Friday, August 24, 2012
The New Mexico Racing Commission held its monthly meeting at its headquarters in Albuquerque on Thursday, August 23.
New Mexico Horse Breeders’ Association executive director Anna Fay Davis gave the commission her race-a-day reports for Ruidoso Downs, which opened its 61-day meet on May 25, and The Downs at Albuquerque, which began its 54-day season on August 10. During the first 48 days of Ruidoso's season, the track ran 195 New Mexico-bred races – 127 for Thoroughbreds and 68 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 203 state-bred races during the first 50 days of its 2011 meet, 133 for Thoroughbreds and 70 for Quarter Horses.
An average of 4.07 New Mexico-bred races per day have been run during the first 48 days of Ruidoso Downs' meet, which represents an slight increase over the average of 4.06 state-bred races per day contested during the first 50 days of the track's 2011 season.
Also, during the first 40 days of the Ruidoso meet, a total of 319 New Mexico-breds competed in open overnight races, of which 92 (29 percent) finished first, second, or third. Of this total, 55 were Thoroughbreds and 37 were Quarter Horses. Bonuses totaling $36,750.70 were paid to the owners of these horses.
Ruidoso Downs' meet runs through Labor Day, September 3.
Meanwhile, The Downs at Albuquerque ran 23 New Mexico-bred races during the first six days of its meet, 12 for Thoroughbreds and 11 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 32 state-bred races – 16 for Thoroughbreds and 16 for Quarter Horses – during the first six days of its 2011 season.
An average of 3.84 New Mexico-bred races per day have been contested during the first six days of the Albuquerque meet, which represents a 28-percent increase over the average of 5.34 state-bred races per day run during the first six days of the track's 2011 season. The main reason for this substantial decrease is that the track's Lineage Day program, which features 11 races for state-bred Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, was run a week earlier last year.
Also, during the entire 42-day meet at SunRay Park, which ended on June 26, a total of 456 New Mexico-breds competed in open overnight races, of which 141 (31 percent) finished first, second, or third . Of this total, 76 were Thoroughbreds and 65 were Quarter Horses. Bonuses totaling $93,908.60 were paid to the owners of these horses.
Davis also cited the accomplishments of PJ Chick In Black, an undefeated 2-year-old registered New Mexico-bred who on August 16 set the fastest qualifying time for the 440-yard, $2.4-million All American Futurity (G1) at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day. She also invited everyone at the meeting to attend Sunday's 11-race Lineage Day program at The Downs at Albuquerque.
Commissioner Gayla McCulloch of Farmington discussed the NMRC's special racing industry task force, which held a meeting earlier this week. She said there are several things the task force would like see included in racing-related legislation recently proposed by State Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Dona Ana County), including strengthening drug-related penalties to include criminal sanctions and allowing the monetary proceeds from fines to go directly to drug testing and enforcement.
McCullouch also said that an economic impact study on the state's horse racing industry, headed by Dr. Mark Wise of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, is expected to be completed some time in September, and that – pending approval by the state Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) – a fee of $5 will be imposed on every starter during the upcoming Zia Park meet, with the funds going to drug testing.
“Last year, there were 22,540 starts at Zia Park, and if there are that many this year, that would mean that $122,700 would be available for drug testing,” McCulloch said. “We just need to get approval from the LFC to allow that money to go to drug testing instead of to the state's general fund.”
In addition, McCulloch discussed Zia Park's horsemen's guide, a booklet which sets a code of ethical conduct for horsemen racing at the track and their employees, and she added that the task force will be working with New Mexico Horsemen's Association executive director Jack McGrail on a public relations campaign to counteract the negative mainstream publicity the state's racing industry has seen this year.
“We don't know if we're going to be able to get any of our stories published, but we're certainly going to try,” McCulloch said.
Commission vice chair Beverly Bourguet discussed her inspection at Zia Park in Hobbs, whose 54-day meet runs September 8-December 4. She said that longtime New Mexico-based track superintendent Tony Martinez has been working with Zia Park management to ensure a safe racing surface.
