Belmont Stakes & Bag of Donuts
June 8, 2024
Jan 25, 2023


HOUSTON, TX- The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Saturday, January 28 with five stakes, highlighted by the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic. The second graded stakes, the Grade 3$200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, attracted 12 turf specialists, including 2021 champion Spooky Channel and last year’s winner Another Mystery. Post time for the ten-race program is 1:00 pm (CT).


NBS Stable’s Spooky Channel has been installed as the 5-2 morning line choice. The son of elite turf stallion English Channel out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Spooky Kitten, has won 12 of his 26 starts, with lifetime earnings of $661,722. Following his victory in the 2021 Grade 3, Sycamore at Keeneland, the Kentucky-bred gelding had an extended layoff. He returned to action last month at Fair Grounds, winning the Buddy Diliberto Memorial. Trainer Jason Barkley and his owners were pleased with the performance of Spooky Channel.

“He was training well so we decided to run him at Fair Grounds,” said Barkley. “We had considered retiring him, but he had a huge comeback effort and came out of the race really well.”

Jockey James Graham, who rode Fantasioso to a thrilling dead heat finish with Another Mystery in last year’s edition of the Connally, has the call aboard the now 8-year-old Spooky Channel. He will break from post seven.

“James is a very accomplished turf rider,” added Barkley. “The horse has a true affinity for the turf and can cover a lot of ground. We are looking forward to Saturday’s race.”

Trainer Chris Block will saddle Another Mystery, who returns for the third time in the mile and one-half Connally. The 7-year-old Illinois-bred son of Temple City ran sixth here in 2020, but closed with authority last year under rider Jareth Loveberry to catch Fantasioso at the wire. It was the first dead heat in the 27-year history of the turf championship. 

“I actually thought he had won it, but we were really proud of his effort,” said Block. “He’s obviously a three-turn horse and gets better the further he goes. In 2020, he did not have the preparation we wanted, coming into the race with just ten days rest. He had a real good work at Fair Grounds (on January 21) and Jareth always puts him in good position.”

Team Block won the 2006 Connally Turf Cup with Fort Prado. They bred and campaigned Another Mystery’s dam Ioya Two, who was a Grade 3 winner.

Trainer Mike Maker has won seven of the past ten editions of the mile and one-half  stakes which is named in honor of the late Texas Governor John B. Connally. However, his three nominated turf specialists will not compete this year due to the EHV-1 positive at Gulfstream Park reported on January 21, Sam Houston Race Park will restrict horses from shipping in from Florida until further notice. Unfortunately, this will affect the Maker trio: Bemma’s BoyKineos and Bay Street Money entered in the John B. Connally Turf Cup.


Trainer Joe Sharp  will send in Scarlet Fushion, a 5-year-old Curlin gelding for prominent Texas owners Brad Grady and Carl Moore Management, LLC. Jockey Adam Beschizza will guide the Kentucky-bred who  returns to turf off his third-place finish in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes last month at Oaklawn Park.


The John B. Connally Turf was awarded Grade 3 status in 2006 and boasts a solid roster of past winners including Chorwon, Warleigh, Fort Prado, Rod and Staff,  Swift Warrior  as well as three-time champions, Candid Glen andBigger Picture.  It will run as race ten, with an approximate post time of  5:55 pm (CT).The field, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds: Scarlet Fusion, Adam Beschizza, 8-1;;  Portos, Lane Luzzi, 20-1; Devamani, Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez, 30-1;  Logical Myth, Leandro Goncalves, 15-1; U S Navy Cross,  Sahin Civaci, 30-1; Risk Manager, Weston Hamilton, 20-1; Spooky Channel, James Graham, 5-2; Another Mystery, Jareth Loveberry, 9-2 and Seductive U S A,  Rudy Guerra, 30-1.


As previously announced, the eleventh renewal of the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic will run as the ninth race, with an approximate post time of 5:25 pm (CT). Defending champion Pauline’s Pearl leads the field, from the rail, with jockeys and morning line odds:


Fast and Feminine, Weston Hamilton (30-1); Oliviaofthedesert, James Graham (15-1); She Can’t Sing, Jareth Loveberry (7-2); Hidden Connection, Reylu Gutierrez (4-1); Pauline’s Pearl, Stewart Elliott (6-5); Sixtythreecaliber, Kendrick Carmouche (3-1) and Moon Swag, Corey Lanerie (8-1).


“We are proud of our Houston Racing Festival, which continues to attract top connections and offer an exceptional afternoon of quality racing,” said Frank Hopf, Sam Houston Race Park’s Assistant General Manager. “The live feed of  the Houston Racing Festival card will be available for free on”



Sam Houston Race Park to Host National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Contest 

The Houston Racing Festival National Horseplayers Championship will take place Saturday, January 28 at Sam Houston Race Park. Registration is open for the contest with a $1,000 Bankroll Live Money format on the January 28 Sam Houston card and Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.


Two seats to the prestigious National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas will be awarded, with the winner’s choice to compete in the 2023 NHC Contest, March 10-12 or the 2024 final.  For rules and additional information, click here.



About Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston. Owned by Penn Entertainment Inc., the racetrack, which opened in 1994, offers a variety of attractions including a Suite Level featuring luxurious suites overlooking the racetrack, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and the Jockey Club.  For more information on upcoming live racing, shows, events and tickets, please visit




Photos:  Coady Photography