07/31/2002 12:00AM

Boots on Sunday up for Straus repeat


Boots on Sunday goes for a repeat win Friday night in the $30,000 J.R. Straus Memorial, a six-furlong stakes for older horses that ushers in the eighth season of racing at Retama Park near San Antonio.

The race drew nine others, including stakes winners Lights on Broadway, Two Punch Sonny, and Front Nine.

Boots on Sunday, a 5-year-old who has lost just once over the main track at Retama, won the Straus last year in one of his two starts at the meet. In his most recent race, he was beaten a nose last month in the $150,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, a six-furlong race at Prairie Meadows that went in a blazing 1:08.64.

"He came off that hard race in Iowa in good shape," said Danny Pish, who trains Boots on Sunday. "He's feeling good and training sharp, and according to what he's telling me, he's ready to run."

Pish said a good performance in the Straus could send the well-traveled Boots on Sunday to Arlington Park in Chicago next for the $100,000 Arlington Sprint on Aug. 24.

Pish goes for four-peat

Pish, whose home is in San Antonio, is chasing his fourth straight training title at Retama. He won his first career title at the track in 1999.

"I anticipate a good meet," Pish said. "There's more competition this year, which will make things a little tougher on me, but I'll definitely be in the run of things for the title."

Pish will have 36 horses on the grounds, and another 20 at a nearby training center. He said he has more horses with conditions this meet than he did last year, when he won the title with 35 wins from 167 starts.

"I have the same numbers, but I'm sitting on a few more maidens this year as opposed to older horses," said Pish.

Wide-open jockey race

With defending riding champ Steve Bourque expected to remain in Louisiana, the Retama title is up for grabs this meet. Curt Bourque, fifth in the standings at Lone Star, is one of several new riders who will take on three-time Retama title winner Roman Chapa as well as Cathleen Garner, Casey Lambert, Rita Helton, Tuffy Collier, and Allen Dupuy.

Other new faces are John Jacinto, who won the riding title at Sam Houston Race Park in March, and Buck Harris and David Lidberg, who invade from Lone Star.

Hall of Fame inductees

Retama Park, which founded the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, will induct its fourth class Oct. 12. The ceremonies will be complemented by a card of seven restricted stakes worth a total of $470,000.

The honorees for 2002 are Dr. Charles Graham, past president of the Texas Thoroughbred Association and the Texas Quarter Horse Association; C.W. "Bubba" Cascio, who trained Quarter Horse champion Dash for Cash; Tommy Oliphant, a 50-year trainer who developed more than 100 stakes winners; Joe Cassel, a pioneer in Arabian racing; and influential stallions Staunch Avenger and Easy Jet.

Cool weather, big fields

Large fields have been the norm at Retama since the track opened in 1995, and it appears that trend will continue this meet after Retama had 110 horses fill up 10 races for the opening night card Friday. That's an average of 11 horses a race.

Last year, the track averaged 9.2 starters a race, which placed it among the top five tracks in North America in field size.

"Our horse population is stronger this year," said Larry Craft, director of racing at Retama.

The track is a popular place to race because of the comfortable summer temperatures in San Antonio, according to Gerald Romero, who was the leading win-percentage trainer last year at Retama.

"There's always a 10- or 15-mile-an-hour breeze here," he said. "It's so nice and cool you could almost turn off your fans in the evening."