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HOUSTON (September 30, 2008)— First Down Mr Jess was voted Horse of the Meet for the 2008 American Quarter Horse Meeting at Sam Houston Race Park ( The 2-year-old colt made his debut on July 25, followed by a win in the Sam Houston Futurity trial on August 22. He returned to action in the final of the $335,200 Sam Houston Futurity on September 5, running the best race of his young career and upsetting the favorite in his first Grade 1 stakes race.

Due to Hurricane Ike, The Park was forced to cancel the last weekend of live racing events scheduled for September 12 & 13. 

First Down Mr Jess, owned by Mary Carmen and Sergio Vela from Chrissema Horses LLC in McAllen, Texas, and trained by C. Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath, finished the meet with a perfect record of three wins in three starts.

“It’s not hard to win these races when you have a good colt like this one,” commented Gilbreath. “I’m just so happy for him. He’s now made himself eligible for some other big races like the Dash for Cash Futurity and the Texas Classic. I’m leaning toward holding off until the $1 Million Texas Classic because he’s run three quick races and I think it’d be best to rest him a little. We’ll just have to see.”

Claiming the title of Trainer of the Meet was Janet Van Bebber, who garnered her sixth training title with 24 wins in 110 starts and won $134,500 in purses. She was the ninth leading Quarter Horse trainer in the nation in 2007, and earned the title of leading trainer from 2001 through 2005 at Sam Houston Race Park. Van Bebber and her late husband, Steve, have won 13 Quarter Horse training titles since The Park opened in 1994.

Warner Croft won his first leading owner title at The Park. Croft won seven races throughout the meet, highlighted by the victory of his 4-year-old filly Bridled Lightnin in the $16,000 TQHA Sires’ Cup Stakes on August 16.

Finishing with 37 wins each, jockeys Rodrigo Vallejo and Gaspar Garcia shared top honors as The Park’s leading riders. Vallejo ranks as the eighth-leading Quarter Horse rider in the nation with 63 wins and purses of $1,497,741. In addition to his wins in Houston, Vallejo held the reins of the top Quarter Horse in the country, Stolis Winner, guiding him to victories in both the $1,106,320 Heritage Place Futurity at Remington Park and the $625,000 Rainbow Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.

Garcia won the title in June at Retama Park and was a mainstay in the winning connections of top trainers Gilbreath, Heath Taylor and Tooter Jordan. He guided First Down Mr Jess to all three of his wins with his biggest score coming in the $335,200 Sam Houston Futurity.

The 2008/2009 Thoroughbred meeting will open on Friday, November 28, 2008, and will continue through Saturday, April 4, 2009, at Sam Houston Race Park. 

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located 15 minutes from downtown Houston, and offers a variety of attractions including 19 luxury suites overlooking the race track, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and Jockey Club.  The Park’s newest addition, The Showgrounds, is an all-ages venue that hosts annual Country, Classic Rock and Contemporary concert events throughout the year.  For more information on upcoming shows, events and tickets, please visit, or call 800-211-3381. 

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