01/14/2004 12:00AM

Sunland Park track report

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - When Sunland Park director of racing operations Paul Ryneveld turned in his notice in late December to take a similar job at Emerald Downs near his hometown of Seattle, Sunland general manager Harold Payne didn't have to look far to find his new right-hand man. Dustin Dix, who had worked as mutuels manager at Sunland since August 2002, had all the qualifications for the job, which entails overseeing the racing side of Sunland's business.

Payne has created his management staff from racing's target audience. Ryneveld, simulcast coordinator Charles Crisman, and publicity director Eric Alwan are all young, college-educated men who are also fans of the sport. Dix, 32, began going to the races at the now defunct Detroit Race Course while in high school. "I really got hooked the year [1991] that Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby," Dix said. "I hit for $4,000 and have hardly missed a day at the track since."

Dix enrolled in the University of Arizona's Racetrack Industry Program, and graduated in 1996. He then went back home and took his first job, as publicity director at his home track of DRC.

Before coming to Sunland he had worked as mutuel manager at Turf Paradise and Great Lakes Downs. Being promoted to director of racing operations is the next logical step in his career, and Dix assumes the responsibilities at an opportune time. Sunland has steadily upgraded its racing and expanded its simulcast market since the introduction of slot machines in 1999. Plus, Ryneveld has already done the footwork for this meet, allowing Dix a learning curve.

"This year I will mostly just be in a position of maintaining the momentum," Dix said. "Paul already has our marketing strategies and promotions set for this season. My main goal right now is to put a good field together for the [March 28] WinStar Derby. Next year my priority will be finding ways to get my generation to the races."