Belmont Stakes & Bag of Donuts
June 8, 2024


Jan 27, 2021


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 31

HOUSTON, TX- Sam Houston Race Park will host its annual Houston Racing Festival on Sunday, January 31. A special post time of 1:45 pm (CT) has been set for the marquee day of the 2021 Thoroughbred meet with six featured stakes.


As previously reported, two graded stakes will be contested, the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and theGrade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf. Full and highly competitive fields have been drawn for the remaining four undercard stakes, with an encouraging weather forecast for the Sunday afternoon program.


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 last January. The race garnered even greater interest this year with an overflow field and 3-year-olds from a wide range of the leading North American trainers.


Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher has entered two promising runners and confirmed that Fighting Force will make the trip from South Florida. The Kentucky-bred son of Air Force Blue drew post position five with Jesus Castanonin the saddle. The dark bay colt broke his maiden on December 5, advancing into stakes company, finishing second in the $75,000 Dania Beach at Gulfstream Park on January 2 for owners Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith.


“Fighting Force has been very consistent,” said Pletcher. “He faced tough company in the Dania Beach and gave a good effort.”


Pletcher, who won the 2017 Houston Ladies Classic with Unbridled Mo, was not surprised that the stakes, in just its second year, drew such a competitive field.


“It’s a great spot on the calendar with a good purse,” he added. 


William T. Reed’s homebred Excess Magic brings a two-race win streak into the stakes and drew post position three with jockey Miguel Mena up. Trainer Bret Calhoun, who has won a high percentage of Texas-bred stakes at Sam Houston Race Park, is keen on the colt by Magician.


“I love the post and Miguel will not have to worry about saving ground,” said Calhoun. “Excess Magic was disqualified in his first start (at Evangeline Downs on August 21) and destroyed them on his turf start at Remington Park. This horse has a really good turn of foot; I’m proud of him!”

Prominent horseman Mark Casse who ran Jack and Noah (FR) in the 2020 Texas Turf Mile, will ship in Palazzi, a colt by Pioneer of the Mile. Owned by John C. Oxley, he exits a maiden special weight win on the Fair Grounds turf last month. Declan Carroll has the call and will break from the rail.


The Texas Turf Mile will run as the seventh race on the card with an approximate post time of 5:00 pm (CT). 

The field, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds is as follows: Palazzi, Declan Carroll, 6-1; Texas Bad Boy, Domingo Chacaltana, 15-1; Excess Magic, Miguel Mena, 9-2; Invincibility, Stewart Elliott., 12-1; Fighting Force, Jesus Castanon, 3-1; Harlan Estate, Ruben Fuentes, 10-1; Red N Wild, Sophie Doyle, 15-1; Chess’s Dream, Julien Leparoux, 20-1; Dyn O Mite, Ty Kennedy, 20-1; Bobby Brinkley, Danny Sorenson30-1; Winfromwithin, Albin Jimenez, 7-2 and Catman, Rafael Hernandez ,20-1. Two also-eligibles include Flash of Mischief. Ry Eikleberry, 20-1 and TD Dance, Reylu Gutierrez, 20-1.



Twelve Contenders to Vie Five Furlongs in the $100,000 Pulse Power Sprint 

The $100,000 Pulse Power 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.


Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has been honored as Sam Houston Race Park’s leading trainer 12 times, won the 2012 edition of this stakes with Great Mills.  He will saddle Share The Upside who has a perfect three-for-three turf record for owners Hill n Dale Equine Holdings, Inc. and Windsor Boys Racing LLC. Sam Houston’s leading rider Stewart Elliott will guide the 6-year-old son of Maclean’s Music.


“He’s won some really nice races,” said Asmussen. “He’s undefeated on the turf and as fast as he is, it doesn’t matter where he draws.” 


Conditioner Joe Sharp returns with Brad Grady’s Fast Boat, a 6-year-old son of City Zip. He has won seven of his 21 turf starts and will be ridden by Lindey Wade as the 7-2 morning line choice. Last year, he ran a game second to Real News.


“Brad and I discussed our options and just felt that Fast Boat had not shown an affinity for the Fair Grounds turf course,” said Sharp. “He drew a little further outside in this year’s sprint. We have faith in Lindey getting him in a good position.”


Carotari will make his Sam Houston Race Park debut for trainer Brian Lynch, who is also shipping in Spooky Channelfor the Grade 3, Connally Turf Cup. The 5-year-old son of Artie Schiller will be ridden by Julien Leparoux for owner William Branch. This will be his first start since the Grade 2, Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on September 4. 


“He’s a very fast horse,” stated Lynch. “He set a five furlong track record at Saratoga and faced some serious company last year. We gave him a freshening and he’s been working well for this.”


Notables include eight-time turf winner Mo Maverick and Tiger Blood, from the barn of Mike Maker and Kingpin, a son of Quality Road who will break from the far outside post for trainer Michael Stidham.  It will be very nice to welcome back conditioner Michelle Lovell, a former jockey, who began her training career at Sam Houston Race Park in 2003. She will send in Change of Control, a 5-year-old mare by Fed Biz. She exits a third-place finish in the Nelson Menard Stakes at Fair Grounds and will be ridden by Sophie Doyle.





