08/22/2001 12:00AM

Shining Sky goes for five in a row


Shining Sky, a Grade 1-winning Quarter Horse who is perfect in four career starts, will try to extend his win streak to five Friday night during trials for the $300,900 Sam Houston Futurity at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

Shining Sky, a gelding, is one of 83 horses entered in nine trial races. The 10 fastest qualifiers will advance to the finale, a Grade 1, 400-yard race to be run Sept. 8.

Shining Sky's biggest triumph to date came in the Grade 1, $312,000 Retama Park Futurity. The gelding races for Bubba Smith and Bill Fowler, who won last year's Sam Houston Futurity with Mr Bar Code.

Eddie Cox has the mount on Shining Sky for trainer Beverly McNeely.

Harris on sabbatical

Jockey Buck Harris, who for the past nine months has worked as a stable rider for trainer Steve Asmussen at Louisiana Downs, Lone Star, and Sam Houston, is taking an extended vacation from riding. He and his wife, Lisa, have recently purchased a small farm in Missouri.

"I've stepped away for a little while," said Harris, 34. "I'm burned out and needed a little change. I'm in the process of going back to school; taking some electrician courses. I'm just letting my body have kind of a layoff."

Harris said battles with his weight were the main reason he decided he decided to take a break. "As tall as I am - I'm 5'10'' - it's a brutal battle," he said.

* Jockey Mike Fretz has recently returned from a 1 1/2-year layoff. The 33-year-old rider spent that time working in the sheriff's office in Reno, Nev. He has resumed his riding career at Remington Park.

Memorial service for Darnell

A memorial service for Casey Darnell, a popular New Mexico-based breeder, owner and trainer, will be held at the New Mexico State Fair Grounds in Albuquerque on Saturday. Darnell died recently of heart failure. He was 83.

Darnell, whose son, Cliff, is a trainer based at Remington Park in Oklahoma, raced more than 25 stakes winners during his career, among them Ragtime Rebel, the 1992 Santa Fe Futurity winner who finished ninth in the 1993 Kentucky Derby.

Darnell served as a pilot in World War II before getting involved in the racing industry. He won 492 races and $2 million in purses from 1976 to the time of his death, when he had a stable based in Albuquerque.

* The Grand Prairie Sports Corporation set aside $500,000 for capital improvements to Lone Star Park for 2001-2002 during a meeting Monday. "The action taken by the Sports Corporation is an important first step to enable us to better accommodate our horsemen by increasing stall space in the stable area, in addition to providing new amenities for the comfort and enjoyment of our fans," said Lone Star president Corey Johnsen.

* Jockey Ted Gondron and apprentice Roberto Villafan escaped serious injury in two separate spills in the ninth race last Friday night at Retama Park. Gondron suffered a hairline facial fracture when his mount went down, jumping a shadow. Villafan sustained stress fractures in his lower back when his mount broke down. Casey Lambert, whose mount fell over one of the fallen horses, escaped injury and rode the nightcap.

* Keith Bourgeois, the nation's eighth leading trainer by wins, was 10 wins away from breaking Don Cormier's record for wins in a season at Evangeline Downs entering the races Wednesday. Cormier won 91 races at the track in 1996 to set the record. Bourgeois has saddled 82 winners at the meet, which ends Sept. 3.