Lone Star Million Day, Monday, May 29 at Lone Star Park
By Gary West, National Turf Journalist
Grand Prairie, Texas – May 24, 2023 -- Shove it all into a corner — a dark, dank corner, if possible — and cover it with dirty laundry. Put it out of sight and beyond anxiety’s reach. Set it all aside — the HISA impasse, the dimwitted media and dimmerwitted social media — and focus instead on a truly outstanding day of racing: Lone Star Park’s Million Day. Amid all the turmoil — or rather in spite of it all — horsemen will come together on Memorial Day to present an outstanding day of racing. They’re putting it all aside, and you should, too, especially if you’ve forgotten and need to be reminded of just how great Texas racing can be. Put it all aside for Lone Star Million Day.
Actually, though, it’s a $1.2 million day. Monday’s Lone Star Park program features six stakes races offering $1.2 million in purses. This promises to be, in terms of quality competition, the best day of the year for Texas racing, probably the best day in several years. Possible competitors include jockeys Tyler Gaffalione, Cristian Torres, Reylu Gutierrez, Ricardo Santana Jr. and, of course, Stewart Elliott. Trainers who have entered horses in the six stakes include Brad Cox, Kenny McPeek, John Sadler, Tom Amoss, Keith Desormeaux, Mike Maker and, of course, Bret Calhoun and Steve Asmussen.
The day’s featured event is the $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile (Grade 3), named for the Lone Star Park general manager and vice president who died in 2016 at 57. Formerly known as the Texas Mile, over the years the race has attracted standout champions such as Skip Away and Real Quiet, as well as such millionaires as Mor Spirit, Dixie Dot Com, Kela and Littlebitlively. This year’s edition will uphold the standard of quality racing.
Silver Prospector, who finished third in this race in 2021 and won it a year ago, returns for another swing at Lone Star’s richest Thoroughbred event. At age 6, he has earned $1.36 million in his career, with three stakes victories on his resume, including the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs and the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. His effort here last year was clearly one of his best, and “He’s still capable of running that kind of race,” according to Asmussen, who has guided the big gray through the 28 races of his career.
Asmussen also has entered Allege, a winner of five consecutive races. This will be his stakes debut. But he has earned his place in the starting gate, his trainer said, and has proven “he knows how to win.” His streak of victories actually began here, at Lone Star, last year when he won consecutive races.
Also among those entered are McLaren Vale, from the Sadler stable; Holden the Lute and Frosted Grace, from the stable of trainer Robertino Diodoro; Endorsed, winner of the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2); and Touchuponastar, who has won six consecutive races in Louisiana by a total of 35 1/2 lengths and seven of nine in his career. Touchuponastar is the 3-1 favorite in the morning line.
Asmussen, North America’s all-time leading trainer and a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame, has entered nine horses in Lone Star’s six stakes races, including the great Echo Zulu in the $100,000 Memorial Day Sprint. The champion 2-year-old filly of 2021, she was the runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), losing for only the second time in her career. She has been training “brilliantly,” Asmussen said, for her return to competition. Echo Zulu is also nominated to Monday’s Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. The ultimate goal for the champion, Asmussen said, is a return to the Breeders’ Cup.
Calhoun will send out Tap Dance Fever, winner of the Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay, in the Memorial Day Sprint. In her most recent outing, she faded to fifth after threatening at the top of the stretch in the Dig A Diamond Stakes at Oaklawn Park. But that was at a mile in the mud. Tap Dance Fever never has run well on an “off” track, and the mile isn’t her best distance. And so, Calhoun said he’s looking for a return to her best form Monday.
One of the most intriguing races of the day will be the $300,000 Lone Star Derby, matching 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The morning-line favorite at 3-1 is Eyeing Clover, who has won three of his four races, his only loss being a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the muddy Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in New York. Following that disappointment, Cox sent Eyeing Clover to Oaklawn Park, where they captured the Hot Springs Stakes.
Horses, like people, can sometimes be judged by the company they keep, and based on that alone, Curly Jack should prove formidable in the Texas Derby. In his three races this year, he has chased home such horses as Kingsbarns and Disarm in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Angel of Empire and Two Phil’s in the Risen Star Stakes (G2), all Kentucky Derby starters. Last Year, Amoss sent out Curly Jack to win the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, and the colt appears poised for a big effort Monday.
Also among those entered in the Texas Derby are Hayes Strike, the winner of the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel for trainer McPeek, and Black Powder, a lightly raced but undefeated colt for Asmussen.
The $100,000 Speightstown Stakes is a rematch of two of sharpest sprinters in the region. Go West, who’s owned by Lori and Mark Collinsworth of Bluff Dale, Texas, has won four of his last five races, his only loss being a runner-up finish in the mud behind Skelly, who has won four consecutive races, including the Count Fleet Handicap (G3) and the Lake Hamilton Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Skelly is the 7-5 favorite in the morning line, with Go West at 2-1.
“Go West is in a good groove right now,” Calhoun said, “and he should be tough to beat.”
The $100,000 Chamberlain Bridge Stakes, run at five-eighths of a mile on the turf, could be the most contentious race of the day. Calhoun will again saddle Excess Magic, who won the race a year ago with a powerful stretch punch. His late-running style, makes Excess Magic, who’s the 2-1 morning-line favorite, somewhat dependent on “a little racing luck” to be successful, Calhoun said. Excess Magic is most effective when the early pace is hot, and, of course, he requires running room down the lane. Gutierrez, who won on Excess Magic here last year and has a talent for putting him in a winning path, returns to ride. Also among those entered are Rebel Posse and My Pal Mattie, who have beaten the favorite, as well as Cogburn, who’ll make his turf debut for Asmussen.
Tiz Magic, a 5-year-old mare who’s taking on males, might be something of a sentimental favorite in the Chamberlain Bridge Stakes since she’s owned by Carl Moore of Fort Worth. He campaigned Chamberlain Bridge, a hard-charging sprinter who won 19 races in his career, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and earned $1.95 million. These days, he’s enjoying a leisurely retirement at Moore’s farm. But sentiment aside, logic also insists Tiz Magic should be a serious contender: She had the lead in deep stretch last year before finishing third, and she appears to be in the best form of her life, having won her only two races this year by a total of 13 1/4 lengths.
Juncture is the 9-5 favorite in the $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff Stakes, matching fillies and mares at a mile on the grass. Owned by the famed Juddmonte Farms, Juncture was a two-time stakes winner in Europe last year. At Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., however, in her American debut, she walked out of the starting gate, trailed the field, raced wide and finished sixth as the 2-1 favorite. She’ll wear blinkers Monday, as she did in her most recent stakes victory in Ireland.
Also among those entered are Lively Ride, winner of the Pago Hop Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans; Iko Iko, a winner in her only two races this year; and Tipsy Gal and Colors of the Wind, recent winners on the Lone Star turf.
“I’m happy for Lone Star and for the people there who worked hard to put together such an outstanding day of racing,” Calhoun said. “It’s a shame, though, that Texas can’t show off its Million Day to the rest of the country.”
Because of the imbroglio involving HISA and the Texas Racing Commission, Lone Star is not exporting its simulcast signal outside the state. But for the moment, if possible, let’s just set that aside, in a dark, dank corner, underneath a pile of laundry.