01/20/2005 1:00AM

Two rivals back at best distance in Maxxam


Alumni Hall and Colonial Colony both return to racing over the distance of their biggest career wins Saturday night in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.

The 1 1/8-mile handicap is the richest of three stakes on the card, and it drew a field of seven. Colonial Colony, winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at 1 1/8 miles in June, is the highweight at 121 pounds. Alumni Hall will tote second highweight of 117 pounds, along with Wally's Choice, winner of the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby, and Intelligent Male, winner of the $145,000 Claiming Crown Jewel.

Alumni Hall last raced on Dec. 31 in the $60,000 Louisiana Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds, finishing second to Gigawatt. Over the summer he won three straight races at nine furlongs, including the $75,000 Black Tie Affair at Arlington on July 10.

"The biggest reason we're sending him is the mile and an eighth," Neil Howard, who trains Alumni Hall, said from Fair Grounds. "He's very consistent at a mile and an eighth. He's done well at the distance and, of course, he's bred for it."

. Alumni Hall will break from post 2 under Robby Albarado.

"When he's running his race, he's not too far back," said Howard.

Larry Melancon will ride Colonial Colony, who also made his last start in the Louisiana Handicap, finishing an even fourth. He should benefit from the additional distance on Saturday, and might be sitting on a peak race in his third start bfollowing a layoff for trainer Dallas Stewart.

* Native Annie, who has never been beaten at Sam Houston, might have to overcome Academic Angel to keep her record intact and win the $50,000 Distaff. Native Annie has raced four times at Sam Houston, and in her most recent start captured the track's $75,000 Martanza on Nov. 20. Carlos Marquez Jr. rides for trainer Michael Stidham.

* Philadelphia Jim, who was fifth last out in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial at Pimlico, takes a meaningful drop in class for the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap. Tracy Hebert rides for trainer Gammy Vazquez.