04/14/2009 11:00PM

Overnight, stakes purses get boost

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FARMINGTON, N.M. - One of the better kept secrets of the New Mexico racing circuit, SunRay Park, begins its 44-day spring-summer mixed meeting Friday.

When it comes to horsemen, however, the track is hardly under cover.

"We had 2,700 applications for stalls," director of racing Lonnie Barber said. "There are only 1,100 available here, so we are obviously pleased with the response. Maybe we will be able to add some stall space at some point in the future."

For those fortunate to secure stalls at this six-furlong oval, tucked in near the Four Corners region in the northwestern corner of the state, the spoils have been sweetened from last year.

"We have increased both purse money in our stakes program and overnight purses," Barber said. "All of our New Mexico-bred stakes have been increased to at least $75,000. In addition, our overnight purse structure will average about $140,000 per day, which is a little more than last year."

The increases are partly due to the revenue produced by SunRay's casino, which has more than 500 slot machines.

Highlights of the $1.3 million stakes schedule include the $75,000 Russell and Helen Foutz Memorial Handicap for fillies and mares on April 25; the $100,000 Jack Cole Handicap at a mile on Kentucky Derby Day, May 2; the $75,000 New Mexico Breeders' Futurity for Quarter Horses on May 31; the $75,000 Totah and $75,000 Dine' Stakes, both on June 27; and the $100,000 San Juan County Commissioners Handicap on June 28.

Barber said players can expect a few new returnees in the trainer lineup.

"Jon Arnett is going to be back after not having much of a presence the last couple of seasons, as well as few others," he said. "Chris Hartman, Henry Dominguez, and J.R. Gonzalez will all be in from Sunland as well."

The opening-day 10-race program consists of four Quarter Horse and six Thoroughbred events that drew a total of 96 runners. Given the 10-horse limit per race, that number is close to a full card.

Thursday's feature is a first-level optional claiming race at seven furlongs with a $26,000 purse. A field of nine was entered, headed by Western Act. The Blake Rust charge recently won an allowance race at Turf Paradise. Jockey David Essman will ride at 123 pounds.