Monday, July 22, 2013
The New Mexico Racing Commission held its monthly meeting at its headquarters in Albuquerque on Thursday, July 18.
New Mexico Horse Breeders’ Association executive director Anna Fay Davis gave the commission her race-a-day report for the SunRay Park meet in Farmington, which ended its 39-day season on June 23. During the meet, the track ran 121 New Mexico-bred races – 76 for Thoroughbreds and 45 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 151 state-bred races during its 2012 meet, 106 for Thoroughbreds and 45 for Quarter Horses.
An average of 3.11 New Mexico-bred races per day were run during the 2013 SunRay meet, a decrease of 20 percent from the 3.88 state-bred races per day contested during the track's '12 season.
Also, during the 2013 SunRay Park meet, a total of 551 New Mexico-breds competed in open overnight races, of which 170 (31 percent) finished first, second, or third. Of this total, 105 were Thoroughbreds and 65 were Quarter Horses. Bonuses totaling $87,003.60 were paid to the owners of these horses.
SunRay Park will also conduct a 39-day spring meet in 2014.
Davis also reported that, during the 28 days of the Ruidoso Downs meet, which opened on May 24, a total of 99 New Mexico-bred races have been run, 67 for Thoroughbreds and 32 for Quarter Horses. By comparison, the track carded 109 state-bred races during the first 28 days of its 2012 season, 75 for Thoroughbreds and 34 for Quarter Horses.
An average of 3.54 New Mexico-bred races per day were run during the first 28 days of this year's Ruidoso meet, a decrease of 9 percent from the 3.90 state-bred races per day carded during the first 28 days of Ruidoso's 2012 season.
Also, during the first 15 days of the 2013 Ruidoso Downs meet, a total of 127 New Mexico-breds competed in open overnight races, of which 43 (34 percent) finished first, second, or third. Of this total, 22 were Thoroughbreds and 21 were Quarter Horses. Bonuses totaling $19.206 were paid to the owners of these horses.
Davis also invited members of the commission to attend the NMHBA's Zia Festival Jamboree, which features a buffet dinner, cash bar, and live music. The Jamboree will be held on Saturday, July 27, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack All American Turf Club.
Also during the meeting, commission chairman Robert Doughty III gave the industry's primary stakeholders – horsemen (including owners and trainers), breeders, jockeys, and racetracks – an opportunity to comment on the need for a sixth racino in the state. New Mexico's sixth and final racino licenses became open in May, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought forth by developer Michael Moldenhauer, who lost his state racing and gaming licenses when he failed to meet deadlines to open a planned racino in Raton.
Emphasizing that this comment period was the “first step” in the process to determine whether or not the commission will issue a sixth racino license, Doughty invited New Mexico Horse Breeders' Association representatives Mike Cadotte (president) of Peralta, New Mexico, and Anna Fay Davis (executive director) to comment on behalf of the NMHBA membership. Cadotte read from a letter, which stated that the association was in favor of a sixth license being issued if it would be to a group that was committed to increasing racing opportunities for horsemen and improving the overall state of New Mexico's racing industry.
President Eric Mikkelson of Belen, New Mexico, and board member Dick “Flaco” Cappelucci of El Paso, Texas, represented the New Mexico Horsemen's Association.
“We support a sixth track and additional opportunities to race our horses,” Mikkelson told the commission. “A more fluid racing schedule would definitely benefit our horsemen. A sixth track would help keep our horsemen here in the state, especially during the summer months, and it would help make for a better racing product.
“One group interested in building a racino here has met with us and talked to us about their plans,” he added. “We don't have a preference regarding a location, but there is a five-week gap between the end of the Sunland Park meet and the start of the Ruidoso Downs meet, and a six-week gap between the end of the SunRay Park meet and the beginning of the Albuquerque meet, and we think filling those gaps could help our racehorse owners.”
Representing the Jockeys' Guild, southwest regional manager John Beech told the commission that, while his group recognizes that gaming plays a substantial role in the economic status of New Mexico, as well as contributing to racing purses, it wants to be assured that what is in the best interests of the state's racing industry is not lost in the process.