Veteran Bourbon Cowboy Sets Sights on a Victory in the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint 

A field of nine will compete Sunday in the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint, which will run as the sixth race of the card. Nitrous, a 5-year-old son of Tapit, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Stonestreet Stables LLC drew the rail post position in the six-furlong main track sprint. Stewart Elliott has the call aboard the 8-5 choice for Steve Asmussen. The gray, who has earned $547,796 in 18 starts, ships to Houston following his victory in the $125,000 Thanksgiving Classic at Fair Grounds.


“He’s a Winchell homebred coming off a good win,” said Asmussen.


While Nitrous and fellow Fair Grounds shipper Hollis, from the barn of John Alexander Ortiz, will likely garner the heavy share of the betting public, trainer Scott Young has high hopes for Bourbon Cowboy.  The 9-year-old son of Cowboy Cal was claimed at Remington Park last August for $20,000 by Young and his owner Terral Hogan. He won sprinting at the Oklahoma City racetrack on December 12 and his four-length victory at Sam Houston on January 9 propelled Young to nominate the Kentucky-bred gelding for the Stonerside Sprint.


“It took a couple of races for him to get his confidence back,” explained Young, who is hitting the board at Sam Houston at a 41% clip this meet. “This is such a neat horse; he’s quite a character and loves attention.  He’s been training tremendously, so we hope for a good race on Sunday.”


Formerly named the Sam Houston Sprint Cup, this stakes was renamed in 2019 to honor the late Robert C. McNairand 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.



Catch a Bid Leads the Field of Fillies and Mares in the $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes

The $75,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes, a mile and-one-sixteenth turf feature for fillies and mares, will close out the Houston Racing Festival card. 


Catch a Bid, a 5-year-old mare by Real Solution, has been installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite. Owned by Highlander Training Center, she is trained by Joe Sharp, who looks forward to her Sam Houston Race Park debut.


“She was formerly trained by Chad Brown and faced some very tough company,” said Sharp. “We bought her out of the November Mixed Sale at Keeneland. She should like the firm Connally Turf course and we felt this would be a good starting point for her year.”


Stunning Sky, owned by Paradise Farms Corp., will ship in for trainer Mike Maker. The  4-year-old daughter of Declaration of War, made her last start at Gulfstream Park, running fifth in the $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks. Julien Leparoux has the call on the 3-1 second choice.


Morning Molly, who made her last start at Tampa Bay Downs for conditioner Tom Proctor is another solid contender. Trainer Mark Casse sends in No Mo Temper, who closed well in her most recent turf start also at Tampa.  Curlin’s Journey, who ran fourth in last year’s edition of the Jersey Lilly, returns for the Dallas Keen barn with jockey Sophie Doyle in the saddle.



Two Graded Stakes Set for the Houston Racing Festival

As previously announced, the ninth renewal of the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic will run as the eighth race on the Houston Racing Festival Card. The field of seven, from the rail, with riders and morning line odds, is as follows: Motion Emotion, Miguel Mena, 7-2; Jeweled Princess, Reylu Gutierrez, 8-1; Ujjayi, Rafael Manuel Hernandez, 6-1; Lady Apple, Stewart Elliott, 4-1; Figure It Out, Lane Luzzi, 15-1; Shes Our Fastest, Ry Eikleberry, 20-1 and Letruska, Jesus Castanon, 1-1. 


In addition, the Grade 3, John B. Connally Turf Cup, which will run as the ninth race on the card, attracted a full field of turf specialists. The field for the one and one-half mile stakes, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds is as follows: Celerity, Iram Diego, 30-1; Signalman, Reylu Gutierrez, 12-1; Ajourneytofreedom, Jesus Castanon, 10-1; Tenfold, Stewart Elliott., 6-1; Conviction Trade, Rafael Hernandez, 7-2; Marzo, Albin Jimenez, 10-1; Tuts Revenge, Ry Eikleberry, 9-2; Chagi, Weston Hamilton, 50-1; Vettori Kin(Brz), Miguel Mena, 20-1; Spooky Channel, Julien Leparoux, 5-2; Strong Tide, Sophie Doyle, 30-1 and Henley’s Joy, Declan Carroll ,15-1.


Houston Racing Festival Broadcast Team

Sam Houston Race Park has assembled a talented group of handicappers and Thoroughbred industry veterans to guide racing fans through the premier day of the 2021 Thoroughbred season. The team includes Sam Houston’s track announcer Chris Griffin; racing publicist Martha Claussen who will conduct post-race interviews and special guest, former Parx announcer Keith Jones, who now calls Houston home. In addition handicappers Nick Tammaro, Trey Stiles, Jessica Paquette and Andy Villanueva will combine for paddock previews of each of the races, comprehensive analysis and suggested Pick 4 tickets which will be posted on the live feed and shared on Twitter.



About Sam Houston Race Park

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



Photo Credits:  Coady Photography