer­stler said.

An­drea Young, the pres­i­dent of Sam Hous­ton Race Park in Hous­ton, tes­ti­fied last week in front of the state House’s Li­cens­ing and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dures Com­mit­tee about the strug­gling in­dus­try.

Young said dras­tic ac­tion will be needed to save the sport in Texas.

Sam Hous­ton Race Park, Re­tama Park and Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie might be forced to con­sol­i­date all thor­ough­bred races at one track, Young said.

“It is clear that Texas tracks are close to be­ing pushed out of busi­ness,” Young told com­mit­tee mem­bers.

Tracks in neigh­bor­ing states — such as Louisiana, Ok­la­homa and New Mex­ico — that also have slot ma­chines and gam­bling have been able to in­crease purses as a re­sult.

In other states, purses of $245,000 are not un­usual; mean­while, the av­er­age daily purse in Hous­ton has dropped to $100,000 as race dates have be­come fewer, Young said.

“Dur­ing the past 10 years, as our cus­tomers and our horses have left the state, the amount wa­gered at Texas tracks has de­creased by 50 per­cent, and track at­ten­dance has de­clined by 35 per­cent,” Young tes­ti­fied.

Phillips said what’s par­tic­u­larly galling to him is that those tracks in neigh­bor­ing states are able to raise purses be­cause they’re at­tract­ing Texas bet­tors.

“I feel like I’m be­ing shot with my own bul­lets,” he said.

Al­berto Martínez

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