02/28/2013 4:26PM

Sam Houston: Hurricane Ike must be caught in Maxxam Gold Cup

Hodges Photography/Lynn Roberts
Hurricane Ike (right) holds off Brethren in the Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds. He will once again be on the lead in the Maxxam Gold Cup on Saturday.

Hurricane Ike’s speed should place him on a lonely lead in Saturday night’s $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park. But the bigger handicapping question is whether he will be able to carry it over the race’s 1 1/8-mile distance.

“We’re all going to find out at the same time,” said Michael Stidham, who trains Hurricane Ike.

“My opinion is he’s dangerous on the front end. The way I see the race, looking at it initially, is that it looks like he will be on the front end and from there we’ll find out how far he’ll go. But he’s got a heart the size of a grandstand. He tries hard every time.”

Hurricane Ike is part of an eight-horse field for the Maxxam, which leads a Sam Houston program of four stakes worth a cumulative $250,000. His competition includes Unstoppable U, an allowance winner last month at Oaklawn; Twinspired, the runner-up in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou at Turfway on Dec. 15; Sabercat, who in 2011 won the Grade 3, $1  million Delta Downs Jackpot; and Unlatch, a half-brother to Apart making his dirt debut.

Hurricane Ike’s lone start at 1 1/8 miles came in the 2010 Super Derby, a race in which he set a pressured pace and finished third to Apart. Hurricane Ike has won three stakes in his career, including the Grade  3 Derby Trial at Churchill, with the wins coming at distances of a mile and 1 1/16 miles. He enters the Maxxam off a third-place finish in the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 19. The race’s runner-up, Mark Valeski, came back to win the Grade 3 Mineshaft in his next start and is now a candidate for the New Orleans Handicap.

“Mark Valeski only beat us a length and a half last time,” noted Stidham, who trains Hurricane Ike for Ike and Dawn Thrash. The horse will break from post 7 under James Graham.

Unlatch will be removing blinkers for what will be his second start since winning last year’s $75,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds in November.

“He’s breezed nice without blinkers, and I don’t think he needs them anymore,” said Al Stall Jr., who trains Unlatch.

Unlatch will break from post 2 for his first start on dirt and will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr.

“I’m going to say he should lay close,” said Stall.

Stall is looking for his third win in the Maxxam, as is trainer Steve Asmussen, who sends out Sabercat.

Departing leads Texas Heritage

Departing will seek to remain perfect in three career starts in the $50,000 Texas Heritage for 3-year-olds at a mile. With the right kind of performance, the horse could advance to the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby, said his trainer, Stall. Departing was entered in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds last weekend, but ended up scratching from that race, a prep for the Louisiana Derby

“It was the draw,” said Stall. “We didn’t feel like it was our best chance to win coming out of the 14-hole.

“We’re very, very happy that this race was available. It’s 29 days from his last race and 28 days to the Louisiana Derby. There’s a lot of ifs, but theoretically, it’s placed perfectly for him.”

Hernandez has the mount.

◗ Bind will make his stakes debut in the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint at six furlongs, one start after winning a $40,000 optional claimer at Fair Grounds by a half-length, with a Beyer Figure of 100. “He had to fight a little bit for the first time in a while and it helped him,” said his trainer, Stall. “He ran a tremendous figure and it was his second race back off 19 months. Now will be his third race back, and it looks like he’s kind of still rounding into form. Even though he ran in 1:09 and 4 last time, he’s still rounding into form.”

◗ The stakes winner and Grade  1-placed mare Distorted Legacy will launch her 6-year-old season in the $50,000 Jersey Lilly.