Sunland track to offer $18.5 million in purses ©


By Ray Sanchez


It was a disappointing summer this year at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Simulcast wagering on horse racing, like at other racetracks around the country, was way down in comparison to the previous summer. In fact, there was only one day throughout the summer and fall that Sunland simulcast wagering was up. That was on Breeders Cup day.


The reason for the drop, of course, is the poor state of the U.S. economy. But Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino general manager Harold Payne thinks thereís a good chance wagering will be better during live racing which will resume Friday, Dec. 11, at the upper valley track.


"We are hopeful and optimistic that the economy will start showing more signs of recovery in early 2010 and people will return to spending on entertainment and events like ours,Ē he said.


Sunlandís 2009-2010 live season will consist of 77 racing days and continue generally on a four days a week basis through April 20. Live racing will be held on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for most of the season. Racing on Wednesday, Dec. 23, and Wednesday, Feb. 17, will be the only exceptions. There will be no live racing on

Friday, Dec. 25 (Christmas). First post time to start the season will be 12:25 p.m.


Despite the slump in business, a healthy total of $18.5 million in purses will be up for grabs during the 77 days. Thatís more than an average of $230,000 per day.

Highlight of the meet will be the Sunland Derby. Word is expected any day as to whether it will be graded. If it is, the Sunland Derby will carry a purse of $800,000. Itís scheduled for Sunday, March 28.Kelly Leak won last yearís event. Another entry, Mine That Bird, finished fourth then went on to win the Kentucky Derby and place in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.


ďWeíre proud of Mine That Birdís accomplishments and all of the horses that ran in the Sunland Derby and believe we have a strong case to be graded for our eighth running in March,Ē Director of Racing Dustin Dix says.


All in all, Sunland publicity director Eric Alwan points out, the track will have 30 stakes races worth $100,000 or more. That includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, the $100,000-added Harry Henson Handicap, the $100,000 guaranteed New Mexico Breeders' Derby, the $100,000 guaranteed New Mexico Breedersí Oaks and the $125,000 guaranteed La Coneja Stakes.


The ninth running of the $350,000 Grade 1 Championship will take place on Saturday, Dec. 26. Three-time world record holder First Moonflash finished first in last yearís championship  The $100,000-added Riley Allison Futurity traditionally lures top two-year-old thoroughbred talent. The 6 and 1/2 furlong feature will be run on Tuesday, Dec. 30. There will be no trials. Preference will be made by lifetime earnings.

New Mexico-bred thoroughbreds run for $125,000 guaranteed pots in the Johnie L. Jamison Stakes and the New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap on Sunday, Dec. 13; the Enchantress Stakes on Sunday, Dec. 20; the Red Hedeman Mile on Saturday, Dec. 26; the La Senora Handicap on Saturday, Jan.16; the Pepsi Cola Handicap on Saturday, Jan. 23, and the New Mexico State University Stakes on Saturday, March 21.


New Mexico-bred quarter horses compete for $125,000 in the Jess Burner Memorial Handicap on Dec. 12, the Challenger Six Handicap at 870 yards on Dec. 19, the Lou Wooten Handicap on Dec. 20 and the NMHBA Quarter Horse Stakes on Feb. 21. Foals of 2007 compete in the $300,000 estimated Shue Fly Stakes at 400 yards on Jan. 2, 2010.


On Saturday, Feb. 27, the $100,000 Borderland Derby serves as an excellent prep for the Sunland Derby. The distance is 1 and 1/16 miles. Scorewithcater outlasted a game Mine That Bird in last seasonís Borderland Derby. 

The $110,000-added Bank of America New Mexico Challenge at 440 yards and the $300,000 estimated New Mexican Spring Futurity (restricted Grade 1) at 300 yards will both be run on Sunday, April 11.  Headlining the final weekend will be the prestigious $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap at a mile and an eighth on Sunday, April 18.