Downs at Albuquerque cutting six major races from schedule

Sep 17, 2012 10:02 AM

The Downs at Albuquerque is citing shrinking casino revenues and a nosedive in its live betting revenues as the reason it is cutting six major state races from its fall schedule.

A downward revenue trend has been ongoing since July, Downs racing manager Don Coos said. The New Mexico Racing Commission approved the elimination of the six stakes races at its meeting on Thursday.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Downs’ 54-day race meet includes 17 days of racing it conducts for the New Mexico State Fair. The fair started Wednesday and continues through Sept. 23.

Two of the stakes races were set for this weekend. They included the $25,000 State Fair Queen Stakes for thoroughbreds set for Saturday and the $25,000 Mariposa Handicap for quarter horses set for Sunday. The other thoroughbred scratched races include the $40,000 State Fair Handicap, Sept. 23; the $25,000 Budweiser Special Stakes, Oct. 14; the $25,000 Charles Taylor Derby, Oct. 21; and the $25,000 Chamisa Handicap, Oct. 28.

Horsemen say the move will eliminate their chances to run for nearly $150,000 in purse money.

Jack McGrail, executive director of the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association, said cutting the races was “the least onerous path” for horsemen. He blames the shrinking revenue on delays in building a new casino and a failed air conditioning system in the current casino.

The other options, Cook said, were to reduce the State Fair meet’s stakes purses by $15,000 apiece, cut the number of live weekday races from 10 per day to nine, or cut purses 10 percent across the board.

Earlier this year, the Downs won a new 25-year lease for the state-owned fairgrounds property, which includes construction of a $15- to $20-million casino near Central and Louisiana NE.

“The lease was signed on December 14, and there has been very little progress, and that is going to impact racing,” said McGrail, whose association represents about 5,500 licensed racehorse owners, trainers and grooms in New Mexico. “If there’s nothing done, (the) commission is presiding over the demise of racing in New Mexico.” Though the new casino construction has been limited to compaction of an earthen “pad,” Downs general manager Darren White has said the target date for opening is “early in the second quarter” of 2013.

But Cook said he thought revenues were down because horsemen were not entering enough horses to fill the live races, and that people were simply betting less because of the languishing economy.