Nothing is more constant than change.
Regardless of the situation, the weather forecast or the business climate, change comes frequently and can lead to both unforeseen opportunities and challenges.
Such is the case -- on both fronts -- as SunRay Park and Casino
prepares to open its 14th racing season Friday at 3pm with a 10-week schedule of live quarter horse and thoroughbred racing through June 26.
The weather forecast always is a source of constant change as well as challenges for racing director Lonnie Barber as well as his staff of track superintendents, led by Jose Lopez.
“When the weather changes like this, there’s always adjustments,” Barber said recently during the midst of a cold spell that dropped temperatures locally some 30 degrees in a matter of 72 hours.
“Moisture is the biggest factor,” Barber said. “When it’s hot and windy, we add more water to the surface as opposed to when it’s cold like this, and you hope that you get some moisture added to the surface naturally.”
That’s one example of change that can be foreseen and can be corrected quickly.
Other changes include new local competition with the opening of a new casino earlier this year.
For SunRay Park and Casino, this has afforded them the opportunity to explore their business and find even more ways to benefit the customer, regardless of being a fan of casino games or the live racing season. Or both.
“We’ve looked at this as a win-win for our customers,” said SunRay’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Boehm. “The racing season gives us a chance to step up to the plate and work on new ideas on how to understand what our customers want.”
Boehm said that while there was a bit of a dropoff in business since the new casino’s opening just a few miles from SunRay Park, that was to be expected.
“You couldn’t avoid some effect,” said Boehm. “But the more competition there is in the area, the customer wins, and therefore, everyone wins.”
SunRay’s season opener on Friday will feature an 11-race card, highlighted by the $50,000 Inaugural Handicap at 6 1-2 furlongs. With a slightly shortened race season as opposed to recent years, there was virtually no effect on overnight purse monies to horsemen.
“We’ll have better horses this year than we’ve had before,” Barber said, “and that will mean better field quality and better wagering for the fans.”
That sentiment was also expressed by Jim Collins, the track’s racing secretary, who says the season’s already starting with a splash.
“There are some new trainers coming in from Arizona with good barns and we’re also getting the leading jockeys and trainers from Sunland’s season, so they’re all coming up to play, which is good for racing.”
Some of the more familiar names returning this season at SunRay will be trainers Henry Dominguez and Justin Evans, who have been the region’s leading conditioners for several years now. Those barns will once again be heard from, in addition to trainers like Alonso Orozco, David Wolochuk, and Weston Martin, all coming off strong seasons at the Sunland Park season, which wraps up Tuesday.
Several of Sunland Park’s leading jockeys this season will also be on display for local racing fans, including Miguel Hernandez, Ry Eikelberry & Macario Rodriguez.
Racing will be held four days a week at SunRay Park, with post times on Fridays and Tuesdays at 3 p.m. and post times on the weekend at 12:55 p.m.
“The idea was to maximize the potential for business people coming off work on weekdays to come by and catch the races,” Barber said. “And with the later post time on weekdays, our signal can get to more simulcast outlets in the afternoon after other tracks have ended their race day.”
Opening day will also see one major change across the state of New Mexico, as the usage of clenbuterol will now be prohibited across the state by horsemen.
Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator that has been commonly used in horse racing for many years across the country. Many also consider the drug to be performance-enhancing and also having severe longterm side effects.
Last February, the New Mexico Racing Commission voted to suspend the use of clenbuterol for at least one year in all race horses in the state.
“This is very good for racing,” Collins said. “The horsemen here have all very been good about it.”
Recent publicity about the integrity of racing, especially in New Mexico, has put a negative spin on the industry. Barber hopes that this change of policy across the state, as well as other factors, will lead to positive changes among both fans and critics.
“We’ve been trying to move forward and move faster,” Barber said. “This is a situation that will always be looked at. The safety of everyone involved is, and has always been, a first concern.”
One thing that never changes at SunRay, and what makes this racing season so attractive for racing fans and bettors alike -- full fields and quality racing.
Of the 11 races on Friday’s opening day card, the average field size is 8.7 horses.
Compare that to one of the largest racing capitals in the country, where Santa Anita Park
in California is averaging just under 7 horses per race over the last four racing days.
More of those positive numbers can be expected this season, according to Barber.
“We had nearly 2700 stall applications come in for a backstretch that doesn’t hold nearly that many,” Barber said. “It will be a very full, and very busy backstretch.”
That difference appears marginal to the average fan, but that difference adds up in total pari-mutuel handle where odds and potential to make money depend on more choices.
Other highlights this racing season include this Saturday’s renewal of the $85,000 Foutz Distaff Handicap for state-bred filly and mare thoroughbreds.
The richest race of the season will once again be the New Mexico Breeders’ Futurity, held this year on Sun., June 3, with trials set to be held on Fri., May 18.
Last year’s N.M. Breeders’ Futurity was won by Osbaldo and trainer Oscar Carrete. The purse of the Futurity last year was over $176,000 with Osbaldo’s connections winning nearly $83,000 of the purse.
HIGHLIGHT RACES THIS SEASON AT SUNRAY PARK
Sat., April 21 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Russell and Helen Foutz Distaff Handicap
Sat., April 28 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Jack Cole Handicap
Sun., May 20 -- $85,000 Guaranteed New Mexico Breeders’ Stakes
Sat., May 26 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Aztec Oaks
Sun., May 27 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Dine Stakes
Sun., June 3 -- $85,000 Added New Mexico Breeders’ Futurity
Sun., June 10 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Jimmy Drake Quarter Horse Stakes
Sat., June 16 -- $85,000 Guaranted C.O. “Ken” Kendrick Memorial Stakes
Sun., June 17 -- $40,000 Added, Grade 3, Four Corners Futurity
Tue., June 19 -- $85,000 Guranteed Totah Thoroughbred Stakes
Sat., June 23 -- $85,000 Guaranteed Tommy “Duke” Smith Quarter Horse Stakes
Sun., June 24 -- $85,000 Guaranteed New Mexico Horsemen’s Association Handicap
Tue., June 26 - $100,000 Guaranteed San Juan County Commissioners Handicap