- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico regulators on Monday agreed to add one race per day to the schedule at Sunland Park to address concerns about the disbursement of potentially millions of dollars in purse money that accumulated during an equine herpes outbreak.

The outbreak in January led officials to shut down racing for several weeks and implement a quarantine at the track near the New Mexico-Texas border in an effort to limit the spread of the fast-moving EHV-1 virus. Dozens of horses tested positive, and several had to be euthanized.

Racing at Sunland Park resumed late last month. But horsemen said they lost dozens of races because of the outbreak and purse money was affected as a result.

Track officials confirmed at a special New Mexico Racing Commission on Monday in Albuquerque that the purse payout per racing day at Sunland Park has averaged more than $140,000. They also said they have no idea how much extra purse money they’ll have at the end of the meet in May.

A few options failed to win approval over policy concerns before the commissioners agreed during Monday’s meeting to the additional race per day and the disbursement of extra purse money at the end of the meet to horse owners.

“We’re probably not going to make everybody happy, but this is what we’ve been left with,” commission Chairman Ray Willis said.

Track officials had proposed increasing overnight purses by 15 percent going forward as well as retroactively rather than add races or extend the season.

Sunland Park race director Dustin Dix told the commissioners they should consider what’s in the best interest of the racing fans.

“Quality is what they look for. It’s not another race,” Dix said. “That’s how we get people and how we entice them and how we get them to be fans for a long time.”

The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association proposed adding two races per day for the remainder of the meet along with three additional race days.

Gerald Marr with the association said owners and horsemen want a chance to race for the money and doing so would have a trickle-down effect for trainers, breeders and groomers.

But critics complained that the board’s decision was predetermined and that small horse owners were being left out.

Gary Roybal with the League of United Latin American Citizens suggested the commission consider an emergency rule change that would ensure parity among all involved. He argued that distributing purse money retroactively is not something spelled out in state law but rather is a commission policy that could be changed.

The New Mexico Livestock Board lifted the quarantine at Sunland Park in early March as state and track officials declared the virus contained. That cleared the way for horses to come and go at the track. But new protocols have been adopted to ensure horses have health certificates and vaccinations before entering licensed tracks around the state.

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