11/16/2002 1:00AM

Six-figure stakes, bigger daily purses boost meet


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Sunland Park will offer dramatically higher overnight purses and an improved stakes program when it begins its 80-day 2002-2003 season Tuesday.

Now home to 700 slot machines, Sunland will offer $200,000 a day in purses, up from approximately $135,000 last year. The stakes program has been bolstered considerably, with new races, higher purses, and bonuses tied to major stakes.

The highlight of the Thoroughbred stakes program are two races sponsored by WinStar Farm - the $500,000 WinStar Derby on March 30 and the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Oaks on March 29. This is the first year that WinStar, which also sponsors races at Keeneland and Lone Star Park, has sponsored races at Sunland. The tie between WinStar, which operates a Kentucky breeding farm, and Sunland is Bill Casner, a WinStar partner who grew up in nearby El Paso, Texas. Casner galloped horses at Sunland many years ago for trainer Fred Hardy, to whom he still send horses.

The WinStar Derby, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, was formerly named the Riley Allison Derby and offered a $75,000 purse last year. By positioning the race five weeks before the Kentucky Derby and increasing its purse to $500,000, director of racing Paul Ryneveld is attempting to attract nationally known 3-year-olds to Sunland. A $250,000 bonus will go to the connections of any horse who wins the Riley Allison Futurity here Dec. 29, the WinStar Derby, and the Lone Star Derby, the date for which is still to be announced.

Although this is the first year that a bonus links races between Lone Star and Sunland, the two tracks are in the third year of an agreement under which Lone Star assists Sunland in an advisory capacity.

The $250,000 Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at one mile, also offered a $75,000 purse last year. This year it will be the richest filly race ever run for Thoroughbreds in New Mexico.

The bottom purse at the meet is $7,500, with maiden races set at $11,500 and $20,000 claimers running for $23,000.

Trainer Ramon Gonzalez has dominated Sunland for many years and will be back this season. Familiar names such as Carlos Sedillo, Joel Marr, and Fred Danley will be joined by newcomers Rick Terry and Peter Stephan.

Daryl Montoya, who rides first call for Gonzalez, will be gunning for his third straight riding title. Jorge Bourdieu and Nena Matz, who rode here for the first time last year and finished second and third in the standings, both will be back.

Sunland last year solidified its standing as a major player in Quarter Horse racing with the inaugural running of the The Championship at Sunland Park. Sponsored by Frontera Training Center, The Championship will be run on Dec. 28 over 400 yards with a purse of $350,000.

Several bonuses are available for Quarter Horses. A $100,000 Good Time Stores bonus will be paid to a horse who wins the Sunland Express Handicap on Jan. 18, the West Texas Maturity on March 1, and the MBNA New Mexico Challenge Championship on April 6.

A $500,000 bonus will be paid to any New Mexico-bred Quarter Horse who sweeps the New Mexico Spring Futurity at Sunland, the Zia Futurity at Ruidoso, and the Shue Fly at Sunland.

Sunland will host the All-Star Quarter Horse Jockey Championship on Dec. 29. The competition is expected to draw such top riders as Jacky Martin and Jose Badilla. Nationally known Quarter Horse trainer Russell Harris also plans to race a string of horses at Sunland this season.

Sunland's racing schedule will be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.

- additional reporting by Jim Dunleavy


RACING SCHEDULE: 80 days; Nov. 19 through April 6; dark Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays except Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) and New Year's Eve (Dec. 31). Special Thursday racing on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2.

POST TIME: 12:15 p.m. Mountain (Nov. 19-Feb. 16);1:05 p.m. (Feb. 18-April 6)


SEATING: Grandstand and outdoor apron seating, free; Table seating in the Turf Club, $5 per person.

MEET HIGHLIGHTS: $500,000 WinStar Derby, March 30; $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks, March 29; $350,000 Quarter Horse Championship at Sunland Park, Dec. 28; $275,000 West Texas Quarter Horse Futurity, April 6.

PARKING: General and valet parking, free.

LOCATION: Sunland Park, N.M.; just south of I-10, 10 minutes west of downtown El Paso, Texas.

PHONE: (505) 874-5200.

INTERNET: www.sunland-park.com