A stakes race with arguably one of the longest names in all of horse racing, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Stakes is the feature event May 23 at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. It will take almost as long to announce the title as it will to introduce the very talented field of seven.
No one likes short fields in horse racing, especially those who love to play the races. If you are going to have a smaller field, however, then this is the type of group that will let you ignore the number in the starting gate. Of the seven, five starters are past stakes winners with three of them in the superstar category.
In another rarity, the field for the National Cowboy—named after the famous museum attraction located two miles from Remington Park—is almost evenly split between Paints (four) and Appaloosas (three). Where the Paint racers have dominated the events and overall racing numbers between the breeds for decades now, a couple of Appaloosas have made big waves the last three seasons. Both are in the National Cowboy, including last year’s winner Major Tom (ApHC).
Major Tom dominated over his 2- and 3-year-old racing seasons. Cant Be Caught (ApHC) was the thorn that ruined Texas Silk’s attempt at the Speedhorse Triple Crown in 2014.
So where are we with these two Appaloosas this year? Major Tom has yet to win in two starts and has barely looked like the star he was in his first two years with a pair of second-place runs in Remington Park stakes events. He was beaten by Cant Be Caught in the Grade 1 Mister Lewie Memorial in April with Judys Miss Banks knocking him off in the Paul Harber Memorial in March.
Cant Be Caught continues to dominate with a seven-race win streak that started in September 2014. A winner in 10 of his 12 career starts, Cant Be Caught is the real deal as a 3-year-old facing older runners for a second straight race. He is the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the National Cowboy and will leave the starting gate from post two, reunited with regular rider Randy Wilson, who has returned from an early season injury.
Another question for the National Cowboy … which Texas Silk will compete: the one who put on such a show at age 2 last year, or the lackluster three-year old that took three races before finally displaying the talent that made him a World Champion?
Texas Silk was nearly a no-show in the Speedhorse Graham Derby in March, finishing seventh in a field of 10, finishing 3-¾ lengths behind Cant Be Caught. His connections, owner Charles Leggett of Muskogee, Oklahoma, and trainer Jeff Dean, put him in the Paul Harber Memorial a week after the poor derby run. There, Texas Silk faced older horses for the first time and looked lost again, finishing fourth in a five-horse field, a length behind winner Judys Miss Banks.
Then, Texas Silk went to the Grade 1 American Paint Classic Derby in April. Suddenly, all was well as he showed the kick and rally that had been his trademark a year earlier, pulling away in a three-quarter length victory over nine rivals. Perhaps a change of jockey spurred the good performance—Texas Silk’s reins passed by regular jockey Berkley Packer in favor of all-time leading jockey G.R. Carter for the American Paint Classic Derby. He managed to find the best in Texas Silk over 400 yards.
In the National Cowboy, Texas Silk will again have a new jockey—G.R. Carter is riding in the Ruidoso Downs Futurity Trials in New Mexico and won’t make it back to Oklahoma City in time for the race. Jockey James Flores, enjoying a solid Remington Park season, will get the leg up on the champ for the first time and will try to get the best from the Texas Six gelding who attempts 440 yards for the first time in his career.
Jockey changes will be the norm in the National Cowboy, as six of the seven entrants will be ridden by someone different than the pilot they had in their last race. The trials in New Mexico are the main reason for the rampant rider switch-ups. Handicapping the National Cowboy will require handicapping the jockeys, as well.
Major Tom will have Jose Vega aboard for the first time ever, with regular jockey Jimmy Brooks is at Ruidoso Downs. Cant Be Caught gets Randy Wilson back up; he has ridden in seven of his 10 wins, but how he will mesh with the gelding after nearly two months away remains to be seen. If Ur Buyn Im Flyn gets Alex Baldillez for the first time; G.R. had been his regular rider. Call Him Awesome will be ridden by Paul Nieto instead of Berkley. Major Mac will have Raul Gutierrez instead of Joe Badilla, who is at Ruidoso Downs. James Flores is on Texas Silk. Show Me Your Glory (ApHC) is the only entrant to keep his last jockey, with Stormy Smith up for a second-straight ride.
The 440-yard distance of the National Cowboy will challenge five of the seven in the field for the first time; only Major Tom has a win at the distance in this race a year ago. Call Him Awesome started and finished fifth behind Major Tom in last year’s edition, in what was his only try at 440 yards.
Trying to take all of this and more into account, I think the 440 yards will help Texas Silk more than Cant Be Caught. Texas Silk almost never gets away quickly or cleanly, and he needs the extra ground to atone for his early faults. Cant Be Caught has been nearly automatic for eight months but the distance and change of rider might set him up for the upset. For those reasons, I’ll take Texas Silk, Cant Be Caught, Major Tom and Major Mac for a top four.
Enjoy the National Cowboy and the final days of another superb Remington Park season that comes to an end on May 30, featuring a stakes-heavy program that includes the Grade 1 $213,000 Speedhorse Graham Futurity.
Grade 1 $30,000 National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Stakes, 440 yards
Horse–Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1. Major Tom (ApHC)–Eddie Willis, Jose Vega, 2-1
2. Cant Be Caught (ApHC)–Jeff Dean, Randy Wilson, 7-5
3. If Ur Buyn Im Flyn–Ty Blackwell, Alex Baldillez, 10-1
4. Call Him Awesome–Christian Rubalcava, Paul Nieto, 20-1
5. Major Mac–Brian Muse, Raul Gutierrez, 8-1
6. Texas Silk–Jeff Dean, James Flores, 5-1
7. Show Me Your Glory (ApHC)–Charley Hunt, Stormy Smith, 15-1
Dale Day is the track handicapper at Remington Park in Oklahoma City; follow him on Twitter @thedaleday. His “Pick a Winner” column is regularly featured during the Remington Park meet season at myflashyride.com.
[Reprinting this article is permitted, so long as credit is given to Flash/APHA and a link provided to myflashyride.com.]
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