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Kool Country Man Upsets Sam Houston Challenge

Texas-bred earns first career stakes victory at odds of 24-1.

April 15, 2012

A field of 11 top older American Quarter Horses competed in the $100,620 Bank of America Sam Houston Championship Challenge (G1) on Saturday night at Sam Houston Race Park, and Kool Country Man sprang the huge upset, taking the lead in the 440-yard stakes and holding off a determined charge by Giorgino. It was the first stakes win for the son of Country Chicks Man, bred in Texas by Ramiro Lopez and Bob Gaston and owned by Jose Socorro Vera Jr. of Houston.

It was a proud moment for 23-year-old trainer Jonathan Castaneda, who also lives in Houston. He gave the mount to rider Alfonso Lujan, who guided him to the wire in :21.804, earning a speed index of 96 against a 20 mph headwind.

“This was my first time on him, but I had ridden for Jonathan at Louisiana Downs and he felt my style of riding would fit him,” said Lujan. “I went with the instructions and he put it all together. It was an awesome race.”

“We paid him into several derbies last year, but just couldn’t get to a final,” said Castandeda. “Our plan is to go to Delta and Retama Park, but most importantly, on to Prairie Meadows.”

Last year, Jorge Haddad was victorious in the Bank of America Sam Houston Challenge with The Louisiana Cartel, and he had high hopes for his 2012 contender, Giorgino. The 4-year-old son of Apollo (TB) was impressive last year as he was the fastest qualifier to the $702,896 Ruidoso Derby (G1) in June, finishing fourth in the final to one of the nation's top older horses, Llano Teller. At Sam Houston, Giorgino and jockey J. R. Ramirez were closing gamely but could not catch the winner.

"He got brushed after the break," said Ramirez. "But he was coming at the end.”

The Printing Press ran third, followed by The Field Cricket, Royal Invasor, King Of The Bunnys, Carry On, Eyes Blew By You, Struttin High, Rapid Transit and Bertha Venation.

Kool Country Man was ignored by the betting public but rewarded his supporters with a win payout of $51.60. He will advance to the $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) at Prairie Meadows on October 27. The 4-year-old gelding joins 2012 qualifiers Dash Glory Ease and Rylees Boy with additional qualifying races to be run through September. Each year, the winner of the Bank of America Challenge Championship is awarded a berth into Quarter Horse racing's most prestigious race for older horses, the $750,000 Champion of Champions (G1) at Los Alamitos.