02/27/2013 4:55PM

Sam Houston: Unlatch trying dirt in Maxxam Gold Cup

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Unlatch wins the Woodchopper at Fair Grounds in his last start as a 3-year-old.

Trainer Al Stall Jr. will be seeking his third win in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park on Saturday night, when he sends out Unlatch in the main event on a program of four stakes. The races are worth a cumulative $250,000, and Stall also will have starters in the three other races, including undefeated 3-year-old Departing in the $50,000 Texas Heritage.

The Maxxam Gold Cup, which Stall won last year with Cease and in 2006 with Middleweight, is 1 1/8-mile stakes for 4-year-olds and up. The race, worth $100,000, drew a field of eight horses when entries were taken Wednesday.

Unlatch is a stakes winner on turf who will be making his dirt debut in the Maxxam. He comes into the race off a fourth-place finish to Optimizer in the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley at Fair Grounds on Jan. 26. The race was his first start since winning the $75,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds in his final start at 3 last November. Stall is hopeful Unlatch will made a successful transition to dirt Saturday.

“He’s a half-brother to Apart, and Apart made all his money on the dirt,” Stall said in reference to the 2010 winner of the Super Derby. “And we love the way he trains on dirt.”

Unlatch, an Adele Dilschneider homebred, is cross-entered in Friday’s eighth race at Fair Grounds, but is to scratch from that spot to run at Sam Houston.

“He’s coupled with Cease, so we’ll run Cease on Friday night at Fair Grounds and Unlatch will come over there and run,” Stall said Wednesday. “Last year, Cease won the Maxxam with a prep race. This year, we didn’t get a prep race in him and we didn’t want to go over there off a [three]-month layoff.”

Brian Hernandez Jr., who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Fort Larned, has the mount on Unlatch as well as Stall’s other stakes starters Saturday. Bind will go for Stall and Hernandez in the Sam Houston Sprint Cup, and Distorted Legacy runs in the $50,000 Jersey Lilly.

Stall said the Sam Houston stakes were appealing because they fit his horses at this time. He also said he likes both the dirt and turf surfaces at Sam Houston.

The complete field for the Maxxam from the rail with riders is: Unstoppable U, Chris Landeros; Unlatch, Hernandez; Dreaming Blue, Paul Nolan; Twinspired, Rosie Napravnik; Cajun Don, Jeremy Collier; Sabercat, Glen Murphy; Hurricane Ike, James Graham; and Ocean Seven, Alfredo Contreras.

The Maxxam will go as the ninth race on a 10-race card, with a scheduled post of 10:07 p.m. Central.