SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico — Preparations for the annual Sunland Park Derby are beginning after being closed for two years since the pandemic.
Officials said the race typically draws 17,000 people, but they’re curious to see what attendance will look like post-pandemic.
Sunland Park Derby announcer and spokesman Eric Alwan said there was already a lot of pent-up anticipation and excitement for the race. He said the reopening marks a renaissance for the sport of local horse racing.
Alwan said they don’t just bring local star horses, but horses from all over the country.
He said it’s an important race because the winning horse will head to the Kentucky Derby, one of the most prestigious horse races in the world and the first leg of America’s Triple Crown.
“It’s a huge event here for the area, El Paso, Juarez, Las Cruces, and for a sporting event that draws 16 to 18,000 people, to have $5 million wagered on the day, I mean you’re talking serious money, serious horses and just a lot of excitement,” Alwan said.
Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino’s executive director of marketing, Jaci Marx, told ABC-7 that excitement for the race has been building all week.
Marx said that since the mask mandate was lifted, the racetrack has come back to life and they are excited to see it.
“It’s the excitement in the casino, it’s all the food trucks that’s gonna be here, the mariachi bands, it’s all culminating in one, but think about it, $2 million worth of racing horses, $500,000 for the winner and a free date at the Kentucky Derby.Where else do you get that but here in Sunland Park?said Marx.
Admission to Sunday’s event is free, but Marx said it’s best to show up early to secure your spot.
The derby starts at 5 p.m.