Peter Vegso's Silver Tree has been installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the $200,000 John B. Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT), the highlight of closing weekend at Sam Houston Race Park Saturday.
A field of seven is entered in the 1 1/8-mile turf contest that was awarded graded status in 2006. An exceptional card included two additional turf stakes races, the $50,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes and the $50,000 Sam Houston Turf Sprint.
Bill Mott trains Silver Tree, the 7-year-old son of Hennessy shipping from South Florida for the Connally. Bred in Florida by Vegso Racing Stable, Silver Tree has banked $1.2 million since making his debut at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23, 2003. He has won three graded stakes, most recently, the $125,000 Appleton Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream on March 4. This will be his second trip to Texas for Silver Tree, who ran fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Lone Star Park in 2004.
Silver Tree will have a new rider on Saturday in Roimes Chirinos, who is currently the second leading rider at the northwest Houston racetrack. The 24-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela, recently departed for Gulfstream Park. Chirinos rode his first winner at Gulfstream Park on March 29 with Nunnery, a Mott trainee owned by Claiborne Farm. Chirinos has never ridden in a graded stake race in his career, but he is no stranger to the Connally Turf Course with 11 turf victories, including two turf stakes wins with the talented filly, Wild Encounter.
“I am really excited,” said Chirinos. “The biggest race I rode was in the ($125,000) Texas Stallion Stakes in Houston. Every rider dreams of winning a graded stakes, and I am looking forward to riding this horse on Saturday.”
Fort Prado, who won the 2006 edition of the Connally Breeders' Cup Turf, will break from post position four under rider Corey Lanerie. The 6-year-old son of El Prado is trained by Jeff Trosclair for owners Patricia, David, and Ryan Block and is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Trosclair freshened Fort Prado following his fifth-place finish in the Fair Grounds Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. III) on Feb. 10 and feels that the gray turf specialist will run a good race this weekend.
“He didn’t care for the Fair Grounds turf,” commented Trosclair. “We just decided to give him some time off and get him ready for Houston. He’s been training well and had a nice blow out on Sunday.”
Storm Treasure, trained by Steve Asmussen, is the only 4-year-old in the Connally. The Kentucky-bred colt, owned by Mike McCarty, made his last two starts at Fair Grounds. He ran third in the Fair Grounds Breeders’ Cup and will be ridden by Jose Figueroa. Asmussen won the 2004 Connally Breeders’ Cup Turf with Warleigh.
Two other notable shippers include Embossed, an Irish-bred 5-year-old from the barn of Niall O’Callaghan, and Mending Fences, who ran second to English Channel on Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park. Quincy Hamilton will ride Mending Fences for trainer Marty Wolfson, and Larry Melancon has been named on Embossed.
$200,000 John B. Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 7, 9:36 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Mending Fences (KY), Quincy Hamilton, 113, 8/1
2. Embossed (IRE), Bobby J. Walker, Jr., 117, 4/1
3. General Charley (TX), Paul M. Nolan, 110, 8/1
4. Fort Prado (IL), Corey J. Lanerie, 116, 3/1
5. Silver Tree (FL), Roimes Chirinos, 119, 8/5
6. Doctor Doctor Mrmd (TX), Anthony Cruz, 109, 15/1
7. Storm Treasure (KY), Jose Figueroa, 115, 5/1