11/22/2003 12:00AM

Purses at $250K daily as signal spreads


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - The Racing industry in New Mexico was on the verge of collapse in 1999 when the state approved relief in the form of slot machines. On Tuesday, when Sunland Park begins an 80-day mixed meet, purses will average $250,000 per day, an increase of $20,000 a day from last year's landmark meet, during which handle increased 32 percent from the preceding year.

The surge in handle was a direct result of Sunland being able to enter simulcast markets that were previously beyond its reach. Sunland, which houses more than 700 slot machines, will race on a four-day-a-week schedule through April 11, 2004.

To help establish itself nationally, Sunland stepped into the 3-year-old picture last year by creating two races that are sponsored by WinStar Farm, breeder of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Funny Cide. The $500,000 WinStar Derby and the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks each exceeded expectations in their first season and were won by Excessivepleasure and Island Fashion, respectively.

Excessivepleasure went on to win the Iowa and Indiana derbies, while Island Fashion later won the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks and then the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.

WinStar Weekend will be March 27-28 in 2004. A $250,000 bonus will again be offered to any horse who can win the Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 27, 2003, the Feb. 29 Borderland Derby, and the March 28 WinStar Derby.

Steve Asmussen, who won with 16 of 39 starters here last year while shipping his horses in from Sam Houston and Fair Grounds, has been given 18 stalls this meet. Asmussen won the national title for wins by a trainer in 2002 and is currently 18 behind Scott Lake this year.

Tony Mathiasen will oversee the Asmussen runners here.

Ramon Gonzalez, a six-time leading trainer at Sunland Park, is back with a strong stable, as are Henry Dominguez, Todd Fincher, and Joel Marr. Jack Bruner will be stabled here for the first time with a small string for owner Tom Durant.

Jockey J. Matin Bourdieu led the Thoroughbred standings here last season with 61 winners, six more than newcomer Ricardo Jaime. Both will be competing here this year in a colony made more competitive by the presence of Isias Enriquez, Wade Rini, and Alfredo Juarez Jr.

Sunland has also become a top Quarter Horse track, with the Grade 1, $400,000 Championship at Sunland Park the centerpiece of the stakes program. Last year's Championship was won by Streakin Sin Tacha, who went on to be named co-World Champion by the American Quarter Horse Association. The 400-yard championship will be run on Dec. 27.

Racing will be conducted on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays with a first post of 12:15 p.m. Mountain to begin the meet.