Texas racing has sunk to perhaps the lowest level it has
ever reached, but on days like Memorial Day at Lone Star Park, Texas enthusiasts of the sport of kings have the
chance to relish racing that is higher quality than what has become the norm. Once
a day that featured multiple graded stakes races and other black-type events, the
racing on Memorial Day 2013 at Lone Star Park had only a single saving grace:
the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII).
Photo: Terri Cage
Although the race attracted just five competitors (one of which – Battle
Hardened – was scratched), the horses that had aligned for the rich Texas
contest were a strong group that exuded class. Altogether, the four horses that
remained in the field boasted $2,139,213 in earnings, four graded stakes victories,
and five additional black-type scores.
Fifty-percent of the field belonged to Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, the all-time leading trainer
in wins at Lone Star Park who has saddled more than 1,000 winners at the Grand
Prairie, Texas track. The Texas native has conditioned many classy horses, including
Horse of the Year honorees Curlin and
Rachel Alexandra, and has stood in the winner’s circle for many
prestigious races, such as the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), Preakness Stakes
(GI), and Kentucky Oaks (GI), but the biggest prize at his home track of Lone
Star Park – the Lone Star Park Handicap – has eluded Asmussen.
Much like triumph in Lone Star’s premier stakes race has evaded Asmussen, a
sweep of the Texas Two-Step – or wins by a horse in both the Texas Mile Stakes
(GIII) and the Lone Star Park Handicap within the same year – has been dormant
since 2001, when the California-based Dixie Dot Com captured the pair of Texas
graded stakes events by a combined 13 ¾ lengths.
But unlike the Triple Crown, these droughts reached an end this year. In a race
that was clearly ruled by Asmussen, Master Rick and Prayer for Relief – both
graded stakes-winning Asmussen trainees – were sent off at the lowest prices in
the miniscule field. Favoritism rested upon the shoulders of Master Rick, a
four-year-old Master Command colt that had conquered the Texas Mile a month
prior over stablemate Prayer for Relief.
The pair was drawn to the outside and as Prayer for Relief was directed to
press the pace set by Isn’t He Clever, Master Rick settled into third behind
the leaders, relaxing off the steady pace. Three lengths separated the favorite
from the pacesetters at the culmination of the initial quarter-mile and the
gray Asmussen trainee remained in that position down the backstretch.
As stablemate Prayer for Relief commenced a stunning rally around the far turn
to overtake Isn’t He Clever, Master Rick gradually began to shift into gear.
Outside the quarter pole, he found his best stride as jockey Ricardo Santana,
Jr. guided him to the outside as the horses turned for home. Soaring past
Prayer for Relief at the top of the stretch, Master Rick appeared prepared for
a demolition of the small field that faced him. But his stablemate offered a
strong fight, threatening his lead within the final furlong. However, Master
Rick was not to be denied and held clear to win by a length.
Master Rick returned to the front side triumphantly, and as his connections
openly celebrated the win, Steve Asmussen looked on as the gray colt received
the blanket of flowers, entering the winner’s circle to the cheer of the crowd that
was gathered around the enclosure. At last, Asmussen could claim a Lone Star
Park Handicap victory – and a one-two finish at that. And at last, Texas racing
fans could savor a sweep of the Texas Two-Step.