It didn’t take Jeff True long to get his finger to the pulse of his new home.
Not long after moving to Ruidoso, N.M., from California, he said he thinks he’s got it figured out.
“It’s definitely all about cowboys and fast horses, no question,” True said.
And the mountain town will see plenty of the latter, True promises, starting this month at the new-look Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino, which is kicking off its season this weekend with a celebration of the famous Kentucky Derby ahead the track’s own live racing opening on Memorial Day weekend.
A new ownership group that’s taken over the track, along with True, the new president and general manager of the venue, are set to open their first season in control of Ruidoso Downs on May 25.
The new owners have invested millions of dollars in resources into the venue, bringing renovation and new event ideas in along the way, True said this week during one of several visits to media outlets throughout West Texas.
With renovations in place and new events like concerts dotting the season schedule this year, the track is set to host a watch party for the Kentucky Derby this weekend, before Ruidoso’s track heats up with early training races next week, then 15 weekends of live racing open on Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s really the kickoff,” True said of the Kentucky Derby watch party this weekend, which will feature off-track betting and other general festivities like a best hat contest.
In bringing back something the track hasn’t seen in a while, True said, the venue is set to host concerts featuring Red Steagall and Flatland Cavalry, plus events like a ‘Mexican Fiesta’ featuring AB Quintanilla Elektro Kumbia, and a Chile the Kid Beer and Wine Festival in cooperation with the city’s Ruidoso Midtown Association.
It’s with events like those that the new ownership and True are hoping to help build a welcoming atmosphere for attendees.
“It’s a family event. You can walk in there with no admission fee into the grandstand, walk straight to the rail of the racetrack,” True said. “If you want a reserved seat you can upgrade and buy one, but it’s kind of wide open, and it’s a neat setting up in the mountains.”
The new ownership and management is bringing plenty of new ideas, True said, but still keeping an emphasis on what works in Ruidoso and what’s made the track famous — Quarter Horse racing, the straightaway sprint of the horseracing world.
Ruidoso Downs features an oval track for thoroughbred racing as well as a straightaway track specifically for Quarter Horse racing, an event True says is special to the southwest region and its culture.
The American Quarter Horse Association is based in Amarillo, and Ruidoso’s All American Futurity is boasted as the richest Quarter Horse event in racing.
“Quarter Horse racing in the southwest U.S. is more family-oriented, because it’s more of a horse culture,” True said. “People rodeo, people ride barrels, people raise horses and trail ride, people rope and do things like that around here. Horse racing is a natural extension of what they do on horseback already.
“A Quarter Horse, after he’s finished running, you can go use him for something else for another 10 or 12 years. Thoroughbreds are not always suited to that.”
Recent renovations made at the track include a new roof built on the venue, a rebuilt paddock, a new barn raised, 100 new machines added to the casino floor, and new network infrastructure pulled through the venue that will allow for wireless wagering and an upgraded high-definition feed to be sent to TV broadcasts and off-track betting spots.