01/17/2002 1:00AM

Mr Ross set to be millionaire


Mr Ross has made $950,015 the hard way, but things should get easier for him Saturday night when he tries to become a millionaire in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

* will start as the odds-on favorite in the 1 1/8-mile race, which has drawn seven, including Rare Cure, a winner of two stakes in two starts at the distance; L.A. Spider Legs, who placed in four stakes last year; and Storm Cruiser, a $14,000 claimer turned restricted stakes winner last year in Canada.

Mr Ross has earned $284,860 more than his six rivals combined, winning 11 stakes around the region since he started his career with a victory in February 1998.

"I think if you look back, you'll see he's never been one to make his money in a chunk," said trainer Donnie Von Hemel. "He's made it a little bit at a time. More than one particular race, it's the sum of all those races, the effort he puts out every time we lead him over."

Mr Ross, who is 7, had his biggest year to date in 2001, when he won four stakes and $442,400. His biggest wins came in the Grade 3 Essex and Razorback handicaps, and he also placed in three other graded stakes, finishing second to Traditionally in the Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap, second to Dixie Dot Com in the Grade 3 Texas Mile, and third to Ubiquity in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

Mr Ross has not raced since the Clark on Nov. 23, but has been working well at his Oaklawn Park base. He vanned to Sam Houston on Thursday, and with a win Saturday will become the second millionaire trained by Von Hemel, and the second bred and raced by Don McNeill.

From a broodmare band of just seven, McNeill, who named Mr Ross for his high school football coach, also came up with Clever Trevor. A Grade 1 winner of more than $1.3 million, the gelding Clever Trevor was trained by Von Hemel, and like Mr Ross, he is a son of Slewacide.

The horses also share a common rider in Don Pettinger, who should have Mr Ross close to what could be a soft pace in the Maxxam. The chief threat to the 7-year-old Mr. Ross is the front-running Rare Cure, who in two starts at 1 1/8 miles won last year's $50,000 Prelude and $75,000 Governor's Cup Handicap for trainer Joe Petalino. He is to be ridden by Luis Quinonez.


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