“With regard to the possibility or the viability of a sixth (racino) license, we do think that several factors need to be considered, including the proposed facilities, the likelihood of having an adequate number of horses to fill races, and the dates of the proposed meets,” Beech said. “Given the steady decline in foal crops, this issue cannot be overlooked and must be heavily considered.
“The main focus, whether it as an existing licensee or a new licensee, should be the racing product to ensure that it is a quality product for our industry,” he added. “This includes integrity, safety for both the human and equine athletes, and promoting the sport in a favorable light.”
Also, four of New Mexico's five existing racinos combined to make one presentation to the commission, headed by Ruidoso Downs president Bruce Rimbo. In addition to Ruidoso Downs, those tracks were SunRay Park, The Downs at Albuquerque, and Sunland Park.
“At this time, we are not in favor of adding a sixth racino in New Mexico,” Rimbo said. “At this time five years ago, we didn't oppose the group in Raton being granted gaming and racing licenses, but times have changed.”
Rimbo said that the four tracks' main concern has been average field sizes, primarily in Thoroughbred races. He cited statistics obtained from the Lexington, Kentucky-based Jockey Club, which show that Thoroughbred breeders produced 25,808 foals in 2010, a drop of 25 percent from the 34,352 foals produced just three years earlier in '07. Jockey Club estimates show that 22,500 foals were produced last year.
Rimbo added that average field sizes for Thoroughbred races has fallen from 8.24 per race in 2009 to 7.89 last year. At New Mexico tracks during that same period, the average field size for Thoroughbred races has dropped from 8.47 to 7.93.
“For the first time in our state's history, average field sizes for Thoroughbred races fell to below 8 per race,” Rimbo said. “Our concern is that another license would add a 40-to-60 day meet to our calendar, and that concerns us. Where are we going to find the horses?
“Average field size is an issue all over the country – handicappers like wagering on large fields because the possibility for higher payouts are greater,” he added. “I don't think we've yet seen the bottom on this issue of field sizes.
“With these trends, our question is: How are the existing tracks going to main our current businesses when we're required to race four days a week and maintain a 60/40 (percent) split between Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses?”,Rimbo said. “It would be like giving a license to build a factory without having the natural resources necessary to manufacture a product.”
Doughty asked Rimbo if the tracks' position would change if they could cut dates from their race meets and New Mexico tracks would race close to the same number of days, but they would be divided among six tracks instead of the current five.
“That would be something we'd be willing to look at, but it's been the position of our horsemen that they don't want to see race dates at existing tracks cut,” Rimbo responded. “We'd be willing to discuss this, but the issue of more race dates in our states scares us.”
Only one track manager, Zia Park general manager Rafael Verde, spoke in favor of a sixth racino license.
Also at the meeting:
*The commission approved the following racing officials for The Downs at Albuquerque meet, which opens on August 2: state veterinarian, Dr. Steven England; stewards, Bob Allison, Ruben Rivera, and Linda Salinas.
*The commission approved changes to the stakes schedule at Zia Park, whose 2013 meet runs September 7-December 3. The changes include moving the inaugural running of the $350,000 Zia Park Oaks for Thoroughbred 3-year-old fillies from November 23 to November 24 so it doesn't conflict with the Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) at Delta Downs, and moving several Quarter Horse stakes, including the 440-yard, $150,000 Zia Park Championship (G1) from November 24 to November 23.
The Zia Park Championship is a qualifying race for the 440-yard, $750,000 Champion of Champions (G1) at Los Alamitos in December.
“We think moving the Zia Park Championship to one day earlier will help the winner of the race,” said Zia Park director of racing Fred Hutton. “It will give the winner one additional day to prep for the Champion of Champions.”
*The commission approved Ruidoso Downs' request to run this year's All American Futurity (G1) on two days, August 15-16. The All American Derby (G1) trials, originally scheduled for August 16, will be run the following day.
*The commission also approved Ruidoso Downs' request to add a race date to 2014 so that the track can run its Ruidoso Futurity (G1) trials during a two-day period. As such, the 2014 Ruidoso Downs meet will open on Thursday, May 22.
*The commission approved several rules changes. For additional details, contact the commission office in Albuquerque at (505) 222-0700, or visit the commission's website at www.nmrc.state.nm.us.
The next regular monthly commission meeting will be held on Thursday, August 22, 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.