04/12/2007 11:00PM

Sandburr starts meet in style

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The 2007 Lone Star Park meet got started Thursday evening with another strong performance from one of the best Texas-bred horses in training, Sandburr, who scored a comfortable 3 1/2-length win in the $50,000 Premiere Stakes, Lone Star's annual opening race.

Under clear skies, and before an opening night crowd of 9,309, Sandburr looked like a winner all the way around the track in the one-mile Premiere, pressing a slow pace set by Goosey Moose before taking over in upper stretch.

"[Jockey] Cliff Berry said he could've won by as many as he wanted," said winning trainer Mike Stidham, who claimed Sandburr for $20,000 about a year ago at Sam Houston.

Sandburr has evolved into a solid stakes performer at the listed and even Grade 3 level. He finished off the board in the New Orleans Handicap, but Stidham said he believes it was the 1 1/8-mile distance of the race - as much as the tougher competition - that kept Sandburr from a higher placing.

"He's a cool, cool horse," Stidham said. "He just goes out there and runs hard no matter who you put him in with.".

While Texas-bred, Sandburr has owners based in Chicago and displayed a fondness for Arlington Park last year, and though Arlington has since changed over to a synthetic racing surface, Stidham said that's where Sandburr was mostly likely to make his next start, perhaps in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup later in May.

Sandburr ($3.80) was one of six winning favorites on Thursday's 10-race card. Defending jockey champ Berry rode two winners besides Sandburr. Ontrack handle for the night was a strong $662,506, while total handle was $1,600,709.

Von Hemel stocked for stakes

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel will be a regular participant in the stakes program this meet at Lone Star, where his stable will include two-time stakes winner Going Ballistic, who is a candidate for the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Derby on May 12.

His barn will also include Brownie Points, the winner of the $100,000 Stonerside last year at Lone Star whose meet objective is the Grade 3, $200,000 Ouija Board for fillies and mares on turf here May 28. Brownie Points finished a close second on Wednesday in the Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn.

"We should fit in well," said Von Hemel.

Von Hemel said multiple stakes winner D Fine Okie, who finished a close second in an allowance Thursday night, is being pointed for the $60,000 Irving Distaff on turf here April 28. Other horses he has pointing for stakes at the meet include Upstream, who is a candidate for the $75,000 Assault on the Stars of Texas Day program July 7, and Strong City, who is possible for the $60,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge for 3-year-olds on April 28.

Von Hemel also said that Waupaca, a multiple stakes winner of $467,175, is back in training following a vacation, and is on pace to return to the races in May. Last year, he won the Connecting Terms at Lone Star and also finished third in the Grade 3 Dallas Turf Cup.

Von Hemel went 3 for 9 in stakes last meet at Lone Star, then traveled to Remington Park where he was 9 for 24 with his stakes starters while winning the training title. Some of his stakes starters were freshened following that meet and are just returning to the races.

Another runner of note for Von Hemel is Slew by Slew, who last year won the $50,000 Centennial at Remington. Von Hemel is far from hapless in lower-class Lone Star ranks, either; he won two straight races with cheaper horses on Thursday's opening night card.

Ceasers March eyes Derby Trial

Bret Calhoun figures to contend for leading trainer this season at Lone Star, with about 50 horses stabled at the track. But on Thursday, Calhoun put one of the better ones, Ceasers March, on a van bound for Churchill Downs. Louisiana-bred Ceaser's March, who has won 2 of 3 and finished third behind good 3-year-olds Ketchikan and Reporting for Duty in his only other race, is expected to start next in the Derby Trial a week from Saturday.

Ceasers March blew away a group of Louisiana-bred allowance horses at Fair Grounds in his most recent start, setting a scorching pace on the way to victory. Calhoun would like to slow down the horse, but Ceasers March has continued posting fast workouts since shipping in to Lone Star.

"He does work fast, but he does it very easily," Calhoun said.

Calhoun has 12 stalls this year at Churchill, a new spot for him, and said he would also race at Louisiana Downs and, if he can get stalls, at Arlington over the summer.

* An entry-level allowance, the eighth of nine races, is the feature on Sunday's card, the last of Lone Star's opening week.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini