Horse racing: Jim Collins is instrumental in Sunray's live racing season

Steve Bortstein for The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — When you go to the races this season at Sunray Park and Casino, you should remember the name Jim Collins.

Behind the scenes, but ahead of the game on almost every conceivable level, Collins is largely responsible for the day-to-day racing programs.

Collins is the Racing Secretary at Sunray Park. It is a position he also holds at the Downs at Albuquerque during its two live-racing seasons each year.

The job title is only that, a title.

With it comes an enormous task.

Each day's racing program, from the lowest level claiming race to the richest purses on the meet's calendar, has been put together by Collins and the staff inside the racing office at Sunray Park.

By the time this racing season comes to an end on Sept. 1, more than 320 races will be run, with countless others created by Collins.

It is his job to ensure that horsemen have races for which their stock are eligible. It is his job to ensure that trainers, from the upper echelon barns -- with 40 to 50 horses on the backstretch -- to the smallest operations, have opportunities to race and earn purse monies during this 36-day season.

The process to make these races happen starts weeks before the season begins.

"We have a condition book. The condition book lays out the entire racing card for the entire meet," Collins said. "The book is written sometimes two months before we open shop."

Having a detailed knowledge of the horsemen, not just the locals and the regional trainers and owners, but also having an idea which barns may be coming to Farmington for the season is essential to the job.

"I know which trainers and owners are going to be here when the process starts because we have to put out the book so far in advance," Collins said.

To that end, Sunray's director of racing Lonnie Barber assures Collins of what kind of purse monies are allocated for any given race.

Keeping everyone happy and ensuring that horsemen are given as many opportunities to succeed is an integral part of Collins' job, one he doesn't take lightly.

"These are the guys who pay the bills. There's always going to be some frustration from owners and trainers who can't get their horses into a race," Collins said. "My job is to juggle all aspects (from) the best trainers on the grounds to the smallest guy on the backstretch."

Sunray Park and Casino, which will be opening its 2015 racing season in the summer as opposed to the spring -- as it had in most recent years -- is unique in many ways for Collins.

"It's kind of a diamond in the rough here," Collins said about the local racetrack. "It's a six-furlong track so you get more speed horses that come from Albuquerque. They might get caught on that deep stretch there, but here you have an advantage if you have a speed horse."

Collins, who also serves as the official morning-line maker for both Sunray and the Downs at Albuquerque, has been in the racing business for more than 25 years. He has also been racing secretary for nearly ten years at tracks in New Mexico and Arizona.

"More than anything, I get a great reward from seeing the little guys win," Collins said. "The best memories are the people who love the game, but only have a handful of horses who can compete and win with the big guys."

One of the so-called big guys on the scene in New Mexico is trainer Justin Evans.

Currently ranked the 11th winningest trainer in the nation, Evans will be looking to win another title as top trainer at Sunray this season, an award he has won each of the past two seasons.

Evans understands the complexities of the job Collins does, and the pressure he is under everyday.

"As a racing secretary, the guys who are winning love him, and the guys who aren't, they hate him. You're never going to please everyone," Evans said. "It's a thankless job because sometimes it's difficult to deal with race trackers."

Collins can be found most racing days purveying the grand stands at Sunray, taking in the local flavor of the track, and is always watchful of the horseplayer and the horsemen.

"It's like a second family," Collins said of the racetrack business. "This is a second life for me."