09/20/2007 12:00AM

Under new ownership, 48-date meet begins

EmailSlots-rich Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M., will open for its third ever meet on Saturday, with is second set of owners. Since the season ended last winter, Penn Gaming has purchased the young track for $200 million in a deal that closed in April.

With the sale, some changes have come. But the racing product will have a familiar look during the 48-date meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The highlight of the season remains the $2 million-estimated New Mexico Cup program of 11 restricted stakes on Nov. 11 that caters to both breeds.

Zia, which is home to 750 slot machines, is a $50 million racing plant and casino built by R.D. Hubbard and partners in southeastern New Mexico. It was announced just as last year’s second season neared its end that there was an agreement in place to sell Zia.

"Penn National has put about $600,000 into the racetrack and the facility since they've taken over in April," said Mike McCarthy, director of marketing for Zia.

A binding agen thas been added to the track's one-mile racing surface to improve its consistency. And in the next few weeks, Zia plans to install canopies on its apron, said McCarthy. As for staff changes, Zia's new general manager is Bill Hayles.

Purses of $200,000 a day this meet have fueled strong interest in the meet from horsemen, according to Tom Davis, the racing secretary at Zia since 2006.

"We have a little over 1,400 stalls, and we had 3,400, 3,500 horses apply for stalls," he said. "We draw a lot of [stables] out of South Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, a few out of Arizona, and a few of our stakes horses come from California."

Zia has a $3.4 million stakes schedule, and the first race for Thoroughbreds, the $150,000 Premier Breeders' Cup Handicap at six furlongs on Sunday, drew a pair of California shippers in Tontine Too and Areyoutalkintome.

Henry Dominguez, who has won the track's two Thoroughbred training titles, heads a contingent of horsemen that includes Paul Jones, Jon Arnett, and Carl Draper.

Jockey Ken Tohill, who has accounted for Zia’s two Thoroughbred riding titles, heads a colony that includes Casey Lambert, Carlos Madeira, and Travis Cunningham.

Gotta Get will be looking for his third straight win Saturday when he runs in the featured $55,000 James Isaac Hobbs Stakes for Quarter Horses. Last year, he went 7-for-7 for trainer Fred Danley.

* Zia has added a late pick four to its wagering lineup. The track is also scheduled to offer a 10-cent superfecta on every race, an expansion over last meet, said McCarthy