09/09/2009 11:00PM

Slots-fueled purses draw big names to Zia

Coady Photography
Native Ruler will line up in a field of nine for Sunday's $100,000 Premiere Cup Handicap.

Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M., will be able to boast something few tracks can when it opens its 57-date meet Saturday: It has attracted divisions of horses from the leading Thoroughbred trainer in the nation, Steve Asmussen, and the leading Quarter Horse trainer in the nation, Paul Jones.

"Let's see anyone top that one at the same meet," said Mike Shamburg, director of racing at Zia.

Shamburg knows he is in such a unique position because Zia operates a mixed meet with the kind of purse structure that lures top outfits. Fueled by 750 slot machines, the Penn National Gaming-owned track projects purses will average $275,000 a day. That number is up 10 percent from the same meet a year ago, Shamburg said.

The thriving purse structure and a 32-race stakes schedule worth more than $4 million has created a pleasant problem. Shamburg said Zia has had stall requests for 4,000 horses. The track can house 1,450, making for a full stable area heading into the season. Asmussen is new to the meet, while Jones has been stabled at Zia before. Other trainers include John Bassett, a leading Quarter Horse trainer in his first season at Zia; Chip Woolley, who trains Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird; and Bart Hone, the leading Thoroughbred trainer last year at Zia.

Miguel Perez, the leading Thoroughbred rider a year ago at Zia, is part of a colony that includes Ken Tohill, G.R. Carter, and Cody Jensen.

Zia's stakes schedule is led by the $2 million New Mexico Cup program of 11 statebred stakes for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses on Nov. 8. The track has renamed one of the races the Peppers Pride in honor of the now-retired New Mexico-bred who raced at Zia last year and went 19 for 19 in her career.

The stakes program opens with the $100,000 Premiere Cup Handicap at six furlongs Sunday.

"It's an excellent bunch of horses," Shamburg said of the nine-horse field that includes Native Ruler, E Z Dreamer, Greeley's Conquest, and Sok Sok.

Other top stakes this meet will include the $150,000 Zia Park Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 5 and the $200,000 Distance Championship on Dec. 6. The $300,000 Hobbs American Futurity for Quarter Horses on Oct. 11 could draw the Jones-trained Runnning Brook Gal, who last weekend won the Grade 1, $1.9 million All American Futurity.

During the offseason, Zia renovated its racing surface. The track announced last month that it has added more than 5,000 cubic yards of new material to the one-mile oval as part of $100,000 in surface renovations.

"We also dolled up the infield," Shamburg said. "We put a large mosaic running horse to the left of the tote board and installed a lake."

Zia races through Dec. 8.


* RACING: 57 days; Saturday through Dec. 8; Friday to Tuesday through Oct. 13, then Saturday to Tuesday through the end of the meet

* POST TIME: 12:15 p.m. Mountain, except Fridays when first post is 3 p.m.

* HIGHLIGHTS: $2 million New Mexico Cup featuring 11 statebred stakes for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, Nov. 8; $100,000 Premiere Cup Handicap at six furlongs, Sept. 13; $150,000 Zia Park Derby, Dec. 5; $200,000 Distance Championship, Dec. 6; $300,000 Hobbs America Futurity for Quarter Horses, Oct. 11.

* GAMING: 750 slot machines

* ADMISSION: General, free


* PHONE: (575) 492-7000 or (888) ZIA-PARK

* ADDRESS: 3901 W. Millen Dr., Hobbs, N.M., 88240.