09/21/2006 12:00AM

Stakes hiked $1.4M


A year after its inaugural meet, Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M., is back with a richer stakes schedule, an expanded simulcast network, more slot machines, and a new director of racing. The track's 49-day run of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing starts Saturday and will continue through Dec. 12.

Zia is a $50 million racino with a one-mile track, situated in the southeastern portion of the state, just miles from the border of west Texas. R.D. Hubbard is the majority owner of Zia, as well as Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.

"It's a great-looking plant," said Tom Davis, who is settling in as the new director of racing and racing secretary for both Zia and Ruidoso. "The economy here is booming with all the gas and oil. I think we'll have a great meet."

Davis, who for the past 11 years served as Quarter Horse racing secretary at Prairie Meadows, said Zia received stall applications for more than 3,800 horses. The barn area holds 1,650. The lure is a purse structure fueled by 746 slot machines, up from the 650 that were in place on opening day in 2005.

Zia has budgeted purses at $220,000 a day, about the same as last year, and will race five more dates this season, said Phil Ziegler, the track's director of marketing. The stakes schedule is worth $3.8 million, which is up $1.4 million from last year, thanks to increases made to such stakes as the $150,000 Zia Park Derby on Dec. 9.

Purses for the richest card of the meet, New Mexico Cup Day on Nov. 12, have been enhanced, and the all-stakes card will be worth an estimated $1.8 million in what is believed to be the richest statebred day in the country. Last year, New Mexico Cup Day was worth $1.5 million. Zia has also increased its purse for the Premier Stakes to $150,000, thanks to a boost from the Breeders' Cup fund. The six-furlong race will be run on Sunday.

"We have a $50,000 allotment from the Breeders' Cup, and in our second year we're really thrilled they included us in their program," said Ziegler.

Zia has also added a $250,000 invitational futurity for Quarter Horses, with the winners of the nine Grade 1 futurities run outside of California earning berths into the 440-yard race, including the winner of the All-American Futurity.

Paul Jones trains this year's All-American Futurity winner, No Secrets Here, and he has a large stable at Zia. Other familiar faces include Henry Dominguez, the defending training champ, and Jon Arnett, who is three wins from career victory 1,000. Ken Tohill won the riding title last year and is back to face a colony that includes Roman Chapa and Casey Lambert.

Zia has dropped Fridays this meet in favor of racing on Tuesdays, for a live racing schedule that runs from Saturday through Tuesday. The move was made to get into more simulcast sites, said Ziegler.

"It was feedback," he said. "We had other states wishing we ran on Tuesday."

New sites taking Zia's races include New York OTB, Connecticut OTB, Delaware Park, Oaklawn Park, and outlets in New Jersey, said Neal Mullarky, director of simulcasting for both Zia and Ruidoso. Mullarky added that Zia will also have a larger presence in Nassau/Suffolk OTB and sites in Arizona and Ohio.

"I think the Monday-Tuesday racing is really opening some doors up for us, especially back East," said Mullarky.

Zia plans to run eight Thoroughbred races a day on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the other three races on the card for Quarter Horses.

Zia had horses ship in from California and Kentucky for some of its stakes last year, and that trend figures to continue. The first stakes of the meet, the $60,000 James Isaac Hobbs for Quarter Horses, drew Planet Holland - co-owned by Hubbard - who set a world record at the race's 350-yard distance at Ruidoso in his last start on July 1.

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: 49 days; Saturday through Dec. 12; racing Saturday though Tuesday. There is a special Friday card on Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

POST TIME: 1:15 p.m. Mountain through Oct. 28, then first post shifts to 12:15 p.m

HIGHLIGHTS: New Mexico Cup Day, a program of restricted stakes for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses worth an estimated $1.8 million on Nov. 12; $250,000 Southwest Juvenile Championship for Quarter Horses on Dec. 3; the $150,000 Zia Park Derby for Thoroughbreds on Dec. 9; and the $250,000 Distance Championship for Thoroughbreds on Dec. 10.

ADMISSIONS: General, free

LOCATION: 901 W. Millen Drive in Hobbs, N.M., right off Lovington Highway.



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