01/29/2003 12:00AM

Sunland records falling as purse hikes pay off

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - The improved purse structure at Sunland has meant better horses, and this is one reason why track records have been falling throughout the meet.

On Tuesday, the 5 1/2-furlong record, which had stood for 31 years, was broken by Treasure Hunt, a 7-year-old gelding who had been claimed at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet last October for $25,000. Treasure Hunt ran poorly in a subsequent race at Hollywood, was given some time off, then was sent to trainer Martin Westin. He was making his first start here and running for a $25,000 claiming price on Tuesday.

Treasure Hunt broke from post 7, and jockey Nancy Summers sent him to the lead and the rail. They opened up in the stretch to win by more than four lengths, stopping the timer in 1:02.39, lowering the track record by .20. For Summers, it was her second win on the card.

Last Sunday a 5-year-old gelding, Tyger Smiles, became the third horse in track history to run five furlongs in 56.40 seconds, beating $5,000 claimers by six lengths. Tyger Smiles was on his way down the claiming ladder when leading trainer Ramon Gonzalez claimed him for $5,000 on behalf of James Barker on Dec. 20, but he is 2 for 2 since. Tyger Smiles was claimed again on Sunday, going to the barn of Rick Terry.

The six-furlong and 6 1/2-furlong track records were broken earlier this meet.

With the days lengthening and Sunland's business booming, the track will go to a 12-race-per-day schedule beginning next Tuesday. Halfway through the meet, offtrack handle is up 46 percent, and ontrack handle is up 16 percent. Another measure of the local racing economy is that the claim box has been hot, with 92 claims through 41 days of racing, as opposed to the 151 during all of last year's 80-day meet.