05/20/2009 12:00AM

17 trial races on Ruidoso opening card


Ruidoso Downs will jump into its mixed meet on Friday with 17 trial races for the Grade 1, $500,000 Ruidoso Futurity for Quarter Horses. The stakes is one of three major 2-year-old races at the meet, along with the $625,000 Rainbow and $2 million All American Futurity. The rich series has long made the 62-year-old track a mecca for top Quarter Horses as well as a summer tradition in the mountain-top town of Ruidoso Downs, N.M.

"When you mention horse racing here, people's eyes light up," said Ann McGovern, president and general manager of Ruidoso Downs.

The track will race 63 dates through Sept. 7, with its cards made up of races for both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. The closing-day All American Futurity is the richest race available to Quarter Horses. A first look at some of those striving for that ultimate goal will come Friday in the Ruidoso Futurity trials, which have drawn Grade 1 winners Varsity Girl and Gbh Steppin Johnny, as well as promising youngsters from such top trainers as Paul Jones, Heath Taylor, and John Bassett.

Bassett, who twice has won the All-American, has returned to Ruidoso after racing in Southern California. He is part of a barn area that includes such noted trainers as John Buchanan, Henry Dominguez, Carl Draper, and Blane Wood. Chip Woolley, who sent out Mine That Bird to upset the Kentucky Derby, has a 15-horse division on the grounds, said McGovern.

Jockeys returning for the meet will be greeted by new locker-room quarters, the facilities rebuilt in the off-season after a flood hit Ruidoso last July. There is also new artificial turf in the paddock area. Ruidoso, which has an ontrack casino of 300 slot machines, begins its meet during tough economic times, but there are reasons to be optimistic for the new season, said McGovern.

"Our simulcast numbers are up a little bit over last year. Our casino numbers are trending up, and the fact that we have 17 trials for opening day, these are all positive factors," she said.

The Ruidoso Futurity finale will be run on June 7, while the Rainbow finale is set for Julyo19. Other top programs include trials for the All American Futurity on Aug. 20, and the Zia Festival of 11 stakes for Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds on July 26. All told, the meet offers 21 stakes for Quarter Horses and another 16 stakes for Thoroughbreds.

Saturday, there will be trials for the Grade 1, $310,000 Ruidoso Derby for Quarter Horses.