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Sam Houston Closes Meet

Charmin Chief Corona named horse of the meet.

May 23, 2012

Sam Houston Race Park

Charmin Chief Corona, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Gary Kurz, was named 2012 Horse of the Meet at the close of Sam Houston Race Park's American Quarter Horse meet. The talented filly won three of her four starts in the meet, which concluded on May 19.

The chestnut filly is by Chief Corona out of the First Illusions mare Charming Illusions. She made her career debut last May at Sam Houston Race Park, won two races at Retama Park last summer and ran in trials for the Dash for Cash Futurity at Lone Star Park on September 24.

Charmin Chief Corona had her first victory of the 2012 Sam Houston Race Park meet on March 30 in trials for the $180,900 Sam Houston Derby (G3). She was returning off a six-month layoff and posted the second fastest time. In the finals, she was sent off at odds of 5-1 out of respect to the fastest qualifier, Sarah Must, who set a new track record in her trial victory.

The accomplishments of Charmin Chief Corona came under the watchful eye of trainer Cindi Keeton who admired the calm demeanor of the filly in the barn, but saw her fire and determination when she entered the starting gate.

"She’s turned into a beautiful horse,” said Pat Kurz, who accepted the Sam Houston Derby trophy with her husband, Gary. “My husband was the one who wanted to breed to Chief Corona and he came through for us. Cindi is a beautiful person inside and out and we are so happy for her.”

Francisco Raul Ramirez, Jr. had the mount in three of her four starts; James Flores rode her in trials for the Adequan Sam Houston Derby Challenge on May 5.

She returned to the winner's circle on May 5, setting the fastest qualifying time in trials for the $54,450 Adequan Sam Houston Derby Challenge.  In the finals on May 19, she stumbled to her knees when the gates opened and finished seventh to A Game Dame.

Fortunately, she came out of the race in good shape and Keeton reports that Charmin Chief Corona has been shipped back to the Kurz's farm in Somerset, Texas.

"She is going to get some rest and will likely return for the Dash for Cash Derby trials at Lone Star Park," said her trainer.

Kurz has been a longtime supporter of Texas racing. He has bred some exceptional stakes winners including Gols Honey Money Pop, Jakes Charmin Jody and Shake Em Special Pop.

Judd Kearl continues his domination at Sam Houston Race Park, winning 35 races from 133 starts to clinch his fifth leading trainer title. Kearl's runners hit the board at a rate of 55.6 percent, with claiming, allowance and trial victories. He earned purses of $213,977 throughout the 27-day meet. His lone stakes winner was Nowurtalkin who captured the $50,000 Sam Houston Classic (G2) on May 5 and will run May 27 in the $250,000 Remington Park Invitational (G1).

Born in Utah, Kearl now calls Madisonville, Texas, home and continues to be an ardent supporter of Texas racing. He won his first Sam Houston training title in 2006, and topped all conditioners in 2007, 2010 and 2011. This year, Kearl also ran horses Remington Park and has a string at Delta Downs as well.

"I could not have this success without the support of my owners and an excellent staff of assistants and grooms," said Kearl. "I don't have to worry about my horses at Remington Park and Delta Downs; I know they are taken care of."

The 37-year-old conditioner and veteran jockey Rodrigo Vallejo have forged a solid union over the past five years.

"Our relationship is more than trainer and jockey," adds Kearl. "We are friends and I trust him completely."

Kearl is currently the 14th-ranked trainer in the national AQHA standings. He will travel to Remington Park this weekend as he has qualified three juveniles for the $1.1 million Heritage Place Futurity (G1) on Saturday, May 26.

Cindi Keeton enjoyed a successful debut at Sam Houston Race Park, finishing second with 13 wins. Brian Stroud was third, saddling 11 winners and Guy Hopkins, Jorge Haddad and Cleto Martinez, Jr. each had 10 wins.

Jockey Rodrigo Vallejo picked up his third leading rider title at Sam Houston Race Park. He won his first title in 2008 in a tie with Gaspar Garcia and his second in 2010. As the first call rider for leading trainer Judd Kearl, Vallejo won 38 of his 136 starts as well as 26 seconds and 15 third-place finishes. The 46-year-old jockey was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and has been one of the top riders in Texas, with solid showings in Louisiana and Oklahoma as well. His 2012 stakes wins here included the $50,000 Sam Houston Classic (G2) aboard Nowurtalkin for Kearl and Zoomin Moon, for trainer Gary Jacobs in the $15,645 Colors of Houston Futurity (G2).

"I want to thank Judd Kearl and other trainers for putting me on very good horses," said Vallejo.  "Judd and I have been a team for the last seven years. We may not speak the same language, but we have always communicated perfectly. This has been one of my best meets."

Last year's leading rider, Luis Vivanco finished second with 32 wins and Luis Ramirez was third with 24 victories.

Vallejo has a rich history at Sam Houston Race Park. He is the only four-time winner of the Sam Houston Futurity and was the regular rider of Azoom, who was honored as the 2004 Sam Houston Horse of the Meet. Vallejo will divide his time between Ruidoso Downs and Retama Park over the summer.

The battle for owner of the meet went the distance with A.D. Maddox having sole possession until the sixth race of the May 19 closing day card. Filimon Saucedo's Executive Tone won a 250-yard allowance to vault him into a tie for leading owner with Maddox with seven wins each.

This was the first owner title at Sam Houston Race Park for Saucedo, whose horses are trained by his son, Juan. Maddox has captured three previous titles; the first came in 2005, another in 2007 and he tied with Jorge Haddad in 2009. His top highlight of the 2012 Sam Houston Race Park meet was a victory by CC Miss Yin You in one of the three divisions of the 110-yard $15,000 Texas Twister Stakes. The 5-year-old mare is trained by James Gerhards.

Jerry Windham and Eleazar Martinez, Sr.  were tied for second with 5 wins.

Sam Houston Race Park will offer free admission through Labor Day.  Simulcast racing will continue seven days a week with the third leg of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes set for Saturday, June 9. Premier race meets including Monmouth Park, Saratoga and Del Mar will showcase top Thoroughbreds this summer and Quarter Horse fans will be able to watch and wager on "America's fastest athletes" at Ruidoso Downs, beginning May 25.