05/23/2006 11:00PM

Ruidoso opens with trials on a new surface

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Bill Pitt
Leading Spirit, the 2005 champion 2-year-old gelding, makes his 2006 debut in Saturday's Ruidoso Derby trial.

The 60th anniversary season at Ruidoso Downs opens on Friday afternoon with Grade 1 futurity winners Okey Dokey Fantasy, Jess Destined, and First Prize Robin in the trials to the Grade 1, $500,000 Ruidoso Futurity.

Racing on opening weekend runs through Monday, Memorial Day, then continues until the traditional Labor Day closing on a Thursday-to-Sunday schedule.

The 60-day season offers $5.4 million in added purse money to overnight and stakes races and projected total purses exceeding $9 million, including horsemen's payments to futurities and derbies.

The track's simulcasting facility has been remodeled, a new restaurant has opened, and the racing surface was completely renovated during the off season.

"I've heard a lot of good things about the track's surface from horsemen," said the track's director of racing, Ryan Sherman. "We're really pleased."

The 10 fastest qualifiers from the Ruidoso Futurity trials return for the 350-yard finals on June 11. Juveniles will then point to the Grade 1, $625,000 (estimated) Rainbow Futurity on July 23 and the $2 million (estimated) All American Futurity on Labor Day.

The leading contenders for those futurities are the three Grade 1 futurity winners in the Ruidoso Futurity trials.

Okey Dokey Fantasy raced to his second futurity win and remained undefeated from four starts when he won the Grade 1, $336,520 Manor Downs Futurity on April 23 by 1 1/4 lengths. The colt also won the Grade 2, $265,680 Longhorn Futurity on March 18. His connections paid $15,000 to supplement him into the Ruidoso Futurity trials.

Jess Destined comes off a half-length win in the Grade 1, $230,855 West Texas Futurity on April 9, his second straight win after a close second in a maiden race.

First Prize Robin, from the barn of eight-time All American Futurity winner Jack Brooks, gave her trainer his third straight Remington Park Futurity win when she took the $568,591 finals by a neck.

Leading Spirit returns

On Saturday, Leading Spirit will make his first start since Aug. 18 in the trials to the Grade 1, $150,000 (estimated) Ruidoso Derby. The champion 2-year-old gelding of 2005, Leading Spirit started his career with seven straight wins before finishing fifth in his All American Futurity trial and being sidelined.

Leading Spirit, who was supplemented at a cost of $25,000 to enter the derby trials, won the West Texas Futurity, Ruidoso Futurity, and the Rainbow Futurity during his career-starting winning streak.

Snowbound Superstar after gold

Snowbound Superstar, with two fast wins in two starts at 870 yards, should become a stakes winner racing around the turn as the prohibitive favorite in the $62,900 Gold Rush Derby on Friday night at Los Alamitos.

Trainer Paul Jones, who trained 2005 distance champion Prankster CF, is already comparing the 3-year-old Snowbound Superstar to Prankster CF, who suffered a fatal injury in December.

"I never thought I would have a faster distance horse than Prankster CF, but I think I do," he said.

Snowbound Superstar, winless in three starts on the straightaway, won his first 870-yard start on March 23 in 44.44 seconds and then came back to lead the Gold Rush Derby qualifying with a trial win in 44.24 seconds. They are the two fastest 870-yard times for the meet. He won his 870-yard debut by nine lengths and took his derby trial by an easy eight lengths.

I Like It Already won the other Gold Rush Derby trial in 44.90 seconds to win his maiden race in his second start at the distance.