05/25/2005 12:00AM

Futurities the focus at Ruidoso

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Ruidoso Downs' signature theme of Grade 1 futurities will be evident on opening day Friday, with Grade 1 West Texas Futurity winner Leading Spirit starting in the second of 17 trials to the Grade 1, $400,000 Ruidoso Futurity.

The 60-day Ruidoso season runs on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule, with Mondays added on Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day.

The 17 trials will start with the 1 p.m. Mountain first post and are expected to conclude by 7:45 p.m.

The 10 fastest qualifiers from Friday's trials are eligible for the 350-yard Ruidoso Futurity on June 12.

The Ruidoso Futurity is the first of the three prominent Grade 1 futurities held at the New Mexico mountain track. The $800,000 Rainbow Futurity will be held on July 24, and the $2 million All American Futurity is the traditional closing-day race on Labor Day, Sept. 5.

The derby counterparts to the three major futurities are among Quarter Horse racing's most prestigious derbies. The $250,000 Ruidoso Derby starts the Grade 1 derby series on June 12, the $500,000 Rainbow Derby is July 23, and the $800,000 All American Derby takes place Sept. 4.

These six races dominate the Quarter Horse stakes schedule, which is projected to approach $6 million. The majority of the purse funds come from owners paying nominating and sustaining fees. For example, the $2 million All American Futurity has $50,000 in added money.

"This meet is always known for the 2-year-olds," said racing secretary Rob Junk.

Leading Spirit, undefeated in three starts, will be one of the strong favorites to reach the Ruidoso Futurity finals. He moved to the top of the juvenile division with his three-quarter-length victory in the West Texas Futurity as the 4-5 favorite. He raced the 300 yards over the quick Sunland Park surface in 14.92 seconds, the fastest time ever by a juvenile and just 0.01 second off the world record set by Taking Risks at Sunland Park in 1998.

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Brooks, winner of eight All American Futurities, will saddle Grade 2 Remington Park Futurity winner Crater Lake in the eighth trial. He won that futurity by one length and is a perfect 2 for 2.

Deep Jones barn in Gold Rush

The Paul Jones stable is the dominant force in the Grade 3, $74,750 Gold Rush Derby on Friday night at Los Alamitos with the top two qualifiers, Takin Cash Bac and A Dash of Gandora.

These two promising 870-yard stakes horses form the nucleus of Jones's distance division along with Prankster CF, undefeated at 870 yards with four consecutive stakes wins.

Takin Cash Bac and A Dash of Gandora are not in the same class as Prankster CF, but a win in the Gold Rush Derby would be a step into the upper echelon of the nation's distance ranks.

Takin Cash Bac improved his record to three wins from three starts at 870 yards with a gate-to-wire, 3 1/2-length victory in his Gold Rush Derby trial on May 5. His time of 44.880 seconds was a dominating 0.59 second faster than A Dash of Gandora's second-fastest qualifying mark of 45.470.

Takin Cash Bac won the first of three trials, and A Dash of Gandora took the third trial.

Graded stakes changes for 2006

Minimum purse requirements for ograded stakes will go into effect for 2006, as recommended by the American Quarter Horse Association's graded stakes subcommittee and finalized by the AQHA executive committee.

Those minimum purse requirements for Grade 1 status are $250,000 for a 2-year-old stakes, $150,000 for a 3-year-old stakes, and $100,000 for an older horse stakes. There are also purse requirements, at lower levels, for Grade 2 and Grade 3 stakes.