09/04/2002 11:00PM

Zip First up against MJ Gold

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Zip First, the only Quarter Horse to win three graded futurities this year, will go for his fourth futurity victory in the Grade 1, $315,000 Sam Houston Futurity on Saturday night.

Zip First, trained by Leon Bard, won the Grade 2 Manor Downs Futurity and the Grade 2 Longhorn Futurity in Texas this spring. The gelding went to Ruidoso Downs and won the Grade 1 Ruidoso Futurity and was second in the Grade 1 Rainbow Futurity.

Zip First, with regular rider Jim Brooks up, won his 400-yard Sam Houston Futurity trial by a half-length in 20.149 seconds, the ninth-fastest qualifying time.

Zip First, who has earned $503,486 in nine starts, will be challenged by the lightly raced fastest qualifier, MJ Gold. Trained by Duane Hartsell, MJ Gold won her second race from three starts in the trials while being timed in 20.002 for the 400 yards.

Hartsell said MJ Gold was fractious in the gate when she won a maiden race, but in her trial she was "a lot more settled and really improved."

Hartsell will also saddle Shiney Sign, who was second in the Grade 2, $276,100 TQHA Sales Futurity. He won his trial for the Sam Houston Futurity in 20.124.

Shining Sky after first derby win

Shining Sky, the 2001 champion 2-year-old gelding, is after his first derby win in the Grade 1, $95,000 Sam Houston Derby at Sam Houston Race Park on Saturday night.

As a 2-year-old, Shining Sky dominated in Texas with wins in the Grade 1 Sam Houston Futurity and the Grade 1 Retama Park Futurity. This year, Shining Sky has won two Derby trials from three starts. He was off the board in the Retama Park Derby.

The Beverly McNeely-trained Shining Sky won his 440-yard Sam Houston Derby trial in 21.726, the third-fastest time.

Topping the qualifying list was Gotabenuts, who won his trial in 21.663 seconds.

Royal Dip returns in Vessels

Golden State Derby winner Royal Dip comes off a win in the Ford California Challenge to head a deep, full field of female runners in the Grade 1, $100,000 Mildred Vessels Handicap at 400 yards on Saturday night at Los Alamitos.

Royal Dip, trained by Connie Hall, earned a trip to Lone Star Park for the Grade 1, $75,000 Ford Distaff Challenge Championship on Nov. 2 when she won the California Distaff Challenge Championship on July 19. In the California Distaff Challenge, she defeated Imjumpn by a neck in 19.75 seconds for the 400 yards.

Challenging Royal Dip will be Matron Stakes winner Coupers First Dash, La Primera Del Ano Derby winner Mini Rock, and Vandy's Flash Handicap winner Mountain Snow.