Full fields abound during Maxxam Gold Cup Racing Festival

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Jen Caldwell

February 25th, 2016

Sam Houston plays host to four stakes on Saturday night, with the two feature events being the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup and $50,000 Jersey Lilly.

The former race drew a field of 12 to go nine furlongs on the main track at Sam Houston, while the Jersey Lilly will send 12 distaffers 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

The Maxxam Gold Cup attracted the likes of Grade 2 winners Coup de Grace and Mobile Bay, Grade 3 scorer Jessica’s Star, and classic runner-up Ride On Curlin.

Mobil Bay finished off-the-board only once last year, going 6-3-3 from 13 starts to begin his racing career in 2015. Along the way the four-year-old racked up wins in the Super Derby (G2) and Zia Park Derby while placing in the Oklahoma Derby (G3).

He tried Sam Houston for the first time last out and ended up suffering just his second unplaced finish when eighth. However, that came on the turf in the John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) and he could get back on the winning track in this return to dirt.

Coup de Grace and Ride On Curlin have already met up this season, with the latter keeping his neck in front of Coup de Grace to take third in the Louisiana S. Coup de Grace was disqualified to fifth from his fourth-placing in that Fair Grounds contest and will attempt to go a few spots better Saturday evening.

Ride On Curlin has yet to score a stakes win, but has been close many times including a second in the 2014 Preakness S. (G1). The five-year-old bay was off last summer, returned at Fair Grounds in the fall and has been showing steady improvement.

Jessica’s Star had his best year in 2014 when capturing the Iowa Derby (G3) and Prairie Mile while placing in the Ohio Derby. He was last seen pulling up and being vanned off in the Cornhusker H. (G3) last June at Prairie Meadows, just returned to the worktab in January at Fair Grounds and makes his return to competition in this spot.

The Jersey Lilly could end up attracting a lot of the attention on Saturday as it features Grade 3 heroine Cassatt in her second try at the track. The Larry Jones-trained five-year-old was going for a title defense in the newly upgraded Houston Ladies Classic (G3) but wound up third on the wire after leading early.

Cassatt will be trying turf for the first time in the Jersey Lilly, something her trainer is eager to see.

"She has a very nice turf pedigree," Jones said. "We've never had an opportunity to try her on the grass.  I've always said that Sam Houston Race Park has one of the nicest turf courses in the country. If she doesn't like it there, I'll just have to assume she won't like it anywhere."

Others of note in the Jersey Lilly are Expect Royalty and Whiskey Eyes, the respective top two separated by only a nose in the Houston Distaff last out over course and distance. Expect Royalty was extracting a bit of revenge in that contest after finishing fifth in the San Jacinto one race earlier behind Whiskey Eye’s close second.

The other two stakes on Saturday evening at Sam Houston – the $50,000 Bucharest Turf Sprint and $50,000 Texas Heritage – will go off following the Jersey Lilly and Maxxam Gold Cup.

Ride On Curlin photo courtesy of Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Cassatt photo courtesy of Sam Houston/Coady Photography