01/15/2003 12:00AM

Valhol working bullets for Maxxam Gold Cup


Talk about a horse coming back strong after surgery. Trainer Dallas Keen says Valhol, a 7-year-old gelding who will start as the 117-pound highweight Saturday night in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park, has the ankles of a 2-year-old now.

"He's excellent," said Keen. "He has full range of motion to his ankle. Sometimes, when you take a chip out, you lose range."

Valhol did not. He underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from his ankle after his ninth-place finish behind the winning Congaree last May in the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap, and last month made a solid return to the races, finishing a troubled fourth in the $75,000 Tenacious at Fair Grounds.

Since the Tenacious, Valhol has worked two bullets, and on Saturday will reunite with jockey Robby Albarado, who was aboard for his win in the $125,000 Whirlaway last year at Fair Grounds.

Valhol, who will attempt to give Keen and owner Jim Jackson their second win in the Maxxam (Allen's Oop won in 2000), faces nine others in the 1 1/8-mile race Saturday.

Fair Grounds riders invade Houston

Albarado is one of a number of riders from Fair Grounds who will be at Sam Houston for the Maxxam. Shane Sellers has been named to ride Seainsky, runner-up in the $100,000 Woodchopper, and Donnie Meche will assume his regular spot aboard Fifty Stars.

Calvin Borel will also be in town, to ride Doc D, and Curt Bourque will pilot Ask the Lord.

Among other invading riders is Oaklawn-based Anthony Lovato, who is back in the region after riding in Southern California. He will be aboard $100,000 Star of Texas winner Rare Cure.

Texas Horse of the Year to Lecomte

Leo's Last Hurrahy, who will be named Texas-bred of the Year on Saturday night, will make his next start in the $100,000 Lecomte at Fair Grounds on Jan. 25. The race will be the colt's first out since he won the $150,000 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile on Nov. 16.

"He's come back good," said Bob Young, who trains Leo's Last Hurrahy for owner Ken Murphy.

Murphy and Young elected to give Leo's Last Hurrahy time off after the Texan Juvenile to freshen him for a 3-year-old campaign. The plan is to run in the Lecomte, then wait for the Grade 2, $750,000 Louisiana Derby on March 9.

Leo's Last Hurrahy, out to become the second Texan Juvenile winner to capture the Louisiana Derby along with Fifty Stars, won 5 of 7 starts last year, including three stakes, for earnings of $326,848.

He will be honored during the Texas Thoroughbred Association's annual meeting at the Hilton Austin Airport in Austin. During an awards ceremony, Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, will speak. The banquet follows a day of seminars, which include a presentation on racinos.

Longshot month at Sam Houston

Anchored by $52 winner Katie Miss, Sam Houston paid off a track record pick four payoff of $19,433 on Jan. 9. Other big prices this month, which has a tradition of producing longshots, include a $19,529 trifecta on Jan. 2, and $68 winner Secretstoforget on Jan. 4.

Several factors contribute to the January longshots, said Reid McLellan, racing education manager at Sam Houston.

"Our fields include horses from a variety of tracks such as Fair Grounds, Louisiana Downs, Retama and, Remington," McLellan said. "Horses from Remington and Retama traditionally need a race or two over this surface before running their best. Many of those are making their second or third starts here in January after showing little in their first Sam Houston starts."

McLellan also noted that some horses are at their best in the cold, and January is usually the coldest month at Sam Houston.

* Term Sheet, who defeated open company last out in the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap, could face statebreds next in the $35,000 Jesey Village Stakes on Feb. 22, said trainer Steve Asmussen.

* Sam Houston, which will race Sundays in February and March, will have a change in post time for the Sunday programs, to 4 p.m. Central. In the past, first post for the Sunday card was 5 p.m.