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Former NFL coach Phillips blitzes to success as owner

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Bill Parcells is not the only former Dallas Cowboys head coach winning races at Saratoga.

Wade Phillips joined the exclusive club on opening day in New York with Half a Chance, and on Sunday at Lone Star Park will attempt to win his first stakes race with Straight Luck in the $150,000 colts and geldings division of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Futurity.

Straight Luck. Photo: Barbara D. Livingston

“So far, it’s a lot of fun,” Phillips said of his new foray into racing.

The TTA Futurity is one of five restricted stakes on the card, which is called Stars of Texas Day. Purses for the races total $525,000. Highlights include Kenai Bob seeking to win the $75,000 Assault for the second year in a row and Free Drop Maddy returning to Lone Star for the $150,000 fillies division of the TTA Futurity after topping a local auction at $200,000.

Phillips is one of Straight Luck’s more than 40 owners through a new venture called the Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club. The project is part of the Texas Thoroughbred Association New Owner Marketing Plan. The stable is managed by C J Thoroughbreds – a partnership comprised of veteran racing executive Corey Johnsen, his son C.J. Johnsen, and former NFL wide receiver Mike Renfro.

Phillips said he was open to the idea of racehorse ownership when approached by longtime friend Renfro, who played under Phillips’s father, the late Bum Phillips.

“My dad was always around horses,” Wade Phillips said. “Although we’ve been football coaches, my dad grew up working on a ranch. After he retired, he had cutting horses. We’ve liked horses.

“In fact, he had a couple of racehorses when he was coaching with the Saints and we’d go watch them run. So, I’ve always been a little bit interested. We watched horse racing on TV.”

Phillips took over the head job with the Cowboys after the retirement of Parcells in 2007.

“I knew Bill was interested in horses, too,” Phillips said. “He might have been up there at Saratoga” on Thursday.

Phillips’ interest in racing goes even farther back than his father’s time with the Saints. When a high school coach in Orange, Texas, Phillips said he’d visit Delta Downs, which is right across the state line in Vinton, La.

Straight Luck has made two starts, both at Lone Star. He finished second by a half-length in his debut May 20, then came back and won a maiden special weight June 25 by 4 1/2 lengths for trainer Danny Pish. Straight Luck earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 68, which is the best career number in the TTA Futurity.

“One of the really important keys to the development of Straight Luck has been Danny Pish,” Corey Johnsen said. “Basically, from the first time he started until his last race, he gained about 50 pounds. That’s really hard to do with a 2-year-old in the heat of the summer. Danny deserves a lot of the credit getting this horse where he is.”

Straight Luck figures to vie for favoritism with Bling Bling Bling, winner of the Staunch Avenger division of the Texas Stallion Stakes last month at Lone Star. Stewart Elliott has the mount on Bling Bling Bling from post 3 for trainer Steve Asmussen. Danny Sorenson is the regular rider of Straight Luck, who will break from post 6 in the field of seven.

Sale-topper back for Futurity

Free Drop Maddy has invaded from Kentucky for the fillies division of the TTA Futurity. The last time she was seen at Lone Star was the 2-year-olds in training sale in April. Landon Jordan purchased the daughter of Free Drop Billy and sent her to trainer Bret Calhoun at Churchill Downs.

Free Drop Maddy debuted June 10 and finished second as the favorite in a maiden special weight that has seen both the third- and fourth-place finishers return in their next starts to win maiden races at Churchill.

Calhoun said Free Drop Maddy has good reason to move forward off her debut effort.

“She had gotten sick about 45 days before and we missed a couple of works,” Calhoun said. “I knew we were not 100 percent fit. I thought we were good enough to possibly win anyways, and then we drew the one-hole and that was very disappointing. She broke a little tardy, battled the whole way around there. I thought if we wouldn’t have missed the works, she probably could have won that day.”

Calhoun said the race last time will serve her well coming into Sunday.

“It gives her more education,” he said, “and she’ll go in there a little fitter and ready to go.”

Free Drop Maddy will break from post 3 under Gabe Saez.

◗ No Mas Tequila leads the $75,000 Fiesta Mile, a turf race for Texas-bred fillies and mares that also drew her half-sister, Imaluckycharm.

◗ Kenai Bob will have to use his good speed to get position from post 11 in the Assault, a mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up bred in Texas.

◗ Imadiscreetlady cuts back to one turn for the $75,000 Valor Farm, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares bred in Texas. Her rivals include Boerne, a speed horse cross-entered in the Fiesta Mile.


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