04/21/2004 12:00AM

Sam Houston track report


One week after Lone Star Park hosts the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, Sam Houston Race Park in Houston will host the MBNA Challenge Championships for Quarter Horses. The Challenge Championships could be likened to a Breeders' Cup for Quarter Horses, and the program will highlight the track's 95-date meet for Quarter Horses that opens Friday night. The Challenge Championships will close out the meet Nov. 6. A total of 13 stakes worth more than $1 million will make up the card. One of top events is the Grade 1, $300,000 MBNA Challenge Championship.

This meet will be the longest Quarter Horse stand at Sam Houston, and that is because the track has picked up dates from Lone Star and Retama Park to help Texas accommodate the Breeders' Cup.

Trials for the Sam Houston Texas-bred Futurity are set for Friday night, and on Saturday the track will celebrate its 10th anniversary with some giveaways and a huge cake. The first stakes of the meet will also be held on Saturday, the $10,000 Harris County.

Overall, there are 58 stakes scheduled for the meet, worth more than a cumulative $2 million. Top events include the $75,000 MBNA Texas Challenge Championships on May 29; the Texas Summer Showdown, a program of stakes on July 30; and the Grade 1, $100,000-added Sam Houston Futurity on Sept. 24.

Sam Houston will also host two staples from the annual fall Quarter Horse meet at Lone Star: the Grade 1, $200,000-added Texas Classic Futurity on Oct. 29, and the Grade 1, $100,000-added Texas Classic Derby on Oct. 30. Last year, the futurity was worth $1 million.

Top trainers returning for the meet include Janet VanBebber, a three-time leading trainer who has 64 horses on the grounds, John Buchanan, Toby Keeton, Duane Hartsell, Anthony Arey, Heath Taylor, and Bobby Martinez.

* Sam Houston is holding a $2,500 online handicapping contest on Saturday. Handicappers will be asked to pick the winners of five of the 10 races on the card at Sam Houston. The first-place prize is $1,000.