09/10/2008 11:00PM

Meet could witness history


Peppers Pride is on the grounds at Zia Park, and her bid for history should come during the course of a 53-date mixed meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses at the Hobbs, N.M., track, which opens on Saturday. She is seeking to set a North American mark for consecutive wins, 17, and the opportunity to do so could come within the next month.

Peppers Pride had been set to go for the record twice at Ruidoso Downs, but rains stopped both attempts. So, her next start will be her record bid, and trainer Joel Marr said on Thursday he would like for Peppers Pride to race once before her major stakes objective at Zia, a defense of her title in the $170,000 New Mexico Cup Filly and Mare Championship on Nov. 9. Rick Baugh, the assistant general manager at Zia, said there will be two allowance races offered early in the meet for which Peppers Pride is eligible.

"If Joel wants to get an allowance race in her prior to New Mexico Cup Day, then we'll do our best to accommodate him," said Baugh. "We're just kind of waiting to hear from him. We hope that she races here twice, at least. We hope she breaks the record here."

Zia is just four years old, but already it has made some noise. It opened in 2005 with one of the richest statebred card of stakes in the country, New Mexico Cup Day. A year later, Rocky Gulch became the first New Mexico-bred Thorough-bred to hit $1 million in earnings when he won the Classic on New Mexico Cup Day.

Penn Gaming purchased Zia for $200 million in 2007, and things have continued to hum right along. Zia is set to offer a record $300,000 a day in purses this meet, which will run through Dec. 9. That figure is up from $260,000 a day last year, said Baugh, an increase owed in large part to the success of a 750-machine slots casino at Zia.

"Our purse revenue from the slot machines has increased by 15 percent," said Baugh.

Peppers Pride and Heartswide-open, who is seeking to become the all-time richest Quarter Horse, are the most prominent members of the Zia backstretch. Baugh said most of the track's 1,650 stalls were filled as of Wednesday. Zia and the Downs at Albuquerque have overlapping meets this year.

"With the overlap, I'm extremely pleased we've already got 1,400 horses on the grounds," said Baugh.

In other changes, Zia plans to send its races into Canada beginning the second week of the meet, and will offer net-pool pricing, said Baugh. The track is also renovating its infield, and will add a lake after the meet closes. Mike Shamburg is the new director of racing and racing secretary, and Baugh said he is pleased with the depth of the field the racing office has put together for the first major stakes, the the $150,000 Premier Breeders' Cup at six furlongs on Sunday.

The Premier is part of a $4.5 million stakes program. Among the top races for Quarter Horses are the Grade 1, $250,000 Southwest Juvenile Championship. The richest day of the meet is Nov. 9, when 11 divisional New Mexico-bred stakes worth an estimated $2 million make up the New Mexico Cup Day.

Baugh looks for attendance on that program and other big stakes days to continue to grow at Zia, which is located six miles from the New Mexico-Texas border region that was chronicled in the high-school football movie Friday Night Lights.

"It's a sporting event population, and they're just now starting to get into it really well here," said Baugh.

Trainer Henry Dominguez and jockey Ken Tohill are back to defend their Thoroughbred titles, while trainer Wes Giles and Freddie Martinez led their categories last year with Quarter Horses.