Jun 20, 2023


Next Stop on the Texas Circuit is Retama Park – Opening Day is Thursday, June 29

By Martha Claussen


HOUSTON, TX –The 2023 Sam Houston Quarter Horse racing season concluded on Saturday, June 17 with an exciting ten-race card, including four stakes and the presentation of the end-of-the-meet awards for leading jockey, trainer, and owner. 


Ali Rivera Repeats as Leading Jockey 

Up-and-coming Quarter Horse jockey Ali Rivera returned to claim his second leading jockey title. The 21-year-old, from Elgin, Texas, who began riding three years ago, defended his title this meet, winning 33 races and finishing in the money with a  respectable 55% statistic on 148 mounts. One of his most impressive rides was his victory on closing night aboard Pete Scarmardo’s Jess Good Leader in the $55,000 Willie Hickman Memorial Stakes. 


He credits his father,  jockey Eleazar Rivera, his many owners, and the role of his agent, Aubrey Vega, for his success again this year at Sam Houston Race Park. He rode for a number of trainers including John Stinebaugh, Gilberto Gonzalez, Arturo Terrazas, III, Zachary Stinebaugh, Jose Carrizales, and Alvin Francis, Jr.


“I am grateful to each of the horsemen who have trusted me with their horses,” stated Rivera. “This is what I love to do, and I work seven days a week, trying to help everyone out. For me, it pays off with opportunities to ride very good horses.” 


Rivera was surrounded by mother, brother, sister, agent, and members of the jockey colony as he received his award. He will ride this week in trials at Delta Downs before heading to Retama Park, in Selma, Texas.


Jose Herbert finished second with 19 wins. Noe Villatoro finished strongly to move into third place with 17 victories and Claudio Ponce Aguilar rode 14 winners to round out the top four riders.


Juan Diaz, Jr. Earns His Third Leading Trainer of the Meet Title

Texas horseman Juan Diaz, Jr. held the commanding lead in the trainer standings throughout the meet, finishing with 32 wins from 95 starts and $847,923 in purses. The 34-year-old from Floresville, Texas qualified four juveniles to the richest stakes of the meet, the $461,835 Sam Houston Futurity (G2), winning his third straight championship with Juan M Lozano’s homebred Jess Flying Cowgirl.  Diaz also captured the 2023  John Deere Texas Juvenile Challenge (G3) for the third year in a row and will send Stormguard to the $125,000 John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2)at Lone Star Park on Saturday, October 21. 


“It all boils down to great horses and I have many owners who support me as well as a very hard-working team,” said Diaz. “We had some really talented 2-year-olds again this year; they are all very different, but we enjoy the challenge of figuring them out!”


Diaz will set up shop at Retama Park, where he will defend his leading training title.


Roberto Madrigal was second in the standings with 14 wins followed by Adan Guzman who saddled 12 winners and Jose Sanchez, III  with 10 victories throughout the meet, which began on April 21. 


Sarah Huskey Captures Her First Owner Title at Sam Houston Race Park

The leading owner title went to  Sarah Huskey who finished with eight victories and two wins each from Ima Rock and Moonin My Memories as well as two starts by Ghost Bear. She won the Colors of Houston Paint Maturity (G2) with Just Wishin. All of her Quarter Horses are trained by Esteban Rubio, who Sarah and her father, Fletcher met when he began his career as a groom for legendary Texas horseman, Sleepy Gilbreath.


The daughter of Texas Quarter Horse trainer Fletcher Huskey gives her dad plenty of credit for his career as a breeder and trainer.


“Many of our horses have bloodlines that go back to the ’70s,” she said. “My dad had some incredible mares. Moonin My Memories was the last foal from Good Ol Memories. She was a daughter of My Investment (winner of eight races and a finalist in the 1982 Kindergarten Futurity). Both were trained by my father.”


Sarah graduated from  Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and recently retired from her practice in Dallas, Texas. This was her first Sam Houston Race Park leading owner title and the first by a woman since Betty Jane Burlin in 2001.


Carlos Ponce, who won the owner title last year, finished with six wins, with standouts including Jet Black Grace and Rey DonovanSunset Well Services, Inc., Guerras Racing Stables, and Triple Five finished in a tie for third place with five wins each. 


Bryan Pettigrew Takes the Helm as Sam Houston Race Park’s General Manager

Respected industry veteran Bryan Pettigrew has returned to Texas to lead PENN Entertainment’s horse racing operations at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and at Retama Park in Selma. Pettigrew was previously head of marketing at Sam Houston Race Park from 1996-2002 before joining the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and later the Breeders’ Cup in Lexington, KY where he was the Chief Marketing Officer. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Communications, Pettigrew brings more than 25 years of experience in horseracing, entertainment, and sports management businesses.


“My first day was June 5 and I was pleased to get to know the SHRP team and meet so many horsemen who continue to support our racing program,” said Pettigrew. “It was great to see the crowds on hand for our final weekend and see their enthusiasm for live horse racing.”


Pettigrew has already been onsite at Retama Park in Selma, Texas, and will oversee their upcoming Quarter Horse meet, which gets underway Thursday, June 29, and runs through August 19.


“I was excited when I got the call to join the PENN Entertainment team and head up their Texas operations,” said Pettigrew. “When I was previously at Sam Houston, I was able to grow handle and attendance, while educating businesses and a newer fan base about the fun, excitement, and economic impact of horseracing in Texas. It will be a top priority for our team this summer at Retama Park and as we embark upon our 2024 live racing season at Sam Houston Race Park.”


About Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston. Owned by Penn Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ – PENN), the racetrack, which opened in 1994, offers a variety of attractions for businesses, group outings, and families during racing and the off-season. The track is best known for its award-winning dining and features multiple areas for fans looking for casual to upscale dining options including its Winner’s Circle Restaurant, Jockey Club, Luxury Suites, and Pavilion Centre. For more information or tickets to upcoming live racing, shows, and events, please visit www.shrp.com or follow on: FacebookInstagramTwitterTick Tok or YouTube




Photos:  Coady Photography