10/30/2001 1:00AM

Track punts on Sundays


So long, Sundays. Sam Houston Race Park in Houston has dropped Sunday racing from its calendar for its 82-night Thoroughbred meet, which starts Thursday, and will replace the weekend date with Wednesday-night racing starting in December.

The track has also replaced its pick three wager with a rolling pick three that will be offered on seven races. There will be a reduced, 12 percent takeout on the wager for the entire meet, which runs through March 30.

The reasoning behind the decision to drop Sam Houston's traditional Sunday night program is twofold. "Sundays haven't been proving themselves, so we want to take this opportunity to develop a weekday," said Bob Bork, executive vice president and general manager of Sam Houston. "Now is the perfect time to start, because next year, the Texans are coming to town."

The Texans are a new National Football League expansion team owned by prominent Thoroughbred horseman Robert McNair. The team will be based in Houston, and since pro football games tend to dominate Sundays in the fall, the new team's schedule would conflict all season with Sam Houston next year if the track were to race on Sundays.

Bork feels the move to Wednesday nights will allow Sam Houston to lure more groups ontrack, and offtrack, it might be a better stage for Sam Houston's signal.

"The last couple of years Sunday nights have been falling off, and I think that's due to a lack of other quality products out there," said Bork.

Sam Houston will not introduce Wednesday night racing until Dec. 5, which means the track will race just three nights a week for the month of November. "That gives us the opportunity to have full fields while we wait for horses to come in from Louisiana, and other out-of-state places," said Bork.

The $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf on Feb. 23 is the richest of 35 stakes worth a combined $1.6 million this season at Sam Houston. The track's biggest night of racing is set for Dec. 1. Billed as Texas Champions Day, the $650,000 program is made up of eight stakes for statebreds, and one open company race, the $150,000 Texan Juvenile, which last year produced Kentucky Derby starter Fifty Stars.

Daily purses at the meet will average $100,000.

Among trainers, Todd Meachum is back to defend his title against a group that includes Steve Asmussen, the nation's second leading trainer by wins; Danny Pish, who notched his third Retama Park title on Saturday; newcomer Kenny Smith; and regulars Andrew Konkoly, Amos Laborde, Tommie Morgan, John Locke, and Mindy Willis.