11/30/2005 1:00AM

Day 1, and purses are already up


Sunland Park's slot machines have been hard at work, and their expanded hours of operation have pushed purses to a record $241,500 per day for the track's 79-date meet, which will open on Friday in Sunland Park, N.M., just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Officials on Wednesday announced purses would be boosted by 15 percent from the previously budgeted $210,000. The increase is one of several significant changes in place for the mixed meet, for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.

Sunland, which before installing its 700 slot machines once paid out purses of $30,000 a day, can operate its casino for about four hours a day longer than it was able to during its last meet, which ended in April.

"As of July 1, there was a bill that expanded casino hours that gave us basically four hours a day more," said Harold Payne, general manager of Sunland. "We picked up an hour after midnight, and a couple of hours in the morning, and it has made quite a difference."

Sunland will race on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays. Sunland will offer a straight Quarter Horse card on Fridays, which is reflected opening day, and the program will be restricted to Thoroughbreds on Tuesdays.

According to handle figures, Tuesday has been the most successful day of the week for Sunland, said Payne. To build on that, the track will be running some stakes on Tuesdays. There is scheduled to be a mandatory payout every Tuesday on any carryover accrued on the tri-super, which will be offered daily on race 8 and 9.

The first half of the $1 tri-super requires patrons to pick the trifecta in the eighth. The second half requires picking the superfecta in the ninth. For every correct trifecta combination, patrons will get five exchanges.

Heading the stakes schedule this meet is the WinStar Derby, which is the richest race of the season. It has been boosted in value from $500,000 to $600,000 for its fourth running April 1. The 1 1/8-mile race will be televised live on ESPN, and it will share a program with the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks.

Last year, when Thor's Echo won the WinStar Derby, the track set a record for attendance, of 15,333.

Other highlights of a stakes schedule, which includes 30 races worth at least $100,000, include the $400,000 Championship for Quarter Horses on Dec. 30, and the $175,000 Riley Allison Futurity at 6 1/2 furlongs on Dec. 31.

At a glance: Sunland Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 79 days; Friday through April 16. Racing on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday, except the week of Christmas when the track will race Tuesday, Dec. 20 through Friday, Dec. 23 and be dark on Dec. 24-25.

POST TIME: 12:15 p.m. Mountain through Feb. 12, then 12:55 p.m. from Feb. 14 through April 16.

HIGHLIGHTS: The $600,000 WinStar Derby and $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks on April 1; the $400,000 Championship for Quarter Horses, sponsored by FastFunds, on Dec. 30; and the $175,000 Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 31.

ADMISSIONS: General admission in the grandstand and turf club is free

PARKING: General and valet is free



ADDRESS: 1200 Futurity Dr., Sunland Park, N.M.; located just south of 1-10, about 10 minutes west of downtown El Paso, Texas.

PHONE: (505) 874-5200

INTERNET: www.sunland-park.com