Sam Houston Race Park to Host Regional Finals of the MBNA America® Racing Challenge on Saturday

(July 4, 2006) - There will be fireworks of a different nature on Saturday, July 8 as Sam Houston Race Park will host the regional MBNA America® Racing Challenge. The program continues to grow in importance in the Quarter Horse racing industry as the series takes place in 10 regions across the United States, Canada and Mexico each year. The winners from these races will advance to the final of the MBNA America Racing Challenge Championships on November 11 at Lone Star Park.

$115,650 MBNA Texas Challenge Championship (G1)

This Snow Is Cold was the fastest qualifier in trials run for the $115,650 MBNA Texas Challenge Championship (G1) and has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. This Snow Is Cold, won the seventh race in a time of :21.645. The multiple-stakes winner is trained by Melinda Garcia for owners Los Ladrilleros Horse Racing Company. Regular rider Armando Andrade piloted the 5-year-old mare, who has had an outstanding year, winning the MNBA America Oklahoma Challenge (G1) on May 14, defeating a field including SLM Snowman and AHQA World Champion, DM Shicago.

“She came out of her trial really well,” said Garcia. “We are looking forward to the race Saturday and to running against so many good horses.”

Andrade will return to Sam Houston Race Park on Saturday night to pilot This Snow Is Cold in the MBNA Texas Challenge Championship, which will run as the ninth race of the evening (9:28 CT).

“Armando really knows her,” added Garcia. “He broke her in Mexico and has told us that he will travel anywhere to ride her.”

Trainer Heath Taylor will saddle two in the MBNA Texas Challenge Championship, second fastest qualifier La Jollaroid and DM Shicago, 2005 AQHA World Champion, who is seeking his first win of 2006. Gilbert Ortiz, who is the all-time leading rider at Sam Houston Race Park with 417 wins, will ride La Jollaroid and Juan Vazquez retains the mount on DM Shicago.

“Juan said he ran a lot better race,” said Taylor following the trials on June 23. “I think he gained confidence from this out. The other horse (First Comment) is super, super sharp right now. I think we need to school him a little more in the gate; he seemed a little over anxious, but we think he’ll improve from here.”

First Comment, bred and owned by Wes Owens of Corpus Christi, Texas, is one of the hottest horses in the region. The 4-year-old colt won six races in 2005 including the $333,000 Texas Classic Derby (G1) last November at Lone Star Park for trainer Jeff Acuna.

“I ran his mama and bred her and First Comment was her first baby,” said Owens. “I was offered $27,000 when he was 3-months old, but I couldn’t sell him. This has been a dream; I was there when he was born and he’s the soundest horse I’ve ever had in my barn.”

“He loves this distance,” adds Acuna, who won the training title last November at Lone Star Park. “He was the only 3-year-old in the 2005 Sunland Challenge. He got bumped, but I was really proud of him competing him against older horses. He’s world class.”

$69,030 Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge (G3)

Sheza Dashing Disco was the fastest qualifier in trials for the $69,030 Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge (G3). Rodrigo Vallejo won each of the three trial races for the Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge and decided to ride the the 3-year-old sorrel filly in Saturday’s final. Trained Benny Pennington for owners Jodie and Johnny Johnson, Sheza Dashing Disco was second in the Bayer East Derby Challenge last month at Delta Downs.

“She’s a very nice filly,” said Vallejo, who is the current leading rider at Sam Houston Race Park and has ridden Sheza Dashing Disco to three wins in her last four starts.

$24,705 Red Cell Texas Distance Challenge (G3)

Winning the $24,705 Red Cell Texas Distance Challenge (G3) this Saturday will be bittersweet for trainer Matt Baker. He won the 2005 edition of the stakes with My Prince of Strides, owned by Warner Croft. The 6-year-old gelding won two stakes last summer at Sam Houston Race Park, the Distance Challenge and the Governor’s Cup Marathon. Mark Page, a longstanding member of the Sam Houston Race Park jockey colony, rode him to both victories. Sadly, Page died on October 20, 2005.

In the trials for the Red Cell Texas Distance Challenge, Jeff Jerman did a fine job qualifying both My Prince of Strides and his full brother, Strider Man. They will run as a coupled entry on Saturday with Jerman retaining the mount aboard My Prince of Strides. Baker has admitted that it will be an emotional race for him.

“I miss Mark,” said Baker of the late rider. “Prince always ran so well for him; I know he will be watching us on Saturday.”

$24,705 Red Cell Texas Distance Challenge (G3)

There will be a streak on the line for the talented Streak Foe Me as she goes for her seventh consecutive race in the $26,280 Professional’s Choice Texas Claiming Challenge. The 4-year-old filly owned is owned by J. C. Wells and trained by Judd Kearl. Under regular rider James Brooks, she completed her 350-yard trial in :17.822, the second fastest of the 20 horses. The fastest qualifier was Ida Snow Man, who won his trial in :17.628, for trainer Michael Zingelmann and owner Desirable Properties Inc.

$26,010 John Deere Texas Distaff Challenge (G3)

There were no trials for the $26,010 John Deere Texas Distaff Challenge (G3) for fillies and mares. Eye Caughtcha Peekin, owned by Randee Fagan and trained by Bobby Martinez, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. The 4-year-old Oklahoma-bred filly was second in the Oklahoma Distaff Challenge on May 14 and returned to Remington Park for a stakes victory on June 3. Jose Alvarez will ride. Little Kool Barbie, who won the $58,770 Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge last July, is also entered in the Distaff Challenge. The daughter of the legendary race mare, Kool Kue Baby, will be ridden by Gilbert Ortiz.

A Glint of Gold Returns in Friday Night’s Eighth Race

The venerable A Glint of Gold is entered in Friday’s eighth race at Sam Houston Race Park, the first leg of the Hot Summer Nights Starter Series-Distance Division.

Owned by Sharon Yoakum and trained by her husband, Jesse, the 12-year-old American Quarter Horse will be making the 91st start of his career. He made his first start in 1996 at Manor Downs and has won 17 lifetime races including the 2001 Sam Houston Classic.

Sam Houston Race Park Jockey, Trainer and Owner Standings

Jockey Rodrigo Vallejo started the 2006 summer Quarter Horse on top of the standings and continues his lead following the second weekend of the meeting. Vallejo has 12 wins and $36,958 in earnings. Jeff Jerman follows very closely with 11 victories after picking up five wins over the extended racing weekend, but has the highest earnings of $44,119. James Brooks maintains his third place standing, now with nine wins. He scored three of those wins Saturday’s card including a win aboard Shazoomer in Saturday night’s feature, the $14,000 Gulf Coast Stakes. Santos Carrizales and Arturo Carrillo are tied with four wins each and have battled each other in wins over the weekend. Carrizales rode three winners on Saturday night, while Carrillo gained a win on Friday and two on Saturday.

Toby Keeton has moved to the top of the trainer standings after saddling three more winners, leaving him with a total of six wins through Monday, July 3. Judd Kearl continues to follow Keeton, this time in second place and with five wins. Janet Van Bebber saddled Shazoomer for the $14,000 Gulf Coast Stakes, and met the 3-year-old gelding in the winner’s circle following the victory. Van Bebber is tied with Jesse Aguilar and Alex Villarreal with four wins.

The race for leading owner is wide open with several horsemen tied with two wins each, including J.C. Wells, Jerry Chapman, Warner Croft and D.D. Lightsey. Wells has the highest earnings of $8,380 so far this meeting.

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