01/28/2004 12:00AM

Sunland Park track report


SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Hometown boy Casey Lambert and California transplant Ken Tohill are engaged in a tight jockey race that may continue to the conclusion of the Sunland meet. Lambert and Tohill won a race apiece on Tuesday and start Friday's card deadlocked at 29 wins with 43 racing days remaining.

Lambert, 38, is the son of long-time Sunland trainer Clifford Lambert. He grew up in El Paso, Texas, won the riding title here in 1984, and left home the next year to pursue bigger and better things, riding successfully in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. But by the fall of 2002, with purses at Sunland growing, and two sons in school, Casey and his wife, Brandy, decided to move back. Known as an athletic and aggressive rider, Lambert often takes advantage of his ability to get horses out of the gate to a quick early lead to win over Sunland's glib surface.

Unlike most successful Thoroughbred jockeys, Lambert also enjoys riding Quarter Horses and ranks fifth in the Quarter Horse standings here.

"Right now I plan to go back to Lone Star this summer, but if any of the people I ride for have any All-American prospects coming around, by spring I might have to change plans and go to Ruidoso," Lambert said.

In contrast, Tohill, 41, first came to New Mexico last spring and has enjoyed the change in atmosphere from the northern California circuit.

"Everything seems to be more laid back around here, which makes it more fun," Tohill said.

Tohill won two stakes here opening weekend and his momentum has never wavered. Timing and a keen sense of race awareness seem to be Tohill's strongest points, as his mounts rarely encounter traffic problems in Sunland's big fields.

"I feel like my job is to have the horse in position to win when we turn down the stretch," Tohill said. "If I've done that, the rest is up to the horse."