Blog: Racing at the Spa

Darrell Hare: Quarter Horse racing’s South Texas “spa.”

July 23, 2012

Q Racing Blog

There are probably some readers who believe that I am referring to horse racing at Saratoga Race Course (which is often referred to as “the Spa” because of its proximity to some mineral springs) located in Saratoga Springs, New York.  However, I am actually referring to the horse races at Gillespie Co. Fair in Fredericksburg, Texas, where it was a humid 99 degrees this weekend, making it feel like being in a spa.

Before I comment on the races at Gillespie, there are several other notable similarities I would like to mention. Saratoga Race Course likes to brag that it is the oldest race meet in this country because it is running its 149th consecutive race meet this year. Well, the Gillespie Co. Fair Meet is running its 124th race meet this year which is the longest running county fair in this country. Given the fact that New York has been a state for 224 years, compared to 167 years for Texas, I’m not that impressed with Saratoga’s claim to fame. (Read more about Gillespie in the newest issue of the Q-Racing Journal.)

Saratoga, where every day has a Kentucky Derby-day atmosphere, draws its fun-loving crowds, including ladies with big hats, from the state capital Albany, Buffalo, New York City and other big Eastern cities. Gillespie, where every day has an All American-day atmosphere, draws its big fun-loving crowds, including men with big hats, from the state capital Austin, San Antonio, Llano, Johnson City and Luchenbach (yes, where Willie, Waylon and the Boys once frequented).

The food, beverage and fun is abundant at both venues, however there is no comparison to the pure enjoyment of tasting a mix of the German, BBQ and Tex-Mex food while listening and either doing a polka or two-step to the Oom-pah tuba band or fiddles playing Maiden Prayer and Faded Love during the German-Texas “Night in Old Fredericksburg” celebration at the outdoor Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg. Even though this meet is licensed as a Class 3 Texas racetrack, it should be ranked as a Class 1 in fan enjoyment and attendance. Despite the humidity and heat, the large crowds really enjoyed themselves. The concession and betting lines were always long, but everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves regardless. I overheard people staying at the hotel, in restaurants and elsewhere talking about the horse races. It is really a big deal to these folks.

Saturday’s card featured six trials for a “79 and under SI” Futurity and the finals for the $39,300 TQHA Texas bred Futurity, which was won by Reyes Vasquez’s Spit Curl Jesse. There were also four Thoroughbred races, including a $13,000 Texas Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes (eat your heart out Saratoga Spa fans).

It was another hot and humid day in Fredericksburg on Sunday, but a great day for racing at the Gillespie Co. Fair where a total of 12 races (eight for Quarter Horses) were highlighted by the $16,926 Maiden Challenge Final, which was the feature race of the day. Ms Marshall Lewis, a 3-year-old filly by Moon Shake with 14 previous starts picked a good race to break her maiden for owner Stronjai Martin-Lewis of San Antonio, plus she rewarded her backers with a $31.40 payoff to win. Ms. Lewis, the owner, was unable to be at the races, but she was well represented by a number of family members and friends who were all very, very happy. One of the more enjoyable aspects of attending Challenge races and being present for the trophy presentation and winner’s circle picture is to experience the excitement and joy that a win brings to the connections. This was no exception.

The Maiden Challenge feature was followed by the “Dutchman Handicap,” a conditioned handicap for 3-year-old and older Quarter Horses won by another Moon Shake filly, which paid $35 for the win. It was certainly a “Moon Shake” kind of day in these two races.

I was able to visit with several horsemen and, as usual, they are all very supportive and appreciative of the Challenge program and how we continue to expand racing opportunities for their Challenge horses. I also had a good visit with Racing Secretary Sammy Burton, who said the Hill Country Dash Bonus Challenge race was one of the best fields of older Quarter Horses ever to race at this track. It is very rewarding to hear how important the Challenge program is to so many horsemen.

I will be attending the TQHA Yearling Sale at San Antonio this next weekend, so if you are at the sale, be sure to attend the free Cooper’s BBQ dinner on Thursday evening, hosted by the Bank of America Racing Challenge, and stop by the AQHA booth to register for a $300 Challenge voucher. There will be four free vouchers drawn each day of the sale for AQHA members. Also, as a reminder, bring your AQHA paper work (memberships, registrations, Challenge enrollments, transfers, etc.) by the AQHA booth so it can be processed while you wait.

In closing, attending races at the Saratoga “Spa” is certainly a grand experience, but for me, it doesn’t compare to the atmosphere and overall fun of attending a great little race meet in the Hill Country of Texas.

Darrell Hare
Director of Racing Challenge