08/12/2008 11:00PM

Sunland Derby has $1M potential

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Sunland Park has boosted the purse of the Sunland Derby to $800,000 in one of several aggressive changes to the 1 1/8-mile race that will highlight its upcoming 30-race stakes schedule for Thoroughbreds. The slots-rich New Mexico track will also race Quarter Horses during a 77-date meet that runs from Dec. 12 through April 21.

The Sunland Derby, which had been worth $600,000, will be run March 29. A new bonus system tied to the race rewards a winner who has a Grade 1 victory before the Sunland Derby with a $200,000 bonus. A second incentive offers a $100,000 bonus to a winner who has any previous graded earnings. A winner eligible for the $200,000 bonus will not be able to cash in on the $100,000 bonus.

The new system makes for a potential purse of $1 million in the Sunland Derby, formerly the WinStar Derby, which has been renamed because WinStar Farm has completed a multiyear sponsorship contract, track officials said. The bonuses also put Sunland in better position to draw the kinds of horses to the race that could help it get graded status, a goal since the race was introduced in 2003.

This spring, the Sunland Derby will be the richest Thoroughbred race run in the history of New Mexico. It will share a card with four other stakes, including the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 Harry Henson BC.

Purses at the Sunland meet are projected to average more than $250,000 a day. The highlight of the Quarter Horse stakes schedule is the Grade 1, $400,000 Championship on Dec. 27.