11/30/2005 1:00AM

Rocky Gulch out to be first New Mexican millionaire

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Sunland put about $3 million into grandstand and stable area renovations.

When people talk New Mexico racing, people talk Rocky Gulch. A winner of 11 stakes and $772,358, he is striving to be the first known New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred to reach $1 million in earnings, and he could get to that goal during the Sunland Park meet in Sunland Park, N.M., that will open Friday.

is being pointed for three stakes at the meet, starting with the $125,000 Johnie Jamison on Dec. 11. He will also be considered for a fourth stakes at the track, and a sweep of the four races, which he accomplished last meet, would push his earnings just over $1 million.

"We've won our most races and most money down here, so it would be a good place to do it," said Larry Teague, who bred and owns Rocky Gulch. "It seems like the horse likes it here real well."

Teague said Rocky Gulch has one other record to shoot for first, becoming the richest New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred. It could happen as early as the Jamison.

Rocky Gulch needs $3,656 to catch Ciento - currently the highest-earning New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred.

Ciento, a 7-year-old who has won 14 stakes and $776,014, has not raced winning the New Mexico Breeders' Association Handicap at Sunray Park in August 2004 but he has been working at Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M.

Rocky Gulch, 4, is settled in at Sunland with Barbara Brown, the wife of the horse's trainer, Terry Walker. She has personally cared for Rocky Gulch since he was 2. She believes he is sitting on a strong winter.

"I don't think he has peaked physically yet," she said. "I think he's just going to get better. I honestly do."

Brown said that in addition to the Jamison, run at 6 1/2 furlongs, Rocky Gulch is being pointed for the $100,000 Albert Dominguez Memorial at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1 and the $125,000 New Mexico State University at one mile on Feb. 18. He will also be considered for the $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey at 4 1/2 furlongs March 26. All of the races are for horses bred in New Mexico.

"What makes Rocky so unique is that he's so versatile," said Brown. "He can win going four and a half and he can win going a mile and a sixteenth. You usually don't have a horse that's as outstanding a sprinter as he is a route horse. But he knows where that three-eighths pole is."

Brown said in working so closely with Rocky Gulch, she has found him to have a unique personality.

"He's a riot," she said. "He eats cheese crackers and drinks Gatorade on a regular basis. And he loves his routine. He doesn't like anybody upsetting it. He also loves his pony horse. The year that we broke Rocky, I had just bought this gray pony horse and they started out together, and the pony travels with him."

Part of Rocky Gulch's routine is going to the track with Brown alongside him on the pony, Buddy.

Asmussen, Tohill defend titles

Steve Asmussen, who leads North America in trainer wins for 2005, and Ken Tohill, the leading rider at Zia, are both looking for their third straight titles at Sunland.

Other trainers expected for the meet include Henry Dominguez, Fred Danley, Chris Hartman, Joel Marr, and Todd Venture, said Eric Alwan, a spokesman for Sunland. Among riders, Ryan Barber and Mick Ruis are expected to challenge Tohill.

Alwan said all 1,500 stalls at the track are accounted for heading into the meet. During the downtime, the track made about $3 million in improvements to the stable area and grandstand.

Ditka to be on hand for WinStar Derby

Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears, will be the guest of honor at a charity banquet surrounding the $600,000 WinStar Derby in April

"I understand he's a racing fan," said Harold Payne, general manager of Sunland.

Payne said WinStar has signed a contract to continue its sponsorship of the derby through 2008.

* Payne said Sunland's signal will go to 15 sites in Venezuela, through an American hub. The signal is also scheduled to go to Canada, and there are also new greyhound sites picking up Sunland.