Horses first ran on The Downs racetrack in June of 1971. In its early years, the track, located on 328 acres at the northeast corner of the La Cienega community, was quite successful with upwards of 10,000 bettors in attendance. The resulting traffic jams, Thursday through Saturday during the racing season, were legendary as the cars streamed out at the end of the race day. The RV parks on the north side of Los Pinos Road were filled with trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, and all the other employees needed to run a racetrack.
In the mid-80s The Downs ran into hard times. It was sold and renamed The Santa Fe Downs, but the track continued to struggle. In 1996 the Pueblo of Pojoaque purchased the property. The Pueblo invested in improvements to the racetrack but after two years, with substantial losses, the Pueblo shut down the track. The Pueblo continued to maintain the track and grass infield but the 1970s grandstand fell into serious disrepair.
In 2005, under the New Mexico Tribal-State Gaming Compact, a Racino license became available. A Racino is a racetrack that includes a prescribed number of slot machines. The Santa Fe Downs-Pueblo of Pojoaque was one of four or five applicants for the last Racino license that, under the Gaming Compact, would be available until 2020. There are currently five Racinos operating throughout New Mexico.
The La Cienega Valley Association (LCVA) and other representatives of the community testified in support of the Pueblo’s application at a hearing before the New Mexico Racing Commission in 2007. Unfortunately, the Pueblo’s application was denied and the Racino license was awarded to the La Mesa Racetrack in Raton. A couple of years later the Racing Commission rescinded La Mesa Racetrack’s Racino license when it failed to meet certain deadlines for operation. In response, La Mesa has sued the Racing Commission for not providing due process. The issue is now in the courts.
Currently the infield of the track is used for a youth recreational soccer league and there are occasional concerts and other special events. The La Cienega community expects that over time, the property will be developed by the Pueblo of Pojoaque. It is zoned as mixed commercial-residential and in discussions with Pueblo Governor Joe Talachy, the LCVA has expressed its interest in working with the Pueblo to plan the development. Governor Talachy is supportive of working with our community.
Connections to Sunrise
In November of 2003, our family held a memorial at Sunrise for our daughter Gretchen, who passed on November 18, at the age of 19, after a two-year battle with cancer. She passed on a Thursday night and by Sunday, Sunrise Springs had put together a memorable event for the over 200 people who attended the service in the Atrium, now the spa office and retail space. Gretchen grew up in La Cienega and the service at Sunrise was a fitting tribute to her passing in the valley she loved.
Another interesting connection to Sunrise Springs is where Ellie and I live. We moved to the 150-acre Blue Horse Ranch in 2002. Our too-narrow dining room was where Lalo Enriquez used to milk his goats and our walk-in closet is where he hung meat to age.
I reconnected with Sunrise Springs in September 2014. I was semi-retired and looking for a way to earn a little extra money. Sunrise Springs was advertising for a part-time front desk job, something I had done before. I applied and within a week I got a call: they were closing the old Sunrise Springs for good with the intent of selling it, and they wanted me to oversee that transition.
The old Sunrise closed in December of 2014 and the next several months I served as property manager. It was one maintenance man and I that kept things together, which meant dealing with roof repairs and responding to three frozen pipe emergencies over the winter. We also prepared the property for real estate showings and developed a maintained and clean “path” that took the prospective buyers through select rooms and other parts of the property.
I am telling all my friends about Sunrise.
Carl Dickens, Human Resources Coordinator
Carl Dickens grew up in New Mexico, his parents having met and fallen in love here. After a brief stint in Alaska, the family returned to the warmth and light of the high desert. Carl was raised in the farming community of Los Ranchos, in the North Valley of Albuquerque, among alfalfa fields and arroyos. He began working at Sunrise Springs in 1984, the same year he and his young family moved to the valley. Carl remained at Sunrise Springs for five years, returning again in September of 2012. Carl is active in the local community and is passionate about the history of the area, preserving its agricultural traditions and water conservation.