"We were pleasantly surprised to have received the license, and very glad the commission us," Rimbo said. "This has been a very long process. I believe we filed our application about 26 months ago and we are very anxious to get underway."The partnership plans to have the casino in operation as early as November 2004 and plans to conduct a 53-day live race mixed Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet starting in October 2005. "As far as the ground breaking is concerned, we want to get underway as soon as possible. We plan to open the casino in about a year as a way to generate money for purses when the track opens in 2005," Rimbo said.New Mexico law allows for a maximum of 600 slot machines per location with an option to rent an additional 150 machines from another track. Rimbo said Zia Park would open with a minimum of 600 machines.Also vying for the Hobbs license were Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters, under a partnership known as Hobbs Downs; Ken Newton, former owner of The Downs at Santa Fe, who SaddleBrook Park partnership included the owners of the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas; and Nevada businessman Shawn Scott, who proposed to build Lea Downs.Zia Park will be constructed across the street from the Lea County Events Center near downtown Hobbs as opposed to closer to the New Mexico-Texas state line. Design plans call for the track to incorporate a Southwestern theme, and would emphasize the racetrack atmosphere, and not the casino. Patrons will enter near the saddling paddock, where theater seats will allow them to watch the horses being saddled before each race. Instead of the traditional grandstand, the track would have a modern clubhouse, where horse players can make their bets on machines right at their tables, and an outdoor terrace area for viewing the races.
"I believe the saddling paddock will be the real showplace of the track," Rimbo said. "We want everyone that enters the track to see the horses. This saddling paddock will be much different than any other track."As far as track configurations are concerned, Zia Park will feature a one-mile oval track with a seven-furlong Thoroughbred chute and a 550- yard Quarter Horse chute. The stretch of the track will be 90-feet wide while the turns and backstretch will be 80-feet wide. In addition to the track, the Zia Park group also has a contract with the Kansas-based Leisure Group of Companies to construct a new 80-to-120 room Hilton Garden Inn or Marriott hotel on the track property.