09/08/2011 2:34PM

Zia Park: Purses to average a record $285K a day

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Before the first race of the Zia Park meet is even run Saturday in Hobbs, N.M., purses will have been increased. Officials said Thursday that all overnight purses would be boosted 5 percent heading into the 50-date season for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses that runs through Dec. 4. The move puts average daily purses, including stakes, at a record $285,000 a program.

“We’re one of the few tracks across the country that can say our simulcast revenue is up slightly instead of being down,” said Rick Baugh, assistant general manager of Zia. “We’re up a few percent, and our gaming revenue has really climbed, also.”

Zia has 750 slot machines at its racing facility, which opened in 2005 and was bought by Penn National Gaming in 2007. The casino has helped fuel the record purse structure, and has provided for a $4.5  million stakes schedule. The meet’s main event is the $2 million New Mexico Cup program Oct. 30, which is one of the most lucrative statebred stakes cards in North America.

Zia also has three signature races for Thoroughbreds, the $100,000 Premiere at six furlongs on Sunday; the $150,000 Zia Park Derby at a mile and as sixteenth on Dec. 3; and the $200,000 Zia Park Distance Championship at a mile and an eighth on Dec. 4.

Patrons returning to the meet Saturday will find an expanded seating area within the main area of the grandstand, said Baugh. It is called “The Ledge” and along with unique overhead views, it will feature projector screens and additional television monitors. Zia is also doubling the size of its steakhouse, said Baugh.

In other improvements, the one-mile racing surface has had a makeover since last season. Baugh said under the direction of noted track consultant Dennis Moore, the track removed two inches of old material and replaced it with two inches of finer sand in an effort to reduce clay content.

“The clay content last year averaged around 13 percent and this will bring the clay content to 10 to 11 percent,” said Baugh. “I don’t think the track is going to play any different. Our whole intention was a kinder, safer [surface]. We’re constantly striving for improvements.”

The stable area has drawn divisions of horses from Steve Asmussen, the leading Thoroughbred trainer in wins in North America, and Paul Jones, who occupies the same ranking among Quarter Horse trainers. Henry Dominguez, one of the top horsemen in New Mexico, is also settled in at Zia, while the track is also home to trainers Fred Danley, Todd Fincher, and Joel Marr.

Romeos Wilson, the popular 13-year-old trained by Danley, will be returning to the overnight ranks for the featured 11th race Saturday. The $40,000 optional claiming allowance at six furlongs is for 3-year-olds and up bred in New Mexico.

Romeos Wilson comes into the race off a fourth-place finish in last month’s $50,000 Pony Express at the Downs at Albuquerque. He will be looking for his first win of the year, and his 20th career victory. Danley has given the mount to Ken Tohill. The field also drew stakes winners Enchanted Outlaw and Chuchuluco.

Baugh said Zia will card 12 races a day until Nov. 6, when it shifts to 11 because of daylight savings time. First post is 12:15 p.m. Mountain.