FARMINGTON— Trainer Justin Evans thanked his family. Owners Tom and Sandy McKenna spoke about horsemen being a part of a large family dynamic. Jockey Martin Bourdieu spoke about the strength of a family being a large part of his success.
The racetrack life, clearly not for everybody, is part nomadic, and part madness.
Just when you, as an owner, trainer or rider get settled into one routine at one racetrack, it's time to pack up and move on to the next.
"There's no time for complacency in this business," Evans said Sunday when being awarded the title as leading thoroughbred trainer at SunRay Park and Casino. "It all starts with having a strong bond with those closest to you. Your family is part of the team."
Evans, who captured the title with an incredible season in which his barn won more than 40 races, already has horses racing in the current season at Ruidoso Downs. He'll soon move a majority of his horses south to Albuquerque, where the Downs will open its 2014 racing season in early August.
Evans' season at SunRay was so dominant that his win total equaled the combined number of wins as this season's second, third and fourth best trainers.
"It pumps us up to be able to open up like that," Evans said. "It challenges us for the next meet to see if we can improve those numbers if we can."
One of the main beneficiaries of Evans' success this season has been the Judge Lanier Racing Stables, operated largely by Tom and Sandra McKenna.
"The people we've surrounded ourselves with are professionals in every sense of the word," said Tom McKenna on Sunday in the SunRay Park winner's circle. "But they are also a part of the family and their success is our success."
The McKenna's hail from Taiban, located about 175 miles southeast of Albuquerque, and through out the state their impact on the sport of racing has been felt. They were also awarded the title of leading owners at Sunland Park, which wrapped up its season last April.
"Trainers like (Evans) and Dan Dennison and Simon Buechler are such good people and they've become part of this extended family," McKenna said.
Giles, Bourdieu dominate shortliners
As a handicapper, angles are pivotal. When you see a situation that beneficial, you use that situation to your advantage as often as possible.
The rider/trainer combination of Wes Giles and Martin Bourdieu led them to season-end awards in the quarter horse divisions at SunRay Park and Casino.
Giles, no stranger to success in the state of New Mexico, saddled 16 winners in 60 starters this season, including stakes wins with Penny Snatchin in the Tommy "Duke" Smith Stakes last weekend, and Miracle Snow, winner of the Jimmy Drake Stakes earlier this month, and Too Flash For You, winner of the New Mexico Breeders' Stakes last month.
Jill Giles, the matriarch of the operation as well as Wes' wife, was quick to thank all the people who help make the operation work so well.
"It's not possible without all the great owners, jockeys and people we have around us," Giles said upon accepting the award for her husband, "They're the ones who make winning races happen."
Bourdieu won his second consecutive riding title in the quarter horse division this year after winning the title at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. He, along with jockey Larry Gamez, shared in the success of the Giles barn.
"Being able to ride for such good people makes my job better," Bourdieu said. "I've been very blessed to be around all of them."
With the 2014 live racing season officially in the books, as far as racing results are concerned, some financial numbers still need to be tallied. But it appears as if this season may have been one of the best in track history.
Combining on and off-track wagering indicates that more than $5.42 million was wagered on races during the 29-day season. That figure is comparable to 2011, when total handle cleared more than $5.96 million when the track raced 48 days.
Mutuels manager Steve Fedunak also estimates that SunRay's total handle for this season has increased by more than 45 percent since last year.
Horse of the meet
This is an unofficial award, in that I'm the only one actually voting for this, but I'll toss out for future reference the name of Too Flash For You, who posted a strong win in the $45,000 New Mexico Breeders' Stakes.
The 3-year-old son of First Moonflash ran the 400 yards in a time of 19.32 seconds, and appears to have a very bright future.
Also deserving of the title is Pretty Woody Jesse, winner of the New Mexico Breeders' Futurity, Ol Winedrinker Who and the upset winner of Sunday's San Juan County Commissioners Handicap.
While it's alarmingly easy to recall the names of top riders and trainers from this season, I'll also point out a couple of names to follow.
Jockey Jimmy Coates put together a strong meet with more than a dozen wins.
Coates, who made an impression last year during the racing season at Albuquerque Downs, could be ready for breakthrough season later this summer.
Also deserving praise is trainer Camie Telford, who won six times this season and was actively involved in purchasing some racing commodities we may be hearing from a lot this summer.