12/13/2006 1:00AM

New millionaire Rocky Gulch goes in Jamison

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Fresh off becoming the first New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred to earn $1 million, Rocky Gulch is back at his home base of Sunland Park and is expected to start in a handful of races at the meet. His first stakes engagement is Saturday, when he takes on a competitive group of New Mexico-breds in the $125,000 Johnie L. Jamison.

Rocky Gulch went over the $1 million mark in earnings on the New Mexico Cup program last month at Zia Park, when he won the $212,000 Classic. He has spent much of his time at Sunland, where he has won 7 of 16 starts and $617,853.

"My wife, he stays with her," said Terry Walker, who trains Rocky Gulch. "She takes care of him. She's the only one who handles him. He really likes it [at Sunland]."

Walker's wife, Barbara Brown, has worked closely with Rocky Gulch since he was 2. He is now 5.

"He's just a stitch," she said. "I'm his sole caretaker, and I belong to Rocky. We have such a good communication. I've worked with a lot of horses, but he's the first horse that has the whole package. He's got the personality. He's smart as a whip. He loves his job. And he's got the talent."

Brown added that Rocky Gulch also has some fun habits.

"He eats his cheese crackers and drinks Gatorade, and now his latest addiction is grapes," she said. "We've been eating the red ones. They're seedless. He is just too cool."

Larry Teague, who bred and owns Rocky Gulch, has said that after the gelding's racing career is over he plans to give him to Brown. But right now, the focus is on having a big meet at Sunland, which opens on Friday.

Purses boosted before meet starts

Sunland Park increased purses for its meet before the season even got under way. The track's first condition book reflects purses of about $230,000 a day, but that amount was raised 6opercent last week, to a record $255,000 a day. The increases went into maiden races, higher-end claiming races, and allowance races, said Harold Payne, general manager of Sunland.

Maiden special weight races for open company are now worth $21,000 to $22,000 as a result of the increase, while all allowance races have been boosted $3,000 in value. This meet, the minimum purse at the meet will be a record $10,000.

In the past year, Sunland was able to expand the hours of operation of its slots casino, and that contributed to the purse increase, said Payne.

The track operates a mixed meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, and after dedicating one full card a week to Quarter Horses and one to Thoroughbreds last season, the format this meet has changed.

According to Sunland spokesperson Eric Alwan, the track plans to race six Quarter Horse races and five Thoroughbred races a card on Fridays; seven Thoroughbred races and four Quarter Horses per program on Saturdays and Sundays; and eight Thoroughbred races and three Quarter Horse races each Tuesday.

Response to the meet has been strong, with racing secretary Norm Amundson receiving 3,800 requests for the track's 1,630 stalls, said Payne.

Henry Dominguez, the leading trainer at the Zia meet that ended Tuesday, is back to defend his title as top trainer at Sunland.

New faces in the jockey colony include Roman Chapa, who won the overall riding title at Zia, which raced Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Ken Tohill was the leading Thoroughbred rider at Zia, and is back to defend the title he won last meet at Sunland.

Ex-NFL star Emmitt Smith to speak

Emmitt Smith, the former professional football player whose latest accomplishment is winning the "Dancing With the Stars" reality series competition, will be the guest speaker during the WinStar Derby gala the night before the big race, on March 17. The gala is a charity fund-raiser, and it supports United Blood Services, said Payne.

The charity's committee wanted Smith as a speaker, in a good bit of handicapping.

"We made the deal six months ago, before he won 'Dancing with the Stars,'" said Payne.

Payne said the gala is already sold out. Past speakers include football greats Mike Ditka and Terry Bradshaw.

* Mr. Trieste, a top handicap horse in New Mexico, is expected to make the final start of his career in the $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap at Sunland on Jan. 13. Following the race, he will enter stud at JEH Stallion Station in Hondo, N.M.