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Horses Relocated From Ruidoso Downs Amid Two Wildfires

The State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque is preparing to potentially stable horses.

A fire off in the distance near Ruidoso, N.M.

A fire off in the distance near Ruidoso, N.M.

Leasa Johnson/New Mexico Racing Commission

Two raging wildfires in New Mexico that prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents in the resort town of Ruidoso have also led to the relocation of horses from Ruidoso Downs, located about five miles southeast of town.

The racetrack of Ruidoso Downs, located in the Ruidoso suburb of the same name, hosts both Thoroughbred and higher-level Quarter Horse racing, notably the All American Futurity (G1), the world's richest Quarter Horse race.

Evacuation orders are now in effect for the village of Ruidoso and the suburb of Ruidoso Downs.

Ismael "Izzy" Trejo, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, said at 10 a.m. MT June 18 that NMRC state veterinarian Dr. Victoria Lowe informed him that "horses are being requested to vacate the Ruidoso grounds."

Earlier in the morning, he had said that tracks and a couple of fairgrounds in the state have "really offered to step up and help" by offering to stable horses leaving Ruidoso.

Citing a conversation he had with trainer Jose A. Gonzalez, Trejo said about 190 horses left Ruidoso the evening of June 17, and "I'm told today the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque is preparing the facility for the potential intake of hundreds and hundreds of horses."

Ruidoso is located about 130 miles southeast of Albuquerque.

The village of Ruidoso posted to X Tuesday morning that the two fires were 0% contained overnight. The fires cover an estimated 22 square miles. Trejo said Gonzalez relayed to him that horsemen "flocked" overnight to the racetrack "as a sanctuary because they've been moved from their homes."

Telephone communications in the area were difficult Tuesday during the fire emergency. Trainer Todd Fincher was reached Tuesday morning as he was driving and had left the area.

"I was in Ruidoso all day yesterday, and I was there this morning. We have no (cell service), so I left. Everything looks good at the track," he said. "Big fires on both sides of the track, but I think the track is pretty safe. There’s smoke in the air, but not bad smoke at all, barely any, which is good."

He described mountain ranges on the two sides of the track, and he believes the fires are moving parallel along those ridges.

A video posted on Facebook Tuesday afternoon by Rick Baugh, general manager at Ruidoso Downs, showed the mountains immediately behind the backstretch of Ruidoso absent fire. "Currently at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack. Keep the prayers coming!" he wrote.

He reposted comments by another individual saying, "We just left the racetrack. They are NOT needing horses evacuated at this time," that post read.

Baugh did not return a phone message or email seeking additional comment.

Fincher was not among the horsemen who moved horses Monday evening.

Trejo said NMRC commission staff had moved out and relocated to different areas such as Albuquerque and Roswell, "safer places in the Ruidoso vicinity that aren't in jeopardy of the fire at this point in time. So we got our staff out of there, and now our priority is the horsemen and the horses that are located there."

He forwarded a photograph taken from the area by NMRC chief investigator Leasa Johnson showing a massive fire in the distance and smoke filling the sky.

"So, yeah, preparing for the worst, hoping for the best," Trejo said.

He added there was "bumper-to-bumper traffic getting out there yesterday" among the people leaving the area under mandatory evacuation orders for residents. Outbound traffic is allowed only in one direction on Highway 70 toward Roswell. 

Some Roswell locations offered free lodging and accommodations to those displaced by the fires.

Ruidoso wildfire June 18, 2024
Photo: Village of Ruidoso Photo
Cars stream out of Ruidoso after evacuation orders from two fast-growing wildfires

The village of Ruidoso is popular with tourists and racegoers. It is situated in the heart of the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico, offering high-altitude relief in the summer compared to lower-level nearby desert areas.

According to the village of Ruidoso website, approximately 500 structures have been impacted as a result of the latest fires and all available resources are being utilized to secure the line and protect homes in and around Ruidoso. "Yesterday saw rapid fire growth, extreme fire behavior, and long-range spotting. Intense heat with plume domination is expected this afternoon and evening. The cause of the fire is under investigation," the midday notification on the website continued.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement, strongly urging "residents of Ruidoso and the surrounding areas to remain calm and heed official instructions to help minimize risk.

"I want to thank all first responders and others who are battling these fires, managing the evacuation, and providing crucial emergency services, including the town of Roswell, which rapidly stood up shelter for evacuees. New Mexicans always pull together in times of need, and this time is no different."

On Tuesday, she declared a state of emergency to exist in Lincoln County, where Ruidoso is located, and the Mescalero Apache Reservation.

Even if the fires were to subside, Trejo said smoke would make scheduled racing "questionable" later in the week. There is a threat of rain June 19-22, potentially bringing much-needed moisture to the area.