11/15/2004 1:00AM

All systems go for 69 cards


Sam Houston Race Park in Houston has raced almost nonstop this year, and its whirlwind schedule gets even more hectic on Wednesday with the opening of a 69-night meet for Thoroughbreds. Before the week is out, the track will have hosted one of its biggest programs, the annual $625,000 Texas Champions Day on Saturday.

Such has been the breakneck pace Sam Houston has rolled along at since picking up a rash of fall Quarter Horse dates from Lone Star Park so that Lone Star could host the Breeders' Cup. Sam Houston opened a 95-date Quarter Horse meet in April, a week after closing its 2003-2004 Thoroughbred meet, and the season just ended Nov. 6.

This has pushed the start of this year's Thoroughbred meet back a month, but the season will conclude at the same time of year, on April 10, 2005, because the track is racing 18 fewer dates than last meet. With fewer racing days, daily purses of $110,000 could increase in January. Purses are already starting off a bit higher than last meet, said Bob Bork, president of Sam Houston.

The 32-race, $1.9 million stakes schedule will get under way on Saturday with Texas Champions Day, a program of nine stakes. All are restricted to horses bred in Texas except the $150,000 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile.

Other major stakes on the calendar include the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf on April 9, 2005. The race was moved from February to April last meet, and one of its starters was the eventual Breeders' Cup Turf winner, Better Talk Now.

"I think the move to April has been monumental for the race," said Eric Johnston, racing secretary at Sam Houston. "We had four recent Grade 2 winners in the race."

Steve Asmussen will be shooting for his fifth training title at Sam Houston, while the riding colony will be led by Roman Chapa.

Bork said there will be $1 admission and beer on Wednesday night, while $1 admission and hot dogs will be featured on Thursday.