ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The commission that oversees horse racing in New Mexico announced Monday that live racing is set to resume in April now that public health restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic are being eased in some places around the state. The five licensed tracks and their associated casinos have been hit hard over the past year. After a brief hiatus last spring, races resumed at Ruidoso Downs in May and The Downs at Albuquerque and Zia Park conducted live meets last summer but did so while their casinos remained closed.
Without revenue from slot machines and tables, purse money was reduced in 2020 to a fraction of what it was the previous year. Under the revised public health order issued last week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, large entertainment venues such as racetracks will be permitted to operate depending on whether the counties in which they are located meet the state’s benchmarks for COVID-19 positivity rates and new per-capita cases.
Racing officials expect the purse accounts to recover with influxes of revenue not seen in nearly a year. “We are very excited to get live horse racing going again in the state of New Mexico. We look forward to getting the industry back on track,” said Sam Bregman, an Albuquerque attorney who was recently appointed to lead the commission after the governor’s office opted to dismiss the previous chairwoman, Beverly Bourguet.
Opening day at SunRay Park in northwestern New Mexico is scheduled for April 23. Commissioners plan to vote on the track’s purse schedule, post times and other details that will clear the way for racing during their March 18 meeting. The announcement comes just weeks after the commission was forced to cancel this season’s meet at Sunland Park in southern New Mexico due to the pandemic.
Regional transportation officials also announced that limited service on the state’s commuter rail — the New Mexico Rail Runner Express — will resume next week. Masks will be required and the train cars will be cleaned throughout the day.
Spread rates and daily cases have been on a downward trend in New Mexico. In all, health officials have reported more than 185,000 confirmed infections since the pandemic began, and the statewide death toll recently topped 3,700.
While more vaccine doses are being shipped to New Mexico, officials say supplies still are not keeping up with demand. About 668,000 people have registered for shots. Of the more than 590,300 doses that have been administered since the campaign began, state data shows about 13% were given within the last seven days.