Manor Downs comes up short as industry falters
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.