06/23/2016 1:26PM

Meet opens with focus on nighttime racing


The Downs at Albuquerque will open a 60-date mixed meet Saturday night with an expanded, $2.3 million stakes schedule that includes a new $350,000 race for Quarter Horses and a richer version of its signature offering for Thoroughbreds. The season runs through Sept. 25.

In another major change, the track will race nights most Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at this meet, with first post for the opener set for 6:05 Mountain. There will be day racing on Sundays.

The inaugural $350,000 La Fiesta Futurity will anchor a card of four stakes worth a total of $1 million on the final card of the meet. The 400-yard race is the richest of 20 stakes scheduled for the meet. It will share a card with the $200,000 New Mexico State Fair Thoroughbred Futurity, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds bred in New Mexico. The $250,000 Downs at Albuquerque Fall Quarter Horse Championship is part of the same program, and its winner will earn a berth in the $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park.

The $175,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap is the centerpiece of the meet’s 12 stakes offerings for Thoroughbreds. The race for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles will be run Aug. 6. Other races of note include the $50,000 Charles Taylor Derby at a mile July 16 and the $125,000 Casino at the Downs Derby, a 6 1/2-furlong race for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds on Sept. 4.

“We’re pleased with the quality and variety of our 2016 stakes schedule,” Don Cook, director of racing for The Downs at Albuquerque, said in a release. “We’ve added $50,000 to the purse of our Fall Quarter Horse Championship and $25,000 to our Downs at Albuquerque Handicap for Thoroughbreds. Our goal is to eventually get these races graded.”

Cook said purses are projected to average $170,000 a program.

In the opening-night feature, Atillas Gift will attempt to win his second straight stakes race in the $60,000 O.D. McDonald. The seven-furlong sprint is restricted to 3-year-olds and up bred in New Mexico. Atillas Gift defeated statebreds last out in the $44,000 Jack Cole on May 9 at SunRay Park. He will be cutting back from a mile off the front-running win, and since that start, two horses he defeated have come back to win overnight races. Norberto Arroyo Jr. has the mount for trainer Todd Fincher.

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