Yesterday, Sunland Park announced the cancellation of their two major Kentucky Derby and Oaks qualification races, the Sunland Park Derby and Sunland Park Oaks. The track said that they wanted to preserve the integrity of the qualification process for the Derby and the Oaks as well as the legitimacy of the New Mexico track’s races. The good news is that Sunland announced that they’ll be running two new stakes races on the same date. The even better news is that the New Mexico Livestock Board is expected to lift the quarantine that the track has been under for most of the early part of 2016. The track could be given the ‘all clear’ and the stable area removed from ‘lockdown’ as early as Wednesday.
It’s been a terrible year so far for Sunland Park with all of the trouble stemming from an outbreak of the equine herpes virus. The virus outbreak began in late January and forced the track to suspend live racing for over a month. Live racing has resumed but since the track is under quarantine it’s been impossible for horsemen to ship their animals to and from Sunland. Once the quarantine is lifted Sunland will once again be open for business to accommodate ‘shippers’ from out of state. There are approximately 1,600 horses stabled at Sunland. Since the outbreak began 68 horses have tested positive for the virus but only five currently remain in an isolation barn.
The two new races created to replace the cancelled Derby qualification events will be held on the same date and cover the same distance. The $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes is open to three year old horses going 1 1/8 miles, and the $200,000 Plum Pretty is open to three year old fillies covering 1 1/16 miles. The New Mexico Racing Commission must approve the changes to Sunland’s stakes schedule as well as the track’s request for additional racing dates. The quarantine process is a little less transparent–officials from the state Livestock Board are reportedly checking conditions at the facility on a daily basis and can determine that the quarantine should be lifted at any time. Every indication is that will happen by the end of the week at the latest.