11/08/2001 1:00AM

Sam Houston


Chauffe Au Rouge, a $20,000 claim whose status as an accredited Texas-bred has been under investigation since he won the restricted $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame Stakes in course-record time Oct. 6, takes on open-company stakes rivals Saturday night in the $25,000 Buffalo Bayou at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race has drawn 12, including Coach Rags, a two-time stakes winner who will be making his first start since April; L.A. Spider Legs, who just missed in the $25,000 Alliance Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 20; and Hesiode, a multiple Group 2-placed colt looking to find his best form for leading trainer Steve Asmussen.

Chauffe Au Rouge set a Retama Park record for 1 1/16 miles on turf in the Hall of Fame, winning by three lengths over multiple stakes winner Gold Nugget in a time of 1:40.90. It was his third straight win from four starts for his new connections, who claimed him in July and later paid a $500 accreditation fee to make him eligible for the Hall of Fame.

But Chauffe Au Rouge's eligibility was contested before the race by trainer Gerald Romero, who said he knew of two other trainers who had tried unsuccessfully to accredit the horse for Texas-bred races. As a result, the $60,000 purse Chauffe Au Rouge earned in the Hall of Fame is being withheld pending completion of an investigation by the Texas Racing Commission.

Trainer Cole Norman is hopeful Chauffe Au Rouge will run another strong race Saturday. "I think after his last race, he proved he can run with these kind," said Norman.