Pomona, Calif. (Sept. 20, 2008) -- For trainer Mel Stute Fairplex Park is like a second home. He's been saddling horses and winning races at the Pomona track for more than five decades.
Longevity counts for the 81-year-old native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, because he resides comfortably atop the list of all-time trainers at Fairplex with 187 winners. His closest pursuer is veteran Jerry Fanning with 141.
He also leads all trainers in stakes victories in Pomona with 44.
Stute is hoping to add yet another stakes trophy to his mantle when he saddles Hurry Up Austin in Sunday's 30th renewal of the $125,000 Ralph M. Minds Invitational Handicap at "about" 1 1/8 miles for the best older horses on the grounds.
Stute is no stranger to winning the marquee race of the meet. He's won it three times. He visited Score Quick in the winner's circle at the conclusion of the Pomona Handicap in both 1997 and 1998 and registered his first victory in the prestigious race with Fabulous Dad in 1984.
"I've been racing in Pomona for a long, long time," said Stute laughing with a hint of modesty in his tone. "When you talk about=2 0me winning all those races, it really means I won about three or four races a year."
In actuality Stute has won the training championship at Fairplex seven times and for his exploits was the first inductee into the track's Racing Hall of Fame in 2003.
A field of eight has signed up for Sunday's Pomona Handicap with multiple stakes winner Dixie Meister as the 5-2 favorite on Brad Free's morning line.
Trained by Julio Canani, Dixie Meister hasn't competed since an also-ran performance in the Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, but he's been training shar ply for Sunday's race. He recently drilled 58 1/5 over Santa Anita's new Pro Ride track and worked 1:11 3/5 late last month at Del Mar.
Also entered are Frank The Barber, winner of last year's Pomona Handicap, Booyah, Freesgood, victorious two weeks ago in the Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at Fairplex, Double Galore, Sensational Score, the 2006 Pomona Derby winner, and Tice, second in the recent Phil D. Shepherd.
The competition for Hurry Up Austin will be tough, but Stute believes his horse deserves a chance at the brass ring.
"Hurry Up Austin has been a real good horse for me," explained Stute. "W e didn't pay all that much for him ($10,000 at the Barretts sale in 2006) and he has earned more than $200,000 ($231,790)."
At Santa Anita last winter Hurry Up Austin finished fourth behind Johnny Eves in the Grade I Malibu Stakes, the traditional opening day feature.
"I really think he's a bit better on turf than dirt, but a lot of grass horses do well at Fairplex. (Jockey) Jon Court (who has ridden the 4-year-old son of Lake Austin in seven his last seven races) will ride him. He knows the horse and we'll see what happens."
THREE ADDITIONAL STAKES ON SUNDAY
In addition to the Pomona Handicap racing secretary Richard Wheeler will showcase three other stakes on Sunday.