$30,015 Merial Texas Distaff Challenge Highlights Weekend Racing at Sam Houston Race Park

(Houston, Texas - Wednesday, March 30, 2011) - Saturday night's action at Sam Houston Race Park will feature two stakes, the finals of the $30,015 Merial Texas Distaff Challenge and the $20,475 Pfizer Texas Allowance Starter Challenge.

Trials for the Merial Texas Challenge were run on March 19 and Zoomin On By, owned by Mickey Tiner was the fastest qualifier, covering 400 yards in :20.295. Jose Alvarez will ride the daughter of Shazoom and leading jockey, David Alvarez will remain aboard Ms Riptide, who was the second fastest qualifier.

Bred by her owner, James Cordell, Ms Riptide is a four-year-old daughter of Ocean Runaway out of the Mr Jess Perry mare Sixes Ms Perry. The talented mare was making the first start of the year following a successful 2010 campaign in which she finished second in the Adequan Sam Houston Derby Challenge (G3), third in the TQHA Sires' Cup Derby (RG3) and qualified to the Dash For Cash Derby (G1) last October at Lone Star Park.

Both mares are trained by Judd Kearl, as is the fifth-fastest qualifier, Dont Bac Down Lucy, who will be ridden by Rodrigo Vallejo.

"Both mares are tough," said Kearl. "On paper Ms Riptide might seem to have the edge, but it did not surprise me that Zoomin on By won the trial. They could turn the tables on each other on Saturday."

Kearl won the 2010 edition of the Merial Texas Distaff Challenge with Wowzer Won, who was unable to compete in the final last year. The winner of Saturday night's stakes will earn a berth into the $125,000 Merial Distaff Challenge Championships (G1) at Los Alamitos Race Course on October 29.

Trainer Jorge Haddad will try to keep his hot stakes-winning streak alive in the $20,475 Pfizer Texas Allowance Starter Challenge. Haddad will saddle the entry of Over Dee Rainbow and Firecracker Express in the 350-yard dash. Firecracker Express, a gray California-bred son of Walk Thru Fire, won his prep for this stakes on March 18. Haddad adds a third starter, Shake An Ace, his own 3-year-old homebred, who is seeking his first win in his sixth career start. Kearl also has an entry in the Pfizer Texas Allowance Starter Challenge. Dulce Seis won three consecutive races last January at Hialeah Park and Speedin Streak, a 4-year-old son of Streakin Sixes, who closed well in his last starter allowance on March 20 at Sam Houston Race Park. Both horses are owned by Lynn and Betty Bettinger.

The $20,475 Pfizer Texas Allowance Starter Challenge will run as the seventh race on Saturday evening, with an estimated post time of 9:36 p.m. and the $30,015 Merial Texas Distaff Challenge follows as the ninth race to be run at 10:28 p.m.

Jockey, Trainer and Owner Standings

David Alvarez added five wins, including victories in the $100,260 Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship and $80,000 Sam Houston Maiden Classic, to continue to lead the jockey standings with 17 wins from 80 starts. Luis Vivanco is second with seven wins and Luis Ramirez and Jarrod Deschamp are tied with seven victories. Jerry Lee Yoakum and Jose Alvarez have each won six races and Rodrigo Vallejo follows closely with five trips to the winner's circle.

Judd Kearl, who was the leading trainer at Sam Houston last summer, won five races last week to take command in the trainer standings with nine wins. Jorge Haddad is having an excellent meet, saddling the winners of both the 100,260 Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship and $80,000 Sam Houston Maiden Classic on March 26. Haddad has a total of eight wins and leads in the money earned category with $107,836. Juan Carlos Sauceda and Heath Taylor have four wins and Ben Garza, Bobby Touchet and John Buchanan each have three victories.

In the owner standings, Haddad tops the standings with six wins from 14 starters. Bobby Cox is second with three victories and Mickey Tiner, Filimon Saucedo, Jackie Sessions, Richard McGehee, Gary Kurz and Fernando Velazquez follow with two wins each.

Thousands Expected to Rally for the Day at the Capitol on March 31

The 2011 Texas legislative session is underway and members of the Texas racing industry are hopeful that lawmakers will consider moving forward to legalize slot machines (video lottery terminals) at Texas racetracks.

Several Texas horsemen and officials testified on Tuesday in Austin at a House of Representatives Committee regarding slot machines at Texas tracks. Andrea Young, president and chief operating officer of Sam Houston Race Park spent the day in Austin and spoke on the issue, which is of paramount importance to the Texas racing industry.

"Texans spend $2.5 billion gambling in neighboring states every year," said Young. "Poll after poll says they want the opportunity to decide whether to keep that money here. We hope the legislature heeds this call."

American Quarter Horse trainer Janet VanBebber was one of the speakers.

"I still have my farm in Ledbetter, Texas, but was forced to move to Vinton, Louisiana to be able to provide for my family," said VanBebber, the all-time leading trainer at Sam Houston Race Park. "My testimony was well-received by the committee and I am hopeful that we have the attention of lawmakers on this important issue."

Win For Texas has announced a Day at the Capitol on Thursday, March 31 as a state-wide opportunity to meet legislators and ask their support on this critical issue for Texas racing. Supporters will gather with horses and greyhounds at the South steps of the Capitol to hear from the state and industry leaders on the legislative initiative.

Round trip buses will leave from Houston, Grand Prairie and San Antonio on Thursday morning, and it would not be surprising to see thousands of supporters on the steps of the Capitol. Horsemen from across the state will be there in force and feel that the momentum is rolling in a positive direction this year.

"It's our livelihood at stake," said Sam Houston Race Park leading trainer, Judd Kearl. "One day could make a difference for the rest of our lives."

Upcoming Promotions at Sam Houston Race Park

Friday nights will feature Live Quarter Horse Racing and a post race concert as part of the 2011 Verizon Wireless Concert Series on the Bud Light Stage. The performers include ,Reckless Kelly on April 8; Wade Bowen on April 15; Cody Canada & The Departed on April 22 and Mickey & The MotorCars on May 6. Ticket prices are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the show.

Additional special events are set for Saturday, April 2 when Sam Houston Race Park will host a BBQ Cook-Off with live music by the Jeff Boortz Band and a Crawfish Boil & Live Zydeco Band on April 16. The first Saturday of May will feature live racing coupled with the simulcast of the 137th Kentucky Derby with Mint Juleps and the annual Kentucky Derby Hat Contest. May 8th is Mother’s Day which marks the return of the extremely popular Wiener Dog Races, a special post time of 1:00 p.m. and brunch featuring $2 Bloody Marys and Mimosas. For more information on upcoming shows, events and tickets, please visit www.shrp.com.

Cirque Du Soleil Production OVO Continues Through April 10

With its expansive parking lot, Sam Houston Race Park welcomed back a second "big top" Cirque du Soleil production. OVO, explores the world of biodiversity and beauty of a colorful ecosystem teeming with life, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. The national performance will run now through April 10, 2011 under the Grand Chapiteau at Sam Houston Race Park. Tickets are on sale at www.shrp.com.

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