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ABQ Downs boasts rich stakes slate

Albuquerque Downs has released its track-record 34-race, $3.647 million stakes schedule for its 2019 Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet, which opens Friday, June 28.

Of The Downs’ 34 stakes races, 16 will be for Thoroughbreds and 18 for Quarter Horses. The track’s Thoroughbred stakes will be worth an estimated $1.165 million, and its Quarter Horse stakes will be worth a track-record estimated $2.482 million, enhanced primarily by the American Quarter Horse Association Bank of America Challenge Championships on Oct. 26.

Last year’s Challenge Championships were run at Los Alamitos Racecourse near Los Angeles. This will mark the first time Albuquerque Downs will host the Challenge Championships, and it will mark the first time since 1993 that the event will be held in New Mexico (then at Sunland Park).

Ten Quarter Horse stakes will be contested at Albuquerque Downs on Challenge Championships night. The 440-yard, $250,000 Challenge Championship offers its winner a starting berth in the Dec. 14, $600,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos Racecourse, Quarter Horse racing’s richest and most prestigious race for older horses.

“We are so excited about this,” said AQHA chief racing officer Janet Van Bebber in a statement provided by the track. “AQHA appreciates (Downs chairman of the board) Paul Blanchard and president of racing Don Cook in their enthusiasm to conduct and host the Challenge Championships. Additionally, we appreciate the commitment they’ve shown the industry in renovations at their track, supporting integrity efforts, and efforts to further support and promote Quarter Horse racing.”

Other Quarter Horse stakes highlights include the fifth running of the 440-yard, $300,000 Albuquerque Fall Championship, one of seven stakes offered Sept. 22.

The track’s richest race for any breed, the 74th running of the 400-yard, $400,000-estimated New Mexico State Fair Quarter Horse Futurity, will also be run Sept. 22.

The Downs’ signature Thoroughbred stakes race, the 11/8-mile, $200,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap, takes place on Aug. 3. Last year’s Downs at Albuquerque Handicap was won by Calumet Farm’s Hence, a homebred son of Street Boss trained by Steve Asmussen and a 2017 Triple Crown contender.

“We expect to draw the best field we’ve ever had for this race this year,” said Cook. “We’ve lowered the entry and starter fees, and instead of paying the connections of just the top six finishers – like we did last year – we’ll be paying down 10 places.”

Other prominent Thoroughbred stakes include the 6-furlong, $200,000-est. New Mexico State Fair Thoroughbred Futurity (R) for state-bred 2-year-olds Sept.22.

“This is the best stakes program we’ve had since I’ve been here, which is going on 30 years,” said Cook, who held several positions at The Downs before assuming his current post.

Live racing will be offered at The Downs on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, starting at 6:05 p.m., and Sundays, starting at 1:30. The schedule will change during the New Mexico State Fair portion of the meet in September.

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