February 7, 2023

Red Rifle fires off track record in Maxxam Gold Cup

Last updated: 3/2/14 1:03 PM

Red Rifle was bullet fast to set a new track record in the Maxxam Gold Cup

(Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

The $100,000
Maxxam Gold Cup has attracted
top horses since its first running in 1994, but Saturday night marked the first time
that multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher had shipped a horse
to Sam Houston.

Red Rifle, owned by WinStar
Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stable, was making just his sixth career start
in the race. His lone prior stakes appearance was a fourth-place finish in the
Grade 3 Hill Prince on the Belmont Park turf course last June, but on Saturday
the four-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway delivered a sensational performance
for his conditioner.

Pletcher had high hopes for the colt last year following a pair of easy debut
wins, but didn’t rush his charge. Red Rifle competed just once more following
his Hill Prince foray, running a well-beaten 11th against allowance company in
late December, and seemed to return to form with a solid runner-up
finish in a similar allowance on January 17 at Gulfstream Park. The winner of
that latter contest, Bradester, went on next out to take the Grade 3 Mineshaft
Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Pletcher shipped Red Rifle into Houston on
Wednesday and tabbed Robby Albarado for the riding assignment. Albarado owned
three previous Maxxam victories — scoring with Valhol (2003), Alumni Hall (2005) and
Student Council (2007) — and was an extremely confident pilot Saturday evening.

Breaking from the rail, Albarado sent the chestnut colt to the lead, covering
the first quarter-mile in :23 4/5 and the half-mile in :48. His closest rival
was Frac Daddy, but Red Rifle kept powering
on, drawing off to a 2 3/4-length score in a final time of 1:48.73 on the fast
dirt. That set a new track record
for the distance of 1 1/8 miles, surpassing the time of 1:48.75 set by
Lost Soldier in the 1997 Maxxam Gold Cup.

Red Rifle gave Albarado a fourth Maxxam Gold Cup win

(Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

“He broke in a little bit of a tangle,” Albarado said. “But I had simple
instructions to get him to the lead as he does not like dirt in his face. He got
to the first turn within himself, settled and came home really nicely. This is a
great stepping-stone race for the rest of the year.”

Ginny Depasquale, who has been one of Pletcher’s assistants for the past 17
years, handled the saddling duties on Red Rifle, who returned $4 as the
even-money choice in the six-horse field. The colt’s career line now stands at
6-3-1-0, $138,820.

“Robby worked him at the Fair Grounds on Monday and gave
him a really good ride tonight,” Depasquale remarked. “The horse showed what he is
made of. He definitely has the talent. I’m not sure what Todd has in mind for
him next, but I was very pleased to see this effort tonight.”

Last year Kenny McPeek won the Maxxam Gold Cup with
Unstoppable U and returned this year with Grade 1 runner-up Frac Daddy. The gray son of Scat Daddy ran a game second
as the 3-2 second choice.

“It was a good race,” McPeek stated. “He’s been a really nice horse from the
beginning. There’s no disgrace in running second when a track record has been
broken. We’ve been back and forth on whether he’s a turf or dirt horse but he
can run on either. He ran a solid race so I am pleased.”

Texas Air ran third, followed by Leadem in Ken, Magnum Force and
Real Appeal Deal.

Ibaka’s owner/breeder has big plans for his Oklahoma-bred following victory in the Texas Heritage

(Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

Another wire job came earlier on Sam Houston’s Saturday night card when Ibaka
pulled off a three-length score in the $50,000

Texas Heritage
with Lindey Wade aboard. The Doug Wall homebred was the 7-5
pick against his four rivals and paid $4.80 for the victory.

Trained by Bret Calhoun, the Oklahoma-bred Ibaka stopped the clock in 1:37
3/5 for the one-mile event.

“They told me to be aggressive with him,” Wade explained. “I was hoping for a
sharp break, but didn’t think I would be in front. He put me there so I just
tried to get him to relax and it was all him from there. He just surged on down
the lane. One thing about the Calhoun horses, they always give you more.”

Two weeks ago Ibaka came flying from last to first to capture the Jim’s
Orbit Stakes in his second try against stakes company. The Uncle Abbie sophomore
improved his scorecard to 4-0-1 from six career starts and has banked $117,036
with the Texas Heritage win.

“He showed us that the time didn’t matter,” assistant trainer Jay Severs said
of the quick turnaround since the Jim’s Orbit and the third consecutive win for

Wall was very pleased with his colt’s victory and traded in his “Ibaka”
T-shirt for a Kentucky Derby shirt.

“Someone from Oklahoma needs to win the Kentucky Derby and it might as well
be him,” Wall declared. “This is a great horse; he has won four races with four
different riders. We are very proud.”

Always Kitten prevailed in a mad dash to the Jersey Lilly wire

(Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

Sandwiched between the Maxxam Gold Cup and Texas Heritage was the $50,000

Jersey Lilly
, a race in which Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Always Kitten
got the neck win in a blanket finish on the wire.

The four-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy came
from the clouds under jockey Rosie Napravnik to capture the 1 1/16-mile,
firm-turf race in 1:45 2/5. This was the second year in a row that Napravnik and trainer Mike
Maker delivered the trophy to the Ramseys; last year the trio were
victorious with another Kitten’s Joy filly in Artemus Kitten.

“This is a really nice filly,” Napravnik said. “I knew she liked to come from
off the pace, and finished with plenty left.”

“It was a very good effort,” assistant trainer Joe Sharpe agreed. “It is a
privilege to train these Kitten Joys.”

Always Kitten added a third stakes win to her resume, which now reads
15-3-3-1, and increased her lifetime earnings to $185,371. The bay miss was the
7-5 favorite and gave back $4.80 for the score.

With the Maxxam Gold Cup in the books, Sam Houston will keep the action going
next weekend by offering Camel and Ostrich races. Due to popular demand, the
track will host the unpredictable and fun-filled races next Friday and Saturday. Each night will feature four camels and
five ostriches racing a distance of approximately 100 yards in between live
Thoroughbred horse races.

Houston area local media celebrities will ride the camels,
with 2013 champion, meteorologist Chita Johnson of KHOU-11, expected to defend
her title. Sam Houston jockeys will compete in the ostrich races.

For more information, please visit

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