FIVE TEXAS PREVIEW NIGHT STAKES TO BE CONTESTED ON SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27 AT SAM HOUSTON RACE PARK
Special Early Post Time of 5:40 pm (CT) Set for the 12-Race Card
HOUSTON, TX- Live racing returns to Sam Houston Race Park this week after the northwest Houston racetrack and millions of Texans recover from a devastating winter storm. Beginning on Monday, February 15, sub-freezing temperatures created havoc with icy road conditions, power failures and dwindling water pressure which created untold hardships for residents and ground businesses to a halt. Sam Houston Race Park presented its last Thoroughbred card on Saturday, February 13 before the lack of power, icy track condition and water supply issues left management no choice but to cancel live racing from February 17-20.
However, the good news is that as of Friday, February 19, temperatures climbed into the 50’s and training resumed over the weekend. Highs in the 70’s are forecast for this week with racing to resume Wednesday, February 24. Additional races have been added to the Wednesday and Thursday cards and the five Texas Preview Night stakes, originally scheduled for February 20, will run on Saturday, February 27.
Post time for Saturday’s 12-race program has been amended with the first race set for 5:40 pm (CT). The five Texas Preview Night features will begin with the $75,000 Two Altazano as race six and continue with the $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Turf; $75,000 H-Town Stakes; $75,000 Houston Turf and $75,000 Jim’s Orbit. The annual event serves as a preview for Texas Champions Day, which will take place on Saturday, March 20. Purses for each of the seven Champions Day stakes showcasing the established and rising stars of the Texas Thoroughbred industry have been boosted to $100,000 this year.
Two-Time Stakes Winner Star of the North Leads the Field in the $75,000 Two Altazano
The first stakes on the card is the six-furlong $75,000 Two Altazano for fillies sired by Texas stallions who are nominated and remain eligible to the Clarence Scharbauer Jr. Stallion Stakes Series. The field of six includes Star of the North, who was an impressive winner of last month’s Darby’s Daughter. The daughter of The Hunk out of the Danhill mare Always A Star (IRE) made her racing debut at Canterbury Park in Minnesota last July for owner Michael Grossman. She broke her maiden on August 17 and scored a four-length victory in the $100,000 Northern Lights Debutante on September 9. Jockey Ry Eikleberry was aboard for all three starts in Minnesota and had the return call for her victory here on January 30.
Eikleberry guided the dark bay filly from the rail, holding off a brief challenge by Swift Red Bird before drawing clear by 2 ¼ lengths. Her final time, over a fast track, was 1:05.88
Star of the North is the first stakes winner by The Hunk who stands in Fredericksburg, Texas for Grossman. She is trained by Francisco Bravo, and drew post position four as the even money favorite and has won her last three starts with career earnings of $125,350.
“Her win off the layoff (after running at Canterbury Park on September 9) did not surprise us,” said Bravo. “She’s been at Sam Houston since the track opened for training and worked well for the January stakes. We hope for another win, but there