Photo: Mary Cage
Lone Star Park became my second home this year – second only to my actual home, of course. Texas racing has fallen upon hard times, but the Grand Prairie track has always been one of my favorite places and I made an effort to make it there every weekend I possibly could during its spring Thoroughbred meet.
Whether it was under the blindingly bright sunny skies of the morning or afternoon, brilliantly colorful sunset skies of the evening, or the dark skies of the night, times spent at Lone Star were enjoyable. Old friendships were strengthened, new friendships were formed, and – of course – old and new favorite Texas racehorses brought a smile to my face.
It was rare that I visited the track without my camera, and by the time the meet ended this past weekend, I had taken thousands upon thousands of photos at the beautiful Texas track. With so many trips to the track, I was able to experiment with my photography, and ended up with some of my new favorite photos. It was a terrific spring meet at Lone Star, and I will always have these photos by which to remember it...
With so many track visits, it was only a given that a multitude of equine athletes would join my list of favorite racehorses. From low-level claimers to the best Texas-bred stakes winners around, some horses became the subject of my photographs more so than others. . .
Among those horses was Bailey's Bling, a flashy chestnut filly who is as game as they come. From four starts on the meet, the best performance of the daughter of leading Texas sire Too Much Bling came in a claiming race on Memorial Day.
Easily one of the most enjoyable horses to watch was Big Hearted Gal. Although the daughter of Unbridled's Heart stands only 14 hands high, she lives up to her name on the track. The tiny gray filly raced four times during the meet, beginning and ending with a win.
One of the stars of the meet was Bling on the Music, another daughter of Too Much Bling. The sales topper at the Texas Thoroughbred Association Texas Two-Year-Old Sale prior to the beginning of the meet, Bling on the Music won her debut impressively by 4 ¾ lengths before going on to dominate the filly division of the Texas Thoroughbred Futurity by 8 ½ lengths. Saratoga graded stakes action could be next for her.
Too Much Bling winning the Texas Thoroughbred Futurity
One of the most touching moments of the meet was getting to watch a filly that has overcome the odds: Colorshow. Orphaned as a young foal when her dam died of colic, Colorshow is now a three-year-old with two wins to her credit.
The Lone Star meet also made for several opportunities to see one of my longtime favorites, Green Juice, compete. He raced five times during the season, finishing well with a pair of strong runner-up efforts.
A highlight of the meet was witnessing the winning return of He's Comin in Hot, the winner of the previous year's Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
Some horses captured my attention – and therefore, the focus of my camera – more than others did, and one of those horses was Imma Bling. A stunning dark gray, Imma Bling is a promising runner who found himself in the Lone Star winner's circle on two occasions during the meet.
One of the most recognizable faces in Texas racing is that of John Louis' Chief, whose freckled face finished 7 ¼ lengths in front on closing day.
The horse who garnered the most wins on the meet was Kitty Blonde, who raced an astounding nine times during the Lone Star spring season. From those nine starts, he won five times, finished second on three occasions, and finished third just once.
Jockey C.J. McMahon's appreciation for the hard-trying Kitty Blonde was apparent.
Coming off stakes performances at Sam Houston Race Park, Meme Jo had a solid Lone Star meet, finishing in the money in all three of his starts during the season – including a win. The Too Much Bling gelding all but demanded his picture to be taken with his infamous side-eye.
Perhaps one of the most stunning horses I photographed at Lone Star this spring was My Silver Lullaby, an exquisite daughter of My Golden Song.
Without a doubt, one of the stars of the meet was Texas-bred champion and 2015 Eight Belles Stakes (gr. III) winner Promise Me Silver. Although she raced just once on the meet, she was jaw-dropping in her Valor Farm Stakes romp.
Perhaps the sweetest horse to run at Lone Star during the spring meet was Sevenoaks. It was a joy to see the son of Mizzen Mast win in his final race of the meet. As handsome as he is kind, Sevenoaks finished on the board in three of his four starts during the season – including, of course, his victory on July 14.
Having visited Valor Farm – one of the top breeding operations in Texas, founded by Clarence and Dorothy Scharbauer – nearly as many times as Lone Star this year, it was always a special occasion to see a Valor-bred runner compete. One of my personal favorites was Ship Rock, who ran six times throughout the meet, finishing third in the Texas Stallion Stakes and closing out the meet with a win.
