09/04/2014 2:18PM

Zia Park has new look for 56-date mixed meet


Zia Park will have a fresh look when the Hobbs, N.M., track opens for its 56-date mixed meet Saturday. Last week, a 154-room hotel opened at Zia, and the track’s grandstand and facilities now match the earth tones of the new, upscale building on the property.

“Our color scheme has changed to accommodate the new hotel,” said Fred Hutton, director of racing operations for Zia. “Even our tote board, which used to be blue, is a tan-type color. There’s also new signage.”

The word “new” can also be used in a host of other areas this meet at Zia. The track has brought on a new racing secretary, Robbie Junk, while Johnnie Jamison will be the new starter. Patrons, meanwhile, will notice a new-look Turf Club that features 65 high-definition television sets.

There are also additional seating areas in the grandstand, while extensive upgrades have been made in the stable area. Further, the reach of Zia’s signal will expand into some new international markets this meet, said Hutton, while the track’s races also will have greater exposure in Las Vegas. On the track, the racing will feature an influx of new names, including horses from trainers Karl Broberg and Eric Kruljac.

“I think Robbie did a great job recruiting some new outfits, and our local players, they’ve replenished their inventory with more California stock,” Hutton said. “We’re excited about things.”

Purses at this meet are projected to average $250,000 a program, said Hutton. The track’s stakes schedule features 33 races worth $3.9 million, with 19 of those stakes for Thoroughbreds.

The focal point of the meet is the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race that will anchor a card of seven stakes worth a cumulative $1.1 million on Nov. 26. The “Land of Enchantment” program also features the $200,000 Zia Park Derby at 1 1/16 miles, the $150,000 Zia Park Championship for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, and the Grade 1, $200,000 Southwest Juvenile for Quarter Horses.

Zia introduced the Oaks last year and set a weekend date for the race that it packaged with a handful of other stakes. But a winter storm struck, and the races were moved to a Wednesday program in a development that ended up helping Zia realize an all-sources live-handle record of $1.5 million. The track is sticking with a proven formula, and this year the Penn National Gaming-owned Zia has scheduled the Land of Enchantment program for a Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of Thanksgiving.

“It worked well for us last year,” Hutton said. “Penn National also has their big day that night, and we thought it would spotlight Penn throughout the country.”

Other highlights of the Zia stakes schedule include the $2 million New Mexico Cup on Oct. 26. It features 12 divisional New Mexico-bred stakes for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.

Zia’s stakes action will begin Sunday with the running of the $75,000 Premiere Cup Handicap. The six-furlong race is for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs. First post daily is 12:15 p.m. Mountain.