“I was pleased to see how up to date the jocks' room and other facilities are,” Bourguet added.
In his monthly report to the NMRC, McGrail said that he is looking forward to working with the commission on helping to improve public perception of New Mexico's horse racing industry.
“We need to let the public know that the commission is trying to clean things up in this state, and that the horsemen support what the commission is trying to do,” McGrail said. “Our belief, as horsemen, is that the media hasn't been accurately portraying the fact that the vast majority of horsemen are not doping their horses.”
Regarding The Downs at Albuquerque, whose meet runs through November 4, McGrail said he is pleased with the condition of the racing surface. However, he did express concern about the delays in the construction of the track's new casino.
“I would like to ask the commission to request that Downs management give us a progress report on the new casino at next month's meeting,” McGrail said. “We've been pleased that the track is doing more than it did last year to promote the Lineage Day races – I've heard ads on the radio, there was a golf tournament the other day, and a post-position draw luncheon today – but going forward, we do need a new casino and the additional purse revenue we will get from it.”
Also at the commission meeting:
The commission approved the appointment of Kenneth Hart, David Keiter and Ed L'Ecuyer as stewards at Zia Park.
The commission announced that Ruidoso Downs management has withdrawn its request to conduct an all-Quarter Horse meet, and The Downs at Albuquerque management has withdrawn its request to conduct an all-Thoroughbred meet, in 2013. However, both Ruidoso Downs general manager Shaun Hubbard and Downs at Albuquerque general manager Don Cook said that they would like to address the issue further for 2014.
Zia Park assistant general manager Rick Baugh announced a 5-percent purse increase, effective opening day. Baugh also said the track has reached an agreement with the NMHA to run 56-day meets from 2013-15. In addition, the commission also approved the track's wagering format and the appointment of Tony Dominguez to serve as the upcoming meet's paddock judge and identifier.
Hubbard told the commission that field sizes at Ruidoso Downs have dropped substantially since The Downs at Albuquerque meet opened on August 10. He also said that Ed Burgart, longtime track announcer at Los Alamitos Racecourse in California, would work as guest racecaller at Ruidoso during Labor Day weekend.
The commission set the 2013 race dates for four of New Mexico's five tracks. SunRay Park will conduct a 39-day meet during the spring, while The Downs at Albuquerque will run a 57-day season that will include a 17-day New Mexico State Fair meet in September. Ruidoso Downs' 2013 season will run from May 24-September 2 and be followed by a 56-day meet at Zia Park opening September 7.
Earlier this year, the commission approved a 76-day meet for Sunland Park, which will run from December 7, 2012-April 16, 2013.
Citing competition from the nearby Northern Edge Navajo Casino, which opened in January, SunRay Park management – led by chief executive officer Byron Campbell and chief operations officer Brad Boehm – originally lobbied the commission for a 32 day season, which would have been 10 days shorter than this year's 42-day meet. The NMHA had requested a 44-day season.
“Unfortunately, we're dealing with extreme financial weakness right now,” Boehm told the commission, adding that SunRay Park's gaming revenues were down 40 percent so far this year. “And unfortunately, the trend line for the future doesn't look good.”
McGrail, representing the NMHA, said that with a purse fund of about $4 million projected for 2013, SunRay Park should be able to sustain a 44-day meet.
“With that kind of money available, we'd be running for about $91,000 a day during a 44-day meet, and those are good numbers compared to what we're running for now at Albuquerque and Ruidoso,” McGrail said. He added that a shorter meet at SunRay would make it difficult for horsemen to financially justify the expenses of shipping their horses to the track.
The next regular monthly commission meeting will be held on Thursday, September 13, at commission headquarters in Albuquerque. The executive session will begin at 8:30 a.m. and will be followed by the public session at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit the commission's website at www.nmrc.state.nm.us, or call (505) 222-0700.