One of the hardest-knocking horses to race in the course of the meet was Shraded Edge, a nine-year-old gelding who won once from his six starts on the season. After racing on July 14, Shraded Edge retired sound with a forever home already secured.
An elegant gray filly named Slew's Song became one of my favorites to photograph, and had a very successful meet, as well. From six starts at the Grand Prairie track this year, she won three and was also a good fourth in the Lane's End Stallion Scholarship Stakes.
Had a Horse of the Meet award been granted, Supermason would have been the likely recipient. Runaway winner of the traditional first race of the meet, the Premiere Stakes, Supermason also set a new course record on the turf course in an allowance-level event and closed out the meet with a win in the Assault Stakes. His only loss during the season came in a pace-setting effort in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III).
One of the most impressive races of the meet was the maiden win of Sweet Joy, a daughter of Kitten's Joy who broke her maiden by an effortless 14 ½ lengths. She was yet another who garnered the aim of my camera more so than others thanks to her elegance and good looks.
Another horse that certainly caught my attention with its looks was Tapit in the Hole, a stunning three-year-old son of Trappe Shot who finished his efforts at this year's meet with a victory.
With a face that remembers that of his sire and a very clever name, the Euroears son The Ginja Ninja became one of my favorite Texas-based horses this year. He raced four times during the meet, with the highlight being an allowance win in June.
Although not quite the same horse he once was, it was a thrill to see Texas-bred champion and graded stakes-placed W V Jetsetter – bred by Clarence Scharbauer, Jr., no less – throughout the meet.
While of course a racetrack is known to the public for the horses, the people play an equally important role. I was able to form and strengthen a multitude of friendships at Lone Star this year, whether they were with horsemen, Lone Star Park employees, or fellow horse racing fans. This only added to the wonderful experience I had at my home track this year, as did the radiant personalities of even those I do not know personally. Not all of the people who made this meet such a great one are pictured, but I included the ones I could.
Among those people were longtime friend, J.R. Caldwell, and his team. They were incredibly welcoming towards me (which may have partially been because I seemed to be a bit of a good luck charm).
Another group of longtime personal friends, trainer Dallas Keen and his wife Donna, were as generous as always. It was always a pleasure to stop by their barn and a thrill to see their horses win.
Another horseman became a good friend this year in George Bryant, who always greeted me with a smile and a high-five. His passion for his horses and for the game was obvious, and it was always a joy to photograph Team Bryant runners.
It would be impossible to discuss the Lone Star Park meet without mentioning C.J. McMahon, who dominated the jockey standings with 99 wins. Any time C.J. won was a great photographic moment, as his gratitude and happiness were always evident after a victory.
C.J. has quite the silly side to his personality, too.
Lone Star has gained quite the social media presence as of late, and that is the result of the work of social media manager Rodney Nelson. His enthusiasm for horse racing and for Lone Star is contagious, and his handicapping skills prove his knowledge, as well.
Although not a "person," I could not go without mentioning Bear, the most popular outrider pony at Lone Star. His tiny ears – frozen at a young age – are just as adorable as his extreme love for peppermints.
The Graded Stakes
Two graded stakes races were contested during the meet – the Texas Mile Stakes (gr. III) and the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III).
On the night before the Kentucky Derby, Great Minds swept to a victory in the Texas Mile for his owner, NFL player Vince Wilfork.
A few weeks later, on Memorial Day, California shipper Cyrus Alexander – a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver – took the Lone Star Park Handicap.
Perhaps my favorite part of the track is not the races, but rather the morning works. Something about seeing all of the hard work that is put into preparing these horses to race is fascinating, especially in the setting of a peaceful morning.
He's Comin In Hot, living up to his name
Although Lone Star may not rank among the nation's top-tier racetracks, the host of the 2004 Breeders' Cup remains one of the most beautiful tracks I have attended – whether I am biased are not. A combination of features contribute to Lone Star's beauty, among them its unique architecture, the breathtaking Texas sky, the splendid paddock fountain, its landscaping, and – of course – the beautiful Dallas skyline.
Thanks for the memories, Lone Star. . . Until next time!
The final race of the 2016 Lone Star Park Thoroughbred meet