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Sunland Park wants horse race graded

29 April 2008

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico -- As reported by the Associated Press: "Sunland Park racing director Dustin Dix figures the Southwest border has given plenty to horse racing -- famed jockey Willie Shoemaker and trainer Bob Baffert, for starters.

"So, he figures, the track near El Paso, Texas, deserves a graded rating for its featured race, the WinStar Derby, during the Kentucky Derby buildup each spring. No doubt, it would improve the racing.

"...Sentimentality aside, the main reason for granting a graded designation is to establish top bloodlines.

"Last month, the race staged its sixth running for 3-year-old thoroughbreds with a $600,000 purse, padded by profits from Sunland Park's booming casino. It's the world's richest ungraded stakes race.

"...The Winstar Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, is deemed a prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but as it stands now, any WinStar champion also would need to perform in graded races before reaching Churchill Downs.

"...Several criteria are used by the grading committee in determining which races receive the designation.

"...'This is the birthplace of a lot of big personalities,' Dix said. 'We also feel we're a great example for what gaming has done for horse racing. The grading committee should recognize it is changing the sport in a good way."

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