Take Charge Lady, Forbidden Apple Headline 49 Horses Entered For Inaugural NTRA Great State Challenge

Forty-nine horses representing 10 states were entered on Wednesday, December 4, for Saturday’s inaugural running of the NTRA Great State Challenge, to be held Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston. Wednesday’s post position draw was staged at Reliant Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, owned by noted Thoroughbred owner and breeder Robert McNair.

The NTRA Great State Challenge is comprised of six races, each worth up to $275,000, covering the various racing divisions and featuring some of the nation’s finest state-bred runners. The state whose horses perform best in the Challenge (based on a 10-8-6-4-2-1-1-1-1 scoring system) will be crowned the Great State Challenge Champion. First race post time on Saturday is 1:00 p.m. local, Central time.

Arguably the biggest star on Saturday’s program is Kentucky-bred Take Charge Lady, winner of this year’s Spinster Stakes and runnerup in May’s Kentucky Oaks and last Thursday’s Falls City Handicap. Daily Racing Form National Handicapper has made the three-year-old filly a prohibitive 2-5 favorite in a field of six for the NTRA Great State Challenge Distaff, which will be run for fillies and mares, three and up, at 1 1/8 miles as race six on the ten-race Sam Houston card. "It's a little unconventional," said Take Charge Lady’s trainer, Ken McPeek, of the decision to run his top filly back on eight days’ rest. "But at the same time, I wouldn't run her if I didn't think she was 100 percent. And we tried not to overdo it going into the Falls City. It may have cost us a race, but at the same time, Allamerican Bertie ran great to beat her. And, you know, this is a good chance to represent the state of Kentucky as well.

The complete Distaff field from the rail out (with state breeding representation, rider and morning line odds in parentheses) is: Take Charge Lady (Ky., Edgar Prado, 2-5), Mystic Lady (Ky., Corey Nakatani, 3-1), Hunka Hunka Lori Z. (Md., Mario Pino, 8-1), Coastalota (Tex., Bobby Walker, 30-1), Graceful Cat (Wash., Patrick Valenzuela, 30-1) and Eagle Lake (Tex., Gerald Melancon, 8-1).

Another marquee name that will be in action on Saturday is the Florida-bred Forbidden Apple, who is an early 3-5 proposition among the ten that will contest the grassy 1 1/8 miles NTRA Great State Challenge Turf. "Everything is well with the horse," said Christophe Clement of Forbidden Apple who arrived at Sam Houston Race Park from Florida on Tuesday. "I hope the weather gets better so he can train up to the race the way I’d like, but the prospect of a soft course does not worry me. Whenever you run for $275,000, it’s never easy, but my horse is very talented and I think he’ll give a good account of himself on Saturday." Forbidden Apple was third in last August’s Arlington Million and finished fourth, beaten only two lengths, by Domedriver in this year’s NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile.

The Turf will be run as race seven on Saturday. The complete field from the rail out is: Desert Darby (Tex., Corey Lanerie, 30-1), La Reine’s Terms (Md., Horatio Karamanos, 15-1), Forbidden Apple (Fla., Corey Nakatani, 3-5), Whata Brainstorm (Fla., no rider, 15-1), Devine Wind (Ky., Ramon Dominguez, 5-1), Adminniestrator (Calif., no rider, 8-1), Quiet Ruler (N.Y., Edgar Prado, 12-1), Mystery Giver (Ill., Robby Albarado, 12-1), Taylor’s Fury (Wash., Glen Murphy, 50-1) and Purple Sand (Md., Mario Pino, 50-1).

The NTRA Great State Challenge Classic, race eight on the card for horses three and up going nine furlongs, drew a field of six, led by the two-horse entry of Kentucky breds Easyfromthegitgo and Big Numbers. However, trainer Patrick Byrne thinks his Indiana bred, Pass Rush, has a good chance to spring an upset. "He’s getting good at the right time, and he just might do the great state of Indiana proud," he said. "What a great idea this event is. It’s my first time in Texas and I’m having a great time."

The full Classic field from the rail out is: Continental Red (Calif., Patrick Valenzuela, 9-5), Pass Rush (Ind., Robby Albarado, 5-2), Easyfromthegitgo (Ky., Donnie Meche, 7-5), Pickupspeed (Md., Horatio Karamanos, 8-1), Big Numbers (Ky., Corey Lanerie, 7-5) and Rare Cure (Tex., Gerald Melancon, 15-1).

The NTRA Great State Challenge Juvenile Fillies will be the first of the $275,000 races run on Saturday. The race for two-year-old fillies at seven furlongs drew a well balanced field on nine. From the rail out, they are: Miss Nicolie (Calif., Patrick Valenzuela, 6-1), Elegant Designer (Fla, Mario Pino, 5-1), She’s Fantastic (Ill., Robby Albarado, 20-1), Souris (Ky., Corey Lanerie, 7-5), Hurricane Hebe (Ind., Bobby Walker, 20-1), Perfect Blue, (Md., no rider, 50-1), Youcan’ttakeme (Wash., Corey Nakatani, 15-1), Hannah’s Royalrock (Tex., Glen Murphy, 12-1) and Midnight Cry (Ky., Edgar Prado, 5-2).

The NTRA Great State Challenge Juvenile, a seven-furlong heat for two-year-olds that will follow the Juvenile Fillies, drew ten competitors, with the tepid morning line favorite at 3-1 being California’s Only the Best. Local owner extraordinaire Robert McNair may have something to say about the outcome, however, thanks to his entry of the undefeated Texas-bred Catalissa. "She’s only run twice, but already she’s shown a lot of ability," said McNair. "A win on Saturday would be especially nice with the local angle and because I bred him. But I just hope he does well and then can move on to run big races next year as a three-year-old."

The complete Juvenile field from the rail out is: Posse (Ky., Donnie Meche, 5-1), Bridge Out Again (Md., Horatio Karamanos, 12-1), Action Tonight (Tex., Buck Harris, 30-1), Hear No Evil (Fla., Robby Albarado, 8-1), Private Gold (Ky., Corey Nakatani, 4-1), Catalissa (Tex., Frank Lovato Jr., 15-1), Crackup (Calif., Tyler Baze, 6-1), Only the Best (Calif., Patrick Valenzuela, 3-1), Cherokee’s Boy (Md., Ramon Dominguez, 6-1) and Supah Blitz (Fla., Edgar Prado, 12-1).

Like its counterpart in the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, the NTRA Great State Challenge Sprint, run as race five on Saturday, may be the most competitive event on the card. The six-furlong dash for horses three years old and older attracted a salty group of eight, including Day Trader, who captured the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park in September and competed in the following month’s Napa Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Morning line favoritism in Saturday’s race, however, has been accorded to Richard Englander’s Florida bred My Cousin Matt, who was claimed three starts back by the Eclipse Award winning owner for $85,000 and was narrowly beaten in a $150,000 stakes race at Calder his last time out. "I'm as bullish on this horse as any horse I've ever had," said Englander. "I don't think there's a sprinter in the country that can beat him.I think with Orientate retiring and with Thunderello getting hurt-I just don't think there's a horse that can beat this horse."

The eight who will face the starter in the Sprint, from the rail out, are: Le Numerous (Ia., Bobby Walker, 30-1), Royal Lad (Fla., Corey Nakatani, 12-1), Won CC (Tex., John Jacinto, 20-1), Deer Run (Md., Mario Pino, 6-1), Dash for Daylight (Ky., Larry Melancon, 3-1), Day Trader (Ky., Edgar Prado, 5-2), My Cousin Matt (Fla., Ramon Dominguez, 9-5) and Tic N Tin (Ill., Robby Albarado, 20-1).

Exclusive live television coverage of the NTRA Great State Challenge can be seen on TVG. Next-day coverage will be included on Sunday’s NTRA 2day at the Races program on ESPN2 at 6:00 p.m. (ET).

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