09/08/2016 11:50AM

Plenty of changes for Zia Park's 53-date meet

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Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M., will open for a 53-date meet Saturday with a new twist to its racing schedule, a new voice calling the races, and a new surface over which the horses will be running. The season continues through Dec. 13.

Zia plans to run straight Thoroughbred cards on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Quarter Horses will be featured on Saturdays and Sundays. Fred Hutton, director of racing operations for Zia, said the change is designed to cater to both ontrack and offtrack patrons.

“We’re in Quarter Horse country, on the border of Texas, and Quarter Horses have a big following in that respect,” Hutton said of showcasing the breed on weekends for the ontrack crowds. “Mondays and Tuesdays, we should be a major player in the simulcast [market] with the Thoroughbreds.”

Jim McCullough will be calling the action. He has been named the announcer for Zia and takes over from Tom Harris. McCullough previously was the announcer at Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie, Canada, and worked as a talk show host in Los Angeles.

In other changes, Zia has made significant upgrades to its racing surface. Hutton said Zia has added 1,500 tons of sand and 1,300 cubic yards of organics. The materials will enhance moisture absorption and make for a more forgiving surface.

“We’re getting accolades on the surface,” Hutton said during training hours Thursday. “They’re going around there like they’ve got slippers on.”

Zia’s signature racing events will remain in place for the new meet, which features 32 stakes worth more than $3.8 million. The $300,000 Zia Park Oaks will again top Land of Enchantment Day, to be run on a special Wednesday card Nov. 23. The 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies will anchor a card of nine stakes worth a total of $1.28 million. The lineup includes the $200,000 Zia Park Derby at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 Zia Park Championship.

Hutton said the three previous editions of Land of Enchantment Day have accounted for the top three handle figures in the 12-year history of Zia.

“It’s been a great position for us on the calendar,” he said of the card that falls the day before Thanksgiving.

Other stakes highlights include the $2 million New Mexico Cup program Oct. 30.

Purses for the meet are projected to average $210,000 a program, said Hutton.