Sir Cherokee, one of two Arkansas Derby winners in the field, is favored among a classy group of eight entered for the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park. The handicap for 4-year-olds and upward will be contested at the distance of 1 1/8 mile on the main track. Sir Cherokee, the 2-1 morning line choice owned by Domino Stud of Lexington LLC and trained by Michael Tomlinson, is a 4-year-old colt who was dismissed last year at 55-1, but circled the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) field and won by three lengths. In his final work for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Tomlinson noted that his colt was not 100%. X-rays revealed a small condylar fracture of his right ankle. The bad news was that Sir Cherokee was scratched from the Derby; the good news was that surgery was not required, just time to heal. Tomlinson gave the colt 120 days off followed by 30 days of aqua conditioning. He returned to the racetrack on Thanksgiving Day and won an allowance at Churchill Downs with Terry Thompson in the irons. "We planned his return to racing with a gradual progression in mind," said Tomlinson. "He had a nice win in his allowance race at Churchill and we liked the timing of the Maxxam Gold Cup. Depending on how he does on Saturday, we are exploring stakes at the Fair Grounds or the Razorback or Essex at Oaklawn Park."The possibility of rain does not phase Tomlinson. The son of Cherokee Run has won on fast and sloppy tracks.
"Rain is no problem for this horse," said Tomlinson. "He's won three races on an off-track, including his most recent at Churchill."Thompson has the call on Sir Cherokee, who carries the second highest impost in the field of 118 pounds..Leading Sam Houston Race Park trainer Steve Asmussen will saddle Private Emblem, winner of the 2002 Arkansas Derby. The 5-year-old New York-bred has won six of his 20 career starts and earned $703, 103. He is owned by James Cassels and Bob Zollars and will be ridden by Jeremy Beasley.
The highest earner of the field is Maysville Slew, an 8-year-old son of Slew City Slew, who has earned $837,969 in his illustrious career. Owned and trained by C. R. Trout, Maysville Slew will be ridden by Kevin Cogburn.Other contenders in the Gold Cup include 119-pound high weight Freefourinternet, a noted turf runner who won the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park last yar and was fourth in the Connally Breeders' Cup Turf. Leo's Last Hurrahy, owned by Ken Murphy and trained by Bob Young, was the winner of the 2002 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile. He appears fully recovered from the ulcers he suffered last summer and won the $35,000 Kingwood Stakes on the Sam Houston Race Park oval on Dec. 13.Most Feared, winner of the Arlington Washington Futurity (gr. III), Parrott Bay, who was grade III stakes-placed at Hawthorne, and multiple stakes winner Dusty Spike are all capable on their best days."This is arguably the strongest field we have ever had for the Maxxam," noted Sam Houston Race Park racing secretary Eric Johnston. "Seven of the eight horses are graded stakes winners or stakes placed. The caliber of this year's field moves us forward in our quest to have this stakes graded for next year."$100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap, 4 & up, 1 1/8 mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Leo's Last Hurrahy (TX), Felipe Valdez, 115, 6/1
2. Most Feared (TX), Roman Chapa, 114, 9/2
3. Freefourinternet (KY), Robby Albarado, 119, 7/2
4. Parrott Bay (KY), Kerwin D. Clark, 115, 10/1
5. Private Emblem (NY), Jeremy Beasley, 115, 8/1
6. Maysville Slew (KY), Kevin Leon Cogburn, 114, 10/1
7. Sir Cherokee (KY), Terry J. Thompson, 118, 2/1
8. Dusty Spike (OK), Luis S. Quinonez, 116, 8/1