11/29/2001 12:00AM

Gold Nugget takes on Chauffe Au Rouge again

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A change in pace tactics may help Gold Nugget, the reigning Texas-bred of the Year, turn the tables on Chauffe Au Rouge in Saturday night's $50,000 Richard King Handicap at Sam Houston Race Park.

The 1 1/8-mile turf race is one of eight statebred stakes that will make up the ninth annual Texas Champions Day.

Gold Nugget and Chauffe Au Rouge met last in the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame Stakes at Retama Park on Oct. 6. Gold Nugget set a pressured pace in that race, which went in course-record time, before being overtaken in the stretch by Chauffe Au Rouge.

"He got bumped leaving the gates, and anything that keys him up early makes him hard to rate," said Randy Mayfield, who trains Gold Nugget. "He never got a breather the whole way around, while [Chauffe Au Rouge] sat back and had a lot to finish with.

"Maybe the shoe will be on the other foot this time. Hopefully, we'll have a little better luck getting him back farther. We want to get him to come from off the pace this time."

Gold Nugget, who won last year's Richard King in a gutty stretch drive, will be ridden by Bobby Walker Jr.

Ricky Faul has the mount on Chauffe Au Rouge, who will be looking for his fourth straight win Saturday. Since being claimed for $20,000 in July, the horse has won three of four starts for his new connections, owners James Donnan and Gerald Mackey and trainer Cole Norman.

Purse still being withheld

The $60,000 Chauffe Au Rouge earned for winning the Hall of Fame is still being withheld. The race was the horse's first against statebreds, and before it was run, his status as an accredited Texas-bred was contested by trainer Gerald Romero, who said he knew of two other horsemen who had tried, unsuccessfully, to accredit Chauffe Au Rouge. One of the issues being investigated has to do with whether the owner of Chauffe Au Rouge's dam at the time he was foaled satisfied the requirements of the Texas breed-back rule.

The Texas Racing Commission has completed an investigation of the documentation submitted in support of the horse's application for accreditation, and has passed it on to the stewards at Sam Houston, who are reviewing the file and will set a hearing date. A separate hearing reviewing the facts surrounding the accreditation application has been set for Jan. 18 by the Texas Thoroughbred Association.

Chauffe Au Rouge's entry in the Richard King was contested by one of his former owners, Dr. Jeffrey Kass, who will start Capt. Kombat in the same race. Sam Houston stewards said that at this time Chauffe Au Rouge is considered an accredited Texas-bred, and was allowed to enter. The stewards will decide after the Richard King is run whether any purse money Chauffe Au Rouge earns will be withheld.

A chipper shipper

French Assault, the probable favorite for the $150,000 Texan Juvenile on Saturday night, will make the six-hour van ride from his Fair Grounds base in New Orleans to Houston the morning of the race. While some believe a long van ride close to a race can take something out of a horse, French Assault seems to thrive on the raceday travel.

"We vanned in the morning of the race when he ran in San Antonio, and he earned his biggest Beyer," said trainer Keith Desormeaux, referring to the colt's 11 3/4-length win in the $100,000 El Joven Stakes at Retama Park. "My take on the situation is that a horse is no doubt a creature of habit who prefers to be in the same bed at night.

"Sometimes, being in different surroundings for a couple of days can stress them out."

J.J.'s Cowboy reaches Lone Star

One Texas-bred making headlines who won't be racing on one of the biggest nights of the year for his kind is J.J.'s Cowboy, who arrived at Lone Star Park on Wednesday night with his trainer, Les Nichols.

Nichols and J.J.'s Cowboy are in the midst of a 2,000-mile "trail ride" that began in at the Alamo in San Antonio in late October and should land them at ground zero, the site of the World Trade Center, in New York City by the middle of February. The purpose of the trip is to raise $2 million for the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

A saddle being raffled for the cause will be on display at Lone Star through Saturday, closing day of the track's meet for Quarter Horses.