150th Kentucky Derby
May 4th, 2024
Jan 22, 2020


Six Stakes Including the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Will be Contested on Sunday, January 26

HOUSTON, TX- The excitement is building for the Houston Racing Festival on Sunday, January 26 at Sam Houston Race Park. A special post time of 1:20 pm (CT) has been set for the marquee day of the 2020 Thoroughbred meet with six featured stakes. As previously reported, two graded stakes will be contested, the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf.


Full and highly competitive fields have been drawn for the remaining four undercard stakes, with clear skies forecast for the Sunday afternoon ten-race card.



Exceptional Group of Three-Year-Olds To Run in the $200,000 Texas Turf Mile

The quality and quantity of entries exceeded expectations for the first running of the $200,000 Texas Turf Mile. Horsemen from across the United States took interest in the inaugural edition of the stakes, with Billy Batts, owned by Rockingham Ranch, installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite. The son of City Zip ran second at odds of 55-1 in the Grade 1, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November for trainer Peter Miller.


Godolphin LLC’s Pixelate has won two of his last three turf races, including the $100,000 Central Park at Aqueduct on December 6. Trainer Michael Stidham will give a leg up to rider Florent Geroux and has high praise for the City Zip colt.


“His last two races have been really good, solid efforts,” he said. “After Aqueduct, we gave him a breather and pointed for this. There are not many turf races at a flat mile; you can see by the draw that this was well-received. I certainly hope it will offered each year.”


Conditioner Mike Maker, who has won seven of the last editions of the Grade 3, John B. Connally Turf at Sam Houston, will send in Three Diamonds Farm’s Chimney Rock. The Louisiana-bred colt by Artie Shiller has been highly successful sprinting, finishing second in the Grade 2, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita and drawing off by 6 ½ lengths at Fair Grounds last month in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile. Corey Lanerie has the call. Maker will also run Field Pass for Three Diamonds Farm as well as Toma Todd, a son of English Channel owned by Bloom Racing who won the 2019 Houston Ladies Classic with superstar filly Midnight Bisou.


Prominent horseman Mark Casse is hopeful that his entrant Jack and Noah (FR) can overcome his far outside post. Owned by Gary Barber, the lightly raced colt by Bated Breath, will only be making the fifth start of his career on Sunday in the Texas Turf Mile.


“We bought him in France and when you bring horses overseas, it takes a while to get them acclimated,” explained Casse. “He began his training in Ocala (Florida) before we shipped to New York.”


The gray colt gave a very good account of himself, winning his debut at Belmont, before stepping up to stakes company. He exits a gate-to-wire score in the $100,000 Atlantic Beach Stakes on November 9 at Aqueduct and will be shipped to Houston from Fair Grounds.


“It was very smart thinking on the part of Sam Houston Race Park to write this stakes,” added Casse. “There are not many opportunities to run a mile on the turf. Judging from the interest, this was a very good choice.”


Danny Pish, one of the top trainers at Sam Houston Race Park, will be represented by Bodecream and Deviant, both owned by Red Lane Thoroughbreds, LLC. Deviant won the El Joven at Retama Park as well as the Sunday Silence at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs before earning a berth into the Grade 1, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.


The Texas Turf Mile will run as the seventh race on the card with an approximate post time of 4:40 pm (CT).


Wide Open $100,000 Frontier Utilities Sprint Draws Twelve

The $100,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint, a five-furlong turf stakes, will kick of the stakes action with a full field of twelve competing in the fifth race of the Houston Racing Festival card.


Real News, owned by Town and Country Racing LLC and Gary Broad, ran third in the Grade 2, $500,000 Penn Mile on June 1. Trained by Al Stall, Jr., the 4-year-old son of The Factor prepped for this with a turf allowance score last month at Fair Grounds. Colby Hernandez has the return call and will break from post ten on the 7-2 morning line choice.


“He’s a big, strong, powerful horse,” said Stall. “We tested him at several distances, but feel he does his best running as a sprinter. We had to back off last summer when he abscessed a foot, but he has come back really well. I love the post, as he likes to run at a target.”


Trainer Joe Sharp is shipping in Brad Grady’s Fast Boat, a 5-year-old son of City Zip. He has won six of his 14 turf starts and will be ridden by Adam Beschizza as the 4-1 second choice.


“He’s a nice runner and keeps improving,” said Sharp. “There appears to be a lot of speed in the race, which should give him the right set up. Adam has ridden him in three of his last four starts and knows he likes to be covered up.”


Some accomplished turf veterans could give the youngsters a run for their money. These include Richard’s Boy, claimed for $40,000 by Clark Brewster and now in the barn of Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen. The 8-year-old California-bred has bankrolled $1,005,024 and competed in both the 2017 and 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Dance Proudly, has eclipsed the half-million earning mark for owner Ten Strike Racing. Current leading Sam Houston rider DeShawn Parker will ride the 10-year-old son of Quick Action.


Pete’s Play Call Among the Contenders in the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint

A field of seven will compete Sunday in the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint, which will run as the sixth race of the card.  Pete’s Play Call owned by Michael Hui, Hooties Racing LLC and WSS Racing LLC, will break from post position two at odds of 2-1. Trained by Michael Maker has won nine of his 33 starts, most recently, the $75,000 Bonapaw at Fair Grounds. Tyler Gafflione will pilot the 7-year-old Maryland bred son of Munnings.


2018 Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year, William S. Farish’s homebred Direct Dial, will make a return start in the Stonerside. The son of Too Much Bling is trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr.  Another prominent Texas-bred, Roy W. Cobb’s homebred Mr Money Bags was a dual stakes winner last year at Sam Houston Race Park and completed his 3-year-old season with a victory in the $250,000 Zia Park Derby.  The son of Silver City will be honored by the TTA as 2019 Horse of the Year.  Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez will ride for trainer Mike Neatherlin, who is targeting the Grade 3, Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park (on February 17) for his multiple-stakes winner.


“Mr. and Mrs. Cobb really wanted to see him run in Texas,” said Neatherlin. “He has always done well at Sam Houston, winning both stakes last year easily on the front. There’s a lot of speed in the race, but I believe he can still get the job done sitting third or fourth off the pace.”


Breaking from the rail is Malpais, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt who will make his 2020 debut off a seven month layoff but worked a bullet on Sunday at Fair Grounds. Adam Beschizza has the call.


The six-furlong feature, formerly named the Sam Houston Sprint Cup, was renamed last year to honor the late Robert C. McNair and his Stonerside Stable. The well-respected Thoroughbred operation, in central Kentucky, produced national and international racing stars, including Congaree, Bob and John, Tout Charmont and Chilukki. McNair sold Stonerside Stable to Darley in 2008 to devote his full attention to his Houston Texans NFL team and numerous philanthropic causes.



Dream Passage Leads the Field of Fillies and Mares in the $75,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes

Trainer Brad Cox sends in in Dream Passage for the $75,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes, a mile and-one-sixteenth feature that will run as the finale on the Houston Racing Festival Card.


Owned by Circle B Racing, the 6-year-old daughter of Stormy Atlantic has won eight of her 26 starts and is the top earner in the field with $446,001.  She will be seeking her fourth consecutive win and will be ridden by Florent Geroux. Currently training at Fair Grounds, Cox had pointed her to a turf stakes in New Orleans that was rained off the grass; hence his choice to ship his mare to Sam Houston Race Park.


“She’s been breezing at Fair Grounds for the last month,” said Cox. “We had some options for her first start of the year but liked this race a little better.”


Another full field of 12 has several other stakes-winning fillies and mares including Alternative Slew, owned by Walter Mike Jones, who captured two stakes last season at Remington Park for trainer Randy Oberlander. Douglas Scharbauer’s Cowgirls Like Us won the Two Altazano at Sam Houston last February for conditioner Bret Calhoun and Ian Yarnot’s Coraluna, trained by Sara Delany, was a stakes winner at Lone Star Park before running second in the Fiesta Mile at Retama Park. 



Houston Racing Festival Post Time and Stakes

The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Sunday, January 26 with a special post time of 1:20 pm (Central). Ten races will be contested including the following stakes:

Race 5             $100,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint - 4&up - 5 Furlongs (T)

Race 6             $75,000 Stonerside Sprint - 4&up - 6 Furlongs

Race 7             $200,000 Texas Turf Mile- 3YO -1 Mile (T)

Race 8             $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) - 4&up F&M - 1 1/16 Mile

Race 9             $200,000 John B. Connally Turf (G3) - 4&up - 1 1/2 Mile (T)

Race 10           $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf - 4&up F&M - 1 1/16 Mile (T)


As previously announced, the eighth running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic drew a potent field of six fillies and mares, led by 2019 Kentucky Oaks champion Joe Politi’s Serengeti Empress. The daughter of Alternation is trained by Tom Amoss and won the 2019 Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds Oaks prior to her victory in the Grade 1, Kentucky Oaks. In 12 career starts, she has banked $1,462,120.  The second millionaire in the field is Street Band from the barn of Larry Jones, who won the Grade 1, Cotillion at Parx prior to competing in the G1, Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November at Santa Anita. Jones was a breeder of the daughter of Istan out of the Street Cry (IRE) mare Street Minstrel and co-owns the filly with his wife, Cindy, Ray Francis as well as Medallion Racing and MyRacehorse Stable.


Here is the field for the Houston Ladies Classic, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds:

Serengeti Empress, Flavien Prat, 7-5; Out For A Spin, Brian Hernandez, Jr.10-1; Saracosa, Corey Lanerie, 15-1; Lady Apple, Ricardo Santana, Jr.,9-2; Mylady Curlin, Tyler Gafflione, 7-2 and Street Band, Sophie Doyle, 5-2.


Twelve turf specialists included four from the barn of seven-time winning conditioner Mike Maker will compete in Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf. The Connally, to be run at a mile and one-half on the acclaimed Connally Turf Course, received its graded stakes status in 2006, and continues to showcase exceptional turf runners.


The field for the Connally, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds is:

Prospector Fever, Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez, 30-1; Cross Border, Flavien Prat, 7-2; Patriot Drive, Colby Hernandez, 20-1; Zumurudee, Brian Hernandez, Jr., 15-1; Yeowzer, Iram Diego, 30-1; Another Mystery, Jose Valdivia Jr., 12-1; Marzo, Corey Lanerie, 9-2; Nate’s Attack, Luis Batista, 20-1; Dot Matrix, Florent Geroux, 4-1; Tracksmith, Adam Beschizza, 10-1; Sleepy Eyes Todd, David Cabrera, 6-1 and Bemma’s Boy, Tyler Gafflione,6-1.



Rocket Rosen Memorial To Run as Race Four on Sunday

Prominent defense attorney Steven “Rocket” Rosen passed away on January 14 at the age of 65. He was a devoted racing fan and so popular with the entire Sam Houston Race Park team that management named the fourth race on the Houston Racing Festival in his honor. 


He loved all sports and coached each of his daughters throughout their athletic endeavors. For those wishing to honor Rosen, the Rocket Rosen Scholarship Fund has been set up and donations can be mailed to 214 Morton St., Richmond, TX 77469.



Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston. SHRP offers a variety of attractions including 16 recently renovated luxury suites overlooking the racetrack, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options int the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and Jockey Club.  For more information on upcoming shows, events and tickets, please visit www.shrp.com.





Photo of Chimney Rock:  Hodges Photography

Photo of Direct Dial:    Coady Photography