New Mexico horse racing tracks host Kentucky Derby watch parties

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kentucky Derby watch parties were in full swing at horse racing tracks across the state.

At the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino, a few hundred fans came out to watch the race.

"So exciting to be back and to have the public. That’s what we really missed last year was the public. It’s fun to have the races, but until you see the fans in the stands yelling and screaming for their horse to finish first, that’s what we really missed last year," said Tim Keithly, marketing director for the Ruidoso Downs.

It was also a day for reunions. Some friends had the opportunity to meet up for the first time since before the pandemic began.

"So when she walked in yesterday it was overwhelming because we’ve been friends for over 30 years and to see her, and we talk on the phone, but talking on the phone isn’t the same as sitting up close and personal and being able to hug someone and, you know, just be out and be social again,” said Mona Hall, a watch party attendee.

With summer right around the corner, the Ruidoso Downs said they’re expecting horse racing to be a great way for even more people to socialize.

"Perfect sport to come back from the pandemic because everything is outdoors. You can see were in the turf club right now. It’s wide-open open air. The grandstand is open air, and so folks are going to be able to socially distance, wear a mask, wash their hands and still participate,” Keithly said.

Other people said they’re looking forward to forming new connections.

"This is amazing. I just met Mona. Today, she introduced me to Crystal so making new friends and new experiences. This is an awesome day,” said Vennie Mae, an attendee.

Most party goers said they were cheering for Roswell-native Mike Smith and his horse Midnight Bourbon. Smith has previously won two Kentucky Derby races in 2005 and 2018.

"Mine That Bird will always be known as a New Mexico’s Kentucky Derby winner, and we’re proud of that,” Keithly said.