Mine That Star prevails in blustery SunRay Inaugural Handicap
An enthusiastic crowd came out to welcome back live horse racing, but many spectators watched from inside the casino as heavy winds played havoc with the track for most of the 10-race program.
According to the National Weather Service, winds gusted as much as 71 mph as horses were headed to the track for the fifth race on the card shortly before 4 p.m. Clouds of dust blew across the track and swirled onto the backstretch as temperatures dropped nearly 20 degrees in a few hours, making it a challenging day for both horse and jockey.
The average wind speed during the program was over 34 mph, which may seem a daunting task for many on the track.
'I love the horses':Jockey Kelsi Purcell seeks to pull off upset in Sunday's Sunland Oaks
Jockey Kelsi Purcell, who guided Mine That Star to a narrow victory over Goddard in the Inaugural Handicap, felt right at home in the blustery conditions.
"I actually enjoy it more," Purcell said of riding into and with the wind. "It's intense but everyone's paying a little more attention to where we're at and it's actually safer because everyone's taking a hold and being safe."
Mine That Star, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Pioneerof The Nile, earned the third stakes win of his career on Friday, rallying along the inside in the final furlong to win by a neck, racing 6 1/2 furlongs in a time of 1 minute, 18.27 seconds. Sent off as the 2.10-to-1 favorite, Mine That Star returned $6.20 to his winning backers.
Trained by Nancy Summers for owners Judge Lanier Racing, Mine That Star has now won six career races from 12 starts and has earnings nearing $208,000.
Summers, a former rider who now is one of the leading thoroughbred trainers in the state of New Mexico, concurred with Purcell about riding in windy conditions.
"It never bothered me riding in weather like this," Summers said. "It's more tactical and really safer than it would be under normal conditions."
The winds did make life difficult at times for trackside personnel, who had to deal with equipment getting away from handlers, as well as the occasional tile from a backstretch stable roof that got blown onto the track between races.
Mine That Star is a half-brother to Mine That Bird, the third-biggest upset winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby when he won the race in 2009. Mine That Bird would go on to finish second in the Preakness Stakes and third in the Belmont Stakes. Mine That Bird currently resides on owner Mark Allen's Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell.
Goddard, ridden by Alfredo Juarez, Jr., finished more than a length in front of Limonite, followed by El Chavo Del Ocho, who rounded out the top four finishers.
Racing resumes Saturday at SunRay Park and Casino, with a 10-race card set to begin at 2:15 p.m.
A field of 12 New Mexico-bred older fillies and mares were entered for Saturday's $100,000 Russell and Helen Foutz Distaff Handicap, which will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs.
Our Time To Shine has been installed as the 5-to-2 morning line favorite, and will attempt to make it a giant weekend for Summers and Purcell. The daughter of Laugh Track is coming off a second place finish in her most recent start at Sunland Park, when she was beaten two lengths by Flaxy Lady in the Peppers Pride Handicap on March 6.
Drawn in post eight, Our Time To Shine has three wins from 10 career starts with career earnings approaching $103,000.
Post time for the Foutz Handicap is scheduled for 5:27 p.m. and will go as the ninth race on Saturday's 10-race program.
For more information on Friday's races, check out the official results from Equibase.com.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.