05/21/2002 11:00PM

Ruidoso Futurity trials start, with $4M at end of rainbow

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Juveniles will take the first step to a possible $4 million bonus when the Ruidoso Downs 61-day summer season opens Friday afternoon with 224 entrants in 23 Ruidoso Futurity trials.

Starting this year, if a horse wins the three major Grade 1 Futurities at Ruidoso Downs - the Ruidoso Futurity, the Rainbow Futurity, and the All American Futurity - he or she will earn a $4 million Quarter Horse Triple Crown Bonus. The last horse to sweep the three races was world champion Special Effort in 1981.

This year will be the first year that the purses for the All American Futurity and the Rainbow Futurity will be capped. The total purse for the Rainbow will be capped at $600,000 and the All American Futurity at $2 million. Money paid into those races above those caps will be added to the 2003 derby counterparts.

"It appears the All American Derby will be valued at more than $600,000 in 2003 and the [2003] Rainbow Derby will likely be about $300,000," said Ruidoso Downs chairman R.D. Hubbard. At those levels they could be the sport's richest derbies.

Starting in 2003, the Ruidoso Futurity will be capped, too.

Two of the year's most promising juveniles, Eye Opening Episode and Hail Corona, are in the Ruidoso Futurity trials on Friday afternoon. The 10 fastest qualifiers return for the Grade 1, $661,000 finals on June 9.

Eye Opening Episode, trained by James Lackey and owned by Sandy Erwin, was overlooked at 16-1 in the Grade 1, $277,000 West Texas Futurity on April 7 at Sunland Park, but won by an expanding 1 1/4 lengths.

He runs in the fourth trial, with Joe Meier aboard.

Hail Corona, owned by Jimmy Harrel and Joe Peacock, won his maiden in a Remington Park track record of 17.457 seconds for 350 yards while winning a Lazy E Futurity trial on March 16. He came back in the finals to finish in a dead heat for the win with Chicks Cartel.

Hail Corona runs in the 15th trial, with Jacky Martin up.

The trials for the Ruidoso Derby will take place on Saturday afternoon, and among those running are Ruidoso Futurity winner Red Clay of Texas, Rainbow Futurity runner-up Phenomenal Fantasy, and West Texas Derby third-place finisher Dashing Little Reba.

Scheduling

The season runs through the traditional Labor Day closing. Starting next week the schedule will be Thursday through Sunday weekly with holiday programs on Labor Day and Memorial Day.

First post time is 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends and holidays. There may be special first post times for futurity trial programs.

First Place Win fastest

First Place Win, owned by Al-Whit racing, set the fastest qualifying time to the Grade 3, $70,470 American Airlines East Challenge on Saturday at Delta Downs, when he won his career debut in the trials.

He won the second of five trials on May 10 by a length in 18.065 seconds for 350 yards.

* Lady Tenaya, owned by Robert Hart, will make her 2002 stakes debut in the Grade 3, $32,580 Ford Oklahoma Challenge on Sunday at Remington Park. She is the fastest qualifier to the 400-yard stakes for females, with a time of 19.794 seconds. In 2000, Lady Tenaya won the Grade 2 Valley Junction Futurity. Last year, she was second in the Grade 1 Heritage Place Derby and third in the Grade 1 Texas Classic Derby.