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Report from January 2013 NM Racing Commission Meeting
RSS Feeds Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The New Mexico Racing Commission held its first monthly meeting of the new year at its headquarters in Albuquerque on Wednesday, January 16.

New Mexico Horse Breeders’ Association executive director Anna Fay Davis gave the commission her final race-a-day report for Zia Park, which ended its 2012 meet on December 4. During the 54-day meet, Zia Park ran 292 New Mexico-bred races – 200 for Thoroughbreds and 92 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 269 state-bred races during its 50-day season in 2011, 193 for Thoroughbreds and 76 for Quarter Horses.

An average of 5.41 New Mexico-bred races per day were run during the 2012 Zia Park meet, which represents a slight increase of one-half of one percent from the average of 5.38 state-bred races per day contested in 2011.

Also during the Zia Park meet, a total of 321 New Mexico-breds competed in open overnight races, of which 84 (27 percent) finished first, second, or third. Of this total, seven were Thoroughbreds and 77 were Quarter Horses. Bonuses totaling $90,978.90 were paid to the owners of these horses.

Meanwhile, Sunland Park Racetrack has run 97 New Mexico-bred races during the first 20 days of its 2012-13 meet, 70 for Thoroughbreds and 27 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 114 state-bred races – 78 for Thoroughbreds and 36 for Quarter Horses – during the first 23 days of its 2011-12 season.

An average of 4.85 New Mexico-bred races per day have been contested during the first 20 days of the current Sunland Park meet, a decrease of 2 percent from the 4.96 average during the first 23 days of the track's 2011-12 season.
The 76-day Sunland Park meet opened December 7 and runs through April 16.

Davis also told the commission that the NMHBA will be giving away pink-colored tote bags during “Race to Whip Cancer” day at Sunland Park on February 16, and she invited the commissioners to attend the association's annual meeting and Zia Awards banquet at the Albuquerque Marriott Uptown Hotel on January 24.

In his monthly report to the commission, New Mexico Horsemen's Association executive director Jack McGrail discussed conditions during the Zia Park meet, as well as events concerning The Downs at Albuquerque and SunRay Park.

“On balance, the Zia Park meet was a success – the wagering handle on the races was about the same as it was in 2011, and the purses were up from an average of $250,000 a day to about $263,000 a day,” McGrail said. “Regarding the track surface, the consensus among the horsemen was that it was improved over the previous year. We don't feel it was up to the caliber it should be, but it was an improvement.

“The involvement of (track maintenance expert) Tony Martinez was instrumental in the improvement,” McGrail added. “Going forward, Tony has told me that he plans to draft a written summary, and he will be distributing it to the commission and all interested parties.”

Commission chairman Robert Doughty III said that he would like to meet with representatives of the NMHA and Zia Park to discuss the track surface situation after the current 60-day New Mexico legislative session ends in March.

Regarding SunRay Park, which opens its 39-day meet on April 19, McGrail said that track director of racing Lonnie Barber told him that he expects purses to average between $80,000-$85,000 a day.

“Hopefully, gaming will be up this winter, and that will give (the purses) a boost,” McGrail added.

McGrail also discussed the agreement that was reached between the NMHA and Expo New Mexico and The Downs at Albuquerque to allow off-season stabling and training at the track.

“There are about 150 horses at the track now, and in February, when the 2-year-olds start training, there will hopefully be more horses stabled and training there,” McGrail said. “The Downs was not required to keep the track open for off-season training, but horsemen in northern New Mexico need a facility to train at year-round, and they understand the need for this.

“Also, The Downs' new casino is on track for a May or June opening,” he added “We need the revenues a new casino will generate to help our purse situation this year. Because of the decline in revenue from the current casino, we owe about back $490,000 to the track from a purse overpayment from 2012.

“When the new casino gets going, we're hopeful we can cut into that deficit and keep purses for 2013 at least where they were last year,” McGrail continued. “The following year would be when we could increase purses significantly.”

McGrail also discussed the possibility of future night racing at The Downs at Albuquerque, as well as the recently announced retirement of Harold Payne as Sunland Park general manager. McGrail said that the NMHA membership is in favor of anything that would increase on- and off-track handle on The Downs' live races.

“Racing at night would be a bit of a hardship on the horsemen, but we're open to it,” he added. “Anything that would increase the racing side of revenues is something we need to look at.”

Payne's resignation is effective the end of the day on March 31. He will be replaced by Rick Baugh, the current assistant general manager at Zia Park, who will take over the reins on April 1.

“Of course, Harold was concerned about making money for his bosses, but he never lost sight of the fact that Sunland Park was a racetrack that conducted live racing,” McGrail said. “If the racing surface needed to be refurbished, or if work was needed on the barn area, he took care of it. He made sure the racing side of the business wasn't overshadowed by the gaming side. We appreciated the manner in which he represented Sunland Park, but New Mexico racing.”

Also regarding Sunland Park, director of racing operations Dustin Dix told the commission that management has closed its Ventana Buffet and replaced it with a full-service restaurant with a sports-bar theme. Dix also said that Sunland's wagering handle is down 16 percent – 12 percent on-track and 17 percent off-track – from the same time during the 2011-12 meet, and he added that gaming revenue for purses has declined by about $200,000 a month.

As a result, the commission approved Sunland Park's request to cut purses for trial races from $10,000 to $8,500 per race. This cut would affect the trials for the West Texas Maturity (QH) on February 8, the West Texas Derby (QH) on March 8, the New Mexican Spring Futurity (QH) on March 15, and both divisions of the Copper Top Futurity for Thoroughbreds on March 19.

The commission also approved Sunland Park's request to change its post time to 1 p.m. (MST), starting February 19.

The next regular monthly commission meeting will be held on Thursday, February 21, at the 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.


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