03/07/2010 12:00AM

Monday afternoon experiment begins


Sam Houston Race Park in Houston has long been known as a night-time track that typically runs Thursday through Sunday. But on Monday afternoon, Sam Houston will begin an experiment with its racing schedule. The track has added four Monday programs to its lineup for the remainder of March, and each will have a daytime post of

1:20 p.m. Central.

Sam Houston received approval for the additional dates last month from the Texas Racing Commission. The programs, March 8, 15, 22, and 29, were sought to make up for two cards lost to inclement weather and to determine how Mondays and an afternoon post might be received both at home and at simulcast outlets.

"Currently we have 350 outlets in North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean wagering on us on any given night," said Frank Hopf, director of simulcasting for Sam Houston. "I am hoping we will get one new outlet for Monday, but am anticipating higher handle numbers from Europe with afternoon racing."

There will be free general admission to Sam Houston on Mondays. The local ESPN radio affiliate will broadcast live for a portion of the Monday cards as part of the track's Monday March Mania.

The first Monday card will be comprised of nine races, including two allowances. There will be night posts for Sam Houston's remaining race week of Thursday through Saturday. The track races through April 3.

Calhoun weighing his options

Coyote Legend and Tin Top Cat, who last month each won their second stakes of the Sam Houston meet, have several upcoming stakes options, said Bret Calhoun, who trains both 3-year-olds. The pair has been nominated to separate races at Oaklawn, but are also under consideration for stakes at Lone Star Park near Dallas.

Coyote Legend, a full brother to multiple stakes-winning sprinter Gold Coyote, has proven to be capable at two turns. After winning the $50,000 Groovy at seven furlongs at Sam Houston on Dec. 5, he made his two-turn debut in the $60,000 Triple Sec at Delta Downs and won by six lengths to earn a career-best Beyer Figure of 94.

Coyote Legend backed up that performance last month at Sam Houston, when he won a $125,000 division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at a mile by eight lengths, with a Beyer of 91.

"He's doing great," Calhoun said. "Some horses, when they turn 3, they get better. Some don't move forward. This horse has moved forward every day."

Calhoun said Coyote Legend is nominated to the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn on Saturday, but is more probable for the $50,000 Premiere for statebreds at Lone Star on April 8. From there, the goal is another $100,000 division of the Texas Stallion Stakes, at Lone Star. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds is May 8.

On the same Lone Star card, there is a fillies division of the Stallion Stakes that fits Tin Top Cat. To get to that goal, she could run in one of two upcoming stakes at Oaklawn. Calhoun said Tin Top Cat has been nominated to the Grade 3, $100,000 Honeybee on Saturday and the $60,000 Prima Donna at six furlongs March 20. The other course of action, he said, would be to target the $50,000 JEH Stallion Station for statebreds at Lone Star on April 10.

Tortuga Flats retired, will be bred

Tortuga Flats, a multiple stakes winner of $594,064 who last raced in December at Sam Houston, has been retired, said her trainer, Ralph Irwin. She was shipped about a week ago to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, and is to be bred to Unbridled's Song. Tortuga Flats, a 7-year-old mare by Wild Zone, is owned by John Balensiefen.

"We just thought it was in her best interest to retire her, and get her to a nice stud," Irwin said. "She deserves that."

Tortuga Flats ranked as one of the top Louisiana-breds in training for years, beginning with her 2-year-old season in 2005. She won three straight statebred sprint stakes that year, and later in her career would prove to be one of the region's top turf mares. Tortuga Flats ran perhaps her best race ever in September 2008, when she upset the well-regarded Brownie Points in the $100,000 River Cities at Louisiana Downs.

"That was a remarkable race," Irwin said. "It was the way she did it. She just drug [jockey] Kirk LeBlanc to the lead in a premature move. He didn't want to leave that quick and go on the chase, but you could see that was her race. That was her day to really shine and prove what she is capable of. That was a real thrill for me.

"She just had the heart of a lion. It's fun when you're blessed to have something in your barn [like her]. I miss her, and will miss her for a long, long, long time."

Tortuga Flats, a past horse of the meet at Louisiana Downs, won 16 of 34 starts.