07/05/2012 1:58PM

Lone Star Park: Coyote Legend has edge in Stars of Texas headliner

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Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Coyote Legend went wire to wire in the Star of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston in January.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Coyote Legend will be after his eighth stakes win on Saturday when he takes on the comebacking Texas-bred Horse of the Year, Skip a Smile, in the $50,000 Assault at Lone Star Park. The race is one of four restricted stakes worth a combined $300,000 on the Stars of Texas Day program.

Coyote Legend might have a tactical advantage in the Assault, a one-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up bred in Texas. He appears to have more natural speed than most of his rivals in the seven-horse field, and also drew well in post 5.

“I think we’ll just play it off the break,” said Bret Calhoun, who trains Coyote Legend for breeder Clarence Scharbauer Jr. “I think he’s pretty versatile. If they give us [the lead] we’ll take it, but if they don’t, if somebody rushes off, we drew a good post to have options.”

Cliff Berry, the leading rider at Lone Star, will be aboard Coyote Legend, who won a $35,000 optional claiming race at a mile here in his last start May 18. The horse has since worked sharply for what will be his first race in nearly two months.

“It wasn’t by design,” Calhoun said of the break. “There just weren’t any races for him. It’s hard to run a horse like that.”

Coyote Legend has few conditions in his corner as a seven-time stakes winner who overall is 13 for 25.

Skip a Smile, the defending champ in the Assault, is making his first start since Jan. 21 in a break that was by design, said his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

“He needed it,” Asmussen said. “We started moving him around a bit too much. He’s a better horse than his last few races.”

Skip a Smile won last year’s $100,000 Governor’s Cup and $100,000 DeBartolo Memorial at Remington Park. He was fifth in the $200,000 Zia Park Distance Championship in New Mexico in December, then ran third as the favorite in the $100,000 Star of Texas at Sam Houston in his last start, finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Coyote Legend.

Skip a Smile shows a nice series of works at Lone Star for his return off a five-month layoff.

“It is his first race in a long time, a route off a layoff,” said Asmussen. “He’s been good. I don’t think he’s his all-time best. We like the spot. It’s a starting point. We’re excited about running him in the Texas-bred stakes, and hopefully have bigger races for him the rest of the year.”

Asmussen trains Skip a Smile for the horse’s breeder, Rose Mary Chandler.

“He’s such a fun horse to have,” Asmussen said, “and we’re glad to get back to the races.”

Safe Range enters off a $40,000 optional claiming win over open-company rivals at Lone Star on May 28.

“He’s a horse that’s shown in his 4-year-old year, here, he’s gotten a little better,” said trainer Danny Pish. “And he will have to continue to improve to beat this bunch because there’s some quality horses in there. But with a horse like Safe Range that’s continuing to improve, you’ve got to give it a shot.”

Tough posts for Calhoun babies

Calhoun could have the favorite in both $75,000 divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes for 2-year-olds, with Worldventurer seeking his second stakes win of the meet against fellow colts and geldings, and Thibodaux taking on fillies off a smashing 7 1/2-length debut win at Lone Star.

Worldventurer will break from the rail, one start after a stalk-and-roll win in the Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity.

“It’s a tough post, but he’s got seasoning under his belt and that should help us,” said Calhoun. “He’s had three starts now. Hopefully, that will help us overcome the inside post. Hopefully, we’ll be able to work out a good trip from the inside.”

Thibodaux drew post 2, one start after winning a maiden special weight on the front end with a Beyer Figure of 75.

“She’s a nice filly, a talented filly,” said Calhoun. “She didn’t draw the best of posts. She’ll probably have to overcome pressure from the outside and I don’t know how she’s going to respond to that.

“She is a smart filly. We put her in pressure situations in the mornings leading up to her first race, and she handled it. It’s hard to simulate race conditions in the morning, but she’s handled everything we’ve done with her in the mornings.”

◗ Joy’s Paradise will defend her title in the $50,000 Valor Farm for Texas-bred fillies and mares at six furlongs. She is part of a full field of 11.