Photo: Jerry Baker, Houston Chronicle / Contributor
Whether it’s grabbing a 50-cent beer and watching a horse race, spending family night out enjoying camel races, or taking a date to the circus, Sam Houston Race Park has offered a variety of entertainment options in northwest Houston for the past two-and-a-half decades.
Sam Houston Race Park, a race park an entertainment venue, will officially turn 25 years old on April 29, but the plans to celebrate during the weekend of Jan. 25. A drawing to win $25,000 will be held on Jan. 27.
General Manager Dwight Berube, who has been with the race park since it opened in 1994, said the race park has evolved into a location for entertaining all ages. Sam Houston Race Park not only hosts horse races, but several entertainment acts like the music festival JMBLYA, musician Willie Nelson and, currently, Cirque Du Soleil’s “Luzia,” playing through Feb. 24.
“Through the years we’ve had a lot of great horse racing,” he said. “Live horse racing and simulcasting, that’s our core business. To take advantage of our property and our assets, we’re a total entertainment facility. It evolved into that.”
The venue includes a large dirt track and a smaller grass turf track within that hosts races from January to May, as well as a large parking lot for events. A tunnel from the outside leads to the inner grass turf track for events like concerts. Berube said the race park has attracted a variety of crowds from the hardcore horse racers to the casual families.
“There’s definitely the family crowd and they’re here to have a good time,” he said. “There’s the couples crowd, not kids, couples in their 20s and 30s looking for a night out. And then there’s also the guy who is much more serious about horse racing. They all exist.”
The inside of Sam Houston Race Park is also divided into areas for all level of players. The building includes not only the lobby with and vendors, but a premium Players’ Lounge for dedicated players to reserve by the seat, counter seats box seats at the finish line, and premium luxury suites on the top floor. Luxury suites can host 15 to 100 people depending on the size, Berube said.
“[The Players’ Lounge is] where a more serious player would come,” he said. “This isn’t where the kids and the 50-cent beer guys come. This is for the more serious players who have their own booth with their own TV.”
Although Sam Houston Race Park draws large crowds during race season, the race park is hindered by the inability to have gambling features, like slot machines, on site. Berube said he is hoping legislation on gambling will change in Texas, allowing the race park to increase the size of race winnings and attract more visitors.
“All of the neighboring states have casinos or slot machines at their race tracks,” he said. “Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, all of them. Of course their casinos are often right across the border. You go there and 95 percent of the cars in the parking lot have Texas plates.”
Nevertheless, Berube said, Sam Houston Race Park has developed a loyal client and employee base. Although live races are only held for a portion of the year, simulcasts of races around the country are streamed on screens inside and allow fans to bet on and watch their favorite races. During his time at the race park, Berube said he has come to know regular customers, who consistently visit to watch races and longtime employees alike.
“I know almost everybody by name,” he said. “A lot of them are regulars that sit in their seat every day. I’ve only got maybe 15 [employees] that go back to 1994, but I have a lot of 20-year people.”
One of the park’s crowd-pleasers is camel and ostrich racing, which are scheduled this year for March 15 and 16. He said the breeder takes the animals to other race parks around the country, drawing large crowds. These exotic races serve as entertaining diversions during race nights, Berube said.
The variety of dining options at the race park include the Winner’s Circle Restaurant, a buffet style experience hosted on the weekends, as well as the Jockey Club, which offers pasta, brunch, seafood, and carving stations for paying members. Sam Houston Race Park also serves 50-cent beers every Friday.
For more information, visit the website for Sam Houston Race Park.