11/06/2002 12:00AM

Sunland creates $500,000 derby

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Sunland Park near El Paso, Texas, hopes to crack the Kentucky Derby prep market next spring and lure some nationally prominent 3-year-olds to its $500,000 WinStar Derby, a new 1 1/16-mile race to be run March 30. The WinStar will be the richest race in track history and will serve as the middle leg of a $250,000 bonus series tied into the Lone Star Derby.

Sunland, which is located in New Mexico, opens for an 80-day Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet Nov. 19. Purses for the meet will average a record $214,000 per card, up from the approximately $135,000 a day the track paid out a year ago. The growth is being fueled by the addition of 300 more slot machines at the track in February, which brings the total number of slots at Sunland to 600.

The WinStar, formerly the Riley Allison Derby, tops a 53-race, $5.4 million stakes schedule that includes a number of rich races for Quarter Horses. The track's other major Thoroughbred races this season include the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks, a mile race to be run March 29, and the $200,000 Copper Top Futurity over 4 1/2 furlongs on closing day April 6.

To claim the $250,000 bonus offered with the WinStar Derby, a horse must win the $150,000-estimated Riley Allison Futurity at 6 1/2 furlongs at Sunland on Dec. 29, the WinStar Derby, and the Lone Star Derby.