by Shelby Downs
Texas Champions Day at Sam Houston Race Park Dec. 1 rewarded the faith of smaller Texas breeders and owners as favorites gave way to some surprising upsets in the eight stakes for accredited Texas-breds.
While runners for heavy hitters like trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and Stonerside Stable faltered, several lesser-known faces earned big paydays on a card worth nearly $500,000.
The winning breeder of the night’s richest race, the $100,000 Star of Texas Stakes, served as a prime example. Fredericksburg, Texas, resident Lane Hutchins works actively as part of the grassroots effort to bring video lottery terminals to Texas, and breeds only a handful of horses each year. But she hit the jackpot with Sandburr, an 8-year-old Sandpit gelding who has evolved into a top Texas stakes horse after spending years in the claiming and allowance ranks.
Sandburr has won four stakes for Marty Nixon’s Feel the Thunder Stable, which claimed the gelding from Hutchins for $20,000 last year. Sandburr’s record now includes back-to-back renewals of the Star of Texas and an open-company stakes win at Fair Grounds. In the field of six horses in the Star of Texas, favored Sandburr swung wide in the stretch to win by 1 ¾ lengths and cover 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.53 under Paul Nolan.
“This was such a great effort from a really top warrior,” trainer Michael Stidham said. “Sandburr goes out there every time and tries as hard as he can. That’s what racing’s all about.”
Mystery Classic looked every bit the heavy favorite in the $50,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes as the 4-year-old Mystery Storm gelding clocked six furlongs in 1:09.55 and won by 1 ¼ lengths. Mystery Classic runs for breeder John L. Pierce II of Navasota, Texas, and might have wrapped up Texas Horse of the Year honors with his fifth stakes win of 2007.
The much-anticipated battle between speedsters Valid Lil and Wrenice in the $50,000 Yellow Rose Stakes fizzled out as the two fillies finished off the board and Hal Browning’s Annie Savoy prevailed at 14-1.
“She just settled back and let me negotiate through traffic,” said Annie Savoy’s rider, Nolan, who piloted three of the night’s stakes winners. “She took off and came up to (runner-up Stealth Cat), dropped back, and then dug in to win.”
The night’s biggest payoff came in the $50,000 Groovy Stakes when the 2-year-old gelding Crook’s Bodgit hustled from the back of the pack with a sweeping outside move to nip odds-on favorite Ferdinand’s Flyer and return $105.40 to win. Crook’s Bodgit races for Double Diamond LLC, a partnership that includes trainer John Barger, and is the first stakes winner for the Deputy Minister stallion Byars, who stands at breeder Byron Crook’s Cherokee Farms near Tyler, Texas.
Five days proved to be enough rest for Ms Classic Seneca, who bounced back after a five-length claiming score to run her record to a perfect three-for-three in the $50,000 Bara Lass Stakes for juvenile fillies. Ms Classic Seneca carries the silks of breeder Keith Asmussen, who stands her sire, Seneca Jones, at his Asmussen Horse Center in Laredo.
One week after trouncing $15,000 claiming foes at Remington Park, Hollye Lynne added some black type to her record by upsetting defending winner Sweet Idea in the $75,000 Martanza Stakes. The Uncle Abbie filly won by 7 ¾ lengths at 11-1 for TBD Owners LLC, the stable name of trainer John Locke.
Alleged Hug, a homebred runner for Joe Carothers, also earned his first stakes win with a close victory over a defending champ as he defeated Northern Scene in the $50,000 Richard King Stakes on the grass.
In the card’s final stakes, Jenz Benz won the $50,000 San Jacinto Stakes on the turf by six lengths for Agave Racing Stable and B/L Racing.