10/25/2005 11:00PM

All the ingredients for a good start


Sam Houston Race Park is positioned for a fast start to its 82-date meet, which begins Friday night and runs through April 9. Reasons for optimism include: The Breeders' Cup is Saturday; the meet will not be in competition with neighboring Delta Downs until at least Dec. 1; and its barn area is oversubscribed.

Throw into the mix the return of the 10-cent superfecta, which Sam Houston pioneered for Thorough-breds in February; a new 50-cent pick four; and a reduced, 12 percent takeout on rolling pick threes, and there is reason for the Houston track to spring from the gate.

"We're looking for a good start on the season here this year," said Bob Bork, president and general manager of Sam Houston. "We start off with something like the Breeders' Cup, and two weeks later is Texas Champions Day, and then it leads right into the Christmas season, which is always pretty good with groups."

Texas Champions Day is a program of eight stakes for Texas-breds worth $500,000. It is one of the key events on a 27-race, $1.6 million stakes schedule. The richest race is the $200,000-added Connally Breeders' Cup Turf on April 8.

"Clearly, we're hoping that this year in December the Connally picks up a Grade 3," said Bork. "Over the last four or five years, we've had some of the better turf horses run it every year, so it deserves it."

Past starters include Better Talk Now, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Turf and will run Saturday in that race at Belmont Park.

Closer to home, Sam Houston received 1,800 stall requests for close to 1,200 stalls, said Martha Claussen, the track's director of communication. That number is up from normal requests of 1,400 to 1,600, a chain reaction from the hurricanes that displaced a number of horsemen in Louisiana.

"Some horses that came over here are from there," said Bork. "We have a full stable area, and we're looking for full, competitive races through the whole meet."

And full fields will make the 10-cent superfecta, which has its roots in greyhound racing, popular. Sam Houston introduced the idea during its last Thoroughbred meet, and one of the first payoffs was $9,334 for a dime.

"We got calls from every track in the country asking what our experience was and wanting to do it within a very short period of time," said Claussen.

The appeal of 10-cent superfectas is similar to that of slot machines, said Bork.

"This is high speed betting, I guess, is the best way of looking at it," he said. "A lot of action for a few dollars with the hope of winning some big dollars."

At a glance: Sam Houston Race Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 82 dates; Friday through April 9; racing Wednesday through Saturday through December, Friday through Sunday in January, and Thursday through Sunday from February through April. No live racing on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24; from Dec. 24 through Jan. 5; and on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5.

POST TIME: 7 p.m. Central, except Sundays, when first post is 5 p.m. There is a special 4:15 p.m. post on Breeders' Cup Day this Saturday.

HIGHLIGHTS: $200,000-added Connally Breeders' Cup Turf, April 8; $500,000 Texas Champions Day, Nov. 19; $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, Jan. 21; $125,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, Feb. 18.

ADMISSIONS: $3 for adults; $1 for senior citizens; free for children 12 and under

PARKING: General, $3; valet, $6

LOCATION: 7575 N. Sam Houston Parkway W., Houston, Texas, 77064

PHONE: (281) 807-8700

INTERNET: www.shrp.com