Cross Chris Run faces Brother Louie again Oct. 28 after the two finished a neck apart in last year's $180,000 Rocky Gulch New Mexico Classic Cup Championship at Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M.
The one-mile Rocky Gulch culminates an 11-race program for New Mexico-bred Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Including four Quarter Horse events worth more than $800,000 in prize money, a total of more than $2 million is expected to be offered in purses after starter and entry fees. It makes the New Mexico Classic Cup series the richest state-bred series of races in the nation.
In last year's Rocky Gulch, Cross Chris Run, ridden by Ken Tohill, closed with a rush to catch Brother Louie and Enrique Gomez in the final strides to post a 10-1 upset.
Cross Chris Run, trained by Joel Marr for owner Cleber J. Massey, drew the rail for the rematch. The 5-year-old Desert God gelding returned from a 10-month layoff Oct. 6 to run fourth in an allowance/optional claiming event at Zia.
"There's going to be speed in the race, and we're going to hope to come from off the pace," Marr said.
Marr also starts Desert Gamble and On Down the Road in the Rocky Gulch.
Brother Louie, trained by Henry Dominguez, was fifth in that same one-mile allowance that his rival exits and has one win in nine starts this year. The 5-year-old Robyn Dancer gelding breaks from post 9 in the 10-horse field.
Dominguez also entered Lesters Secret.
Smash Dancer, from the Todd Fincher barn for owner and breeder Barbara Coleman, won the Oct. 6 allowance and will look to ruin the Rocky Gulch reunion for Cross Chris Run and Brother Louie. He has won three of his past four starts. Casey Lambert has the call.
The Rocky Gulch, named for likely the most popular horse in New Mexico racing history, is the last race on the program with a 5:05 p.m. Mountain Time post.
Fincher, who has entered more horses in the New Mexico Classic Cup program than any other trainer with 10, brings back two defending champions from last year. Rose's Desert will try to repeat in the $170,000 Peppers Pride New Mexico Cup Championship (race 10), a one-mile race she dominated in 2011 by three lengths as the odds-on favorite.
"She's more experienced and more professional (this year)," Fincher said about Rose's Desert, who will be ridden by Lambert. "She's a monster. Something bad has to happen for her to get beat. Any distance — 5 1/2 (furlongs) to a mile-and-a-half — she's that good."
Rose's Desert has won six of eight career races with two second-place finishes for $332,425 in earnings. One opponent, the Marr-trained Iplaytricks, defeated her in the Sydney Valentini Handicap at Sunland Park in February.
Fincher also has Chuchuluco, looking to defend in the $170,000 New Mexico Cup Sprint Championship (race 9) at six furlongs. He did not make his 2012 debut until September but prepared well with an allowance win at Zia Park earlier this month.
"He's kind of an arthritic-type horse," Fincher said. "He's fresh and ready, and he's coming off a win. That should be a tough race, but he's a good horse and definitely talented enough to win it."
Chuchuluco faces another New Mexico Cup winner from last year in Desert Hennessy, who was victorious in the New Mexico Cup Championship for 3-year-olds for jockey Carlos Madeira and Marr.
In addition, Our Choice, who was claimed for $25,000 last December by trainer Justin Evans, comes in off seven wins and $258,486 in earnings from nine races this year.
"We were hoping he would step up a little, but he stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park," Evans said about his 7-year-old claim. "He became more playful and had a new lease on life."
There are four other Thoroughbred races on the card, each worth $140,000. They are: the New Mexico Classic Cup Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings at six furlongs (race 5); the New Mexico Classic Cup Juvenile Fillies at six furlongs (Race 6); the New Mexico Classic Cup Championship for 3-year-olds as six furlongs (race 7); and the New Mexico Classic Cup Championship Fillies for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs (race 8).
$180,000 Rocky Gulch New Mexico Classic Cup Championship (Race 11, 5:05 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Cross Chris Run (NM), K S Tohill, J H Marr
2. Spinning Touch (NM), J L Rivera Jr., K Ozhan
3. Desert Gamble (NM), J Shepherd, J H Marr
4. Runnin Red (NM), C D Madeira, D B Briggs
5. Smash Dancer (NM), C T Lambert, T W Fincher
6. On Down the Road (NM), R Eikleberry, J H Marr
7. Lesters Secret (NM), M Hernandez, H Dominguez
8. Nuggets Please (NM), I Cardenas, J R Evans
9. Brother Louie (NM), E P Gomez, H Dominguez
10. Sapello Cantador (NM), J Rochabrun, R L Esquibel
All carry 123 pounds.