Trainer Al Stall Jr. couldn't make the trip to Houston from Louisiana, but he liked what he saw via simulcast as Middleweight captured the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap Saturday night at Sam Houston Race Park. The 6-year-old son of Grand Slam benefited from the early scratch of pre-race favorite Dixie Meister as well as a well-timed ride by rider Gerard Melancon to win by 1 1/4 length. The 9-5 second choice in a field of 11 came from slightly off the pace under 116 pounds to win the 1 1/8-mile stakes in 1:52 on a fast track. Melancon, who won the 1998 Maxxam Gold Cup aboard Scott's Scoundrel, was happy to guide Middleweight to victory for owners Stewart M. Madison and Peter Gaffney."He's good enough to compete with these horses, and we thought we had a great chance," Melancon said. "He was comfortable the whole way, and I didn't see a reason to drag him back."Trainer Stall, reached via phone following the race, said Middleweight would return in the John B. Connally Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston on April 8."We weren't worried about going from turf to dirt," said Stall. "He runs well on the main track and loves the distance of a mile and one-eighth. Middleweight is a textbook outside stalker, and the race tonight set up perfectly for him."Robby Albarado, who rode last year's Maxxam winner, Alumni Hall, was aboard the the 7-5 favorite Pass Rush, who set easy fractions of :24 2/5, :49 1/5 and 1:13 before weakening. The 7-year-old finished fifth.In spite of the loss, Albarado had a good day, winning five races at Louisiana Downs earlier.
"Galloping a mile in (1:39.27) is really kind of slow for these kind of horses," he said. "He had a great trip, but I don't know what happened."Matched, a 19-1 shot trained by Leroy Hellman, rallied nicely under rider Glen Murphy, for a respectable second place finish, one length in front of Sealinsky, with Quincy Hamilton astride.Middleweight paid $5.60, $4.40, and $3.40 while earning $60,000 for the victory, increasing his lifetime bankroll to $290,130. Matched returned $13.60 and $8, and Seainsky $5.80 to show.Lonesome Launch, Pass Rush, Dusty Spike, Breakaway, Sandburr, Toratora, Doctor Doctor Mrmd, and Twilight Vision, who carried top weight of 118 pounds, followed. Total live handle for the ten-race card was $2,406,032.