Fifty Stars and Valhol to Contest Maxxam Gold Cup

Edited from track notes

The first $100,000 stakes race at Sam Houston Race Park of the year will be run Saturday evening. The MAXXAM Gold Cup is a handicap for 4-year-olds and upward going 1 1/8 miles on the main track. Several notable Thoroughbreds are among the 26 nominated runners.

Fifty Stars, owned by James Cassels and Bob Zollars, is one of two horses trained by Steve Asmussen in the MAXXAM Gold Cup field. The 5-year-old son of Quiet American emerged on the racing scene in December, 2000, winning the $150,000 Texan Juvenile on Texas Champions Day. Asmussen shipped him to the Fair Grounds and captured the grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 11, 2001.

Pleased with that effort, he ran in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, finishing ninth to Monarchos. He underwent surgery to remove a chip in his ankle and only raced twice in 2002 but has been training well at the Fair Grounds and should be one of the key contenders in the race.

Asmussen's other runner is Tee Cat, a 5-year-old son of Tabasco Cat. Tee Cat is owned by Preston Stables and appears to be rounding into the best form of his career. He will be making his third start of the meeting, with a second place finish on December 6 and a win in a $17,000 allowance here on December 28.

"Both horses have run well at Sam Houston Race Park," said Asmussen. "Fifty Stars has been training well and Tee Cat obviously likes the track and is bred for the distance."

One of the more recognizable names in the field is Valhol, trained by Dallas Keen for owner James D. Jackson. Although the controversy of the 1999 Arkansas Derby overshadows his career accomplishments, Valhol has won 5 of his 19 starts and earned $384,850 in purses. He won the $125,000 Whirlaway Handicap last February at the Fair Grounds and was diagnosed with an ankle chip following his eighth place finish in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap last March. His surgery was successful and he ran a respectable fourth in the $75,000 Tenacious Handicap on December 8.

"He's worked two bullets at the Fair Grounds prepping for the MAXXAM," said Keen from his base in New Orleans. "He worked five furlongs last week in one minute flat and went four furlongs this morning in 48.2 (fastest work of 25 horses). We feel that he will be ready on Saturday." Keen indicated that Valhol will ship into Houston on Thursday or Friday and that Robby Albarado will ride. Albarado was in the irons when Valhol won the Whirlaway.

Keen and Jackson have a legacy in the MAXXAM Gold Cup as they are the trainer and owner of Allen's Oop, winner of the 2000 edition of the race. He was named 1999/2000 Sam Houston Race Park Horse of the Meeting.

Other horses nominated for the MAXXAM Gold Cup include Rare Cure, owned by Larry Dyson and trained by Joe Petalino. The 5-year-old Texas-bred gelding won the $100,000 Star Of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park on November 16, which earned him a berth into the $275,000 Great State Challenge, where he ran sixth to Continental Red. Artic Boy, trained by Tony Richey for owner Royce G. Roberts ran second in last year's MAXXAM Gold Cup and is another likely starter.

The draw for the MAXXAM Gold Cup will take place on Wednesday, January 15. Post time for the Saturday Sam Houston Race Park card is 7:00 p.m. and fans will receive a free MAXXAM Gold Cup cap, while supplies last.