Mischief Man was a handful as his groom led him out of the Zia Park walking ring and toward the racetrack for Monday's 10th race, a $12,500 claiming event for 3-year-olds and upward. He was the last one out of the paddock because of his temperamental behavior, and stopped suddenly by a metal fence that lined the pathway to the track, digging his feet into the ground.
Jockey Rico Flores tried to coax the son of Awesome Sword to join the others in the post parade, but the gelding would have none of it. Instead, he reared up high in the air and then flipped over backwards, transforming Flores into a projectile heading toward that hard metal fence and a potentially crippling injury. Luckily, he hit it with only a glancing blow to his body, tumbling to the ground on the other side.
Mischief Man's foot got caught in the fence and he thrashed around for a few seconds before freeing himself and getting back to his feet. Flores got up, too, shaken, but not seriously injured. He was examined immediately by emergency medical personnel on the scene.
The outrider scheduled to accompany Mischief Man to the gate rode into the paddock and asked if the horse was going to be scratched. “No!” Flores shouted, not wanting to give up the mount that had been acting so crazily just a few moments earlier.
The track veterinarian overruled Flores, and he walked sadly back into the jockeys' room after Mischief Man was taken out of the race.
The incident demonstrated how quickly things can go wrong for jockeys or handlers of these high-strung Thoroughbreds—even before a race is run. Flores escaped injury this time, though his head came dangerously close to smacking the fence as he fell toward the ground. It also showed the courage (some might craziness) of these athletes who risk their lives every time they get on a horse's back.
I was at Zia Park with my Paulick Report partner, Brad Cummings, on the fourth stop of our 10-day BREEDERS' CUP OR BUST fundraising drive, held in partnership with Breeders' Cup Charities to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and V Foundation for Cancer Research. We were at the Hobbs, N.M., track to enjoy a day of Quarter horse and Thoroughbred racing and participate in a handicapping contest with a couple of local sharpshooters, KRUI radio talk-show host and handicapper Tim Keithley, and trainer Todd Fincher, a former leading at Ruidoso Downs and other tracks in the Southwest.
It was our first trip to Zia Park and Black Gold Casino, a racetrack and casino in eastern New Mexico about 100 miles southwest of Lubbock, Texas. R.D. Hubbard built the track for $50 million in 2004 and sold it three years later for $200 million to Penn National Gaming—a pretty good pinhook. The slot machines support the purses for what is a pretty good racing product Those $12,500 claimers were racing for a $13,500 purse; New Mexico-bred 2-year-old maidens competed for a $27,700 purse earlier in the card.
Hobbs is a working-class town of about 28,000 people, and their median household income is $28,100. Cowboy hats, Wranglers and big belt buckles are the order of the day for this horse-loving part of the country.
Rick Baugh, the assistant general manager who hosted us for the day, gave Keithley and Fincher a $1,000 bankroll to build up for the two charities. Brad and I also had $1,000 to wager. Whatever was left at the end of the day would go to Breeders' Cup Charities, and the team with the biggest bankroll after the final race would bragging rights.
The Kentucky invaders didn't embarrass themselves, hitting several winners on the card, including a maiden winner that had gone 0-for-32 prior to the day, and a couple of exotic bets. We managed to wind up with about $1,600 and looked like we would cruise to victory over the local hotshots, but Keithley and Fincher (a pretty sharp trainer, with 11 wins from 31 starts going into the day) hit the exacta and trifecta on the final race, nearly doubling their bankroll. We were more than happy to finish second, since it meant that more than $3,000 would go to the charities.
The $3,000-plus from Zia Park brings our total to nearly $65,000. Many thanks to this segment's sponsors, Robert and Blythe Clay's Three Chimneys Farm; Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable; numerous affiliates of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association; and Zia Park/Penn National Gaming.
Sponsors for our previous segments were Global Gaming Solutions and Remington Park; Terry Finley and his West Point Thoroughbred partners; Tommy Simon's Vinery; Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm; TVG; Bill Casner and WinStar Farm; Barry Irwin of Team Valor International; Kate Lantaff of Tahoma Stud; William S. Farish's Lane's End, Sheikh Mohammed's Darley, Brereton C. Jones' Airdrie Stud and the Young family's Overbrook Farm. A special thanks to our media partner TVG and the TVG's online community for playing such a big part in promoting the drive.
It was all ion good fun, and that seems to be what Zia Park is all about. It's a friendly track, well designed, and about the right size for what racing needs to be in a town like Hobbs. One bit of advice from locals that's worth passing on: if you stop in, be sure to have the green chile cheeseburger. You won't find anything like it in Kentucky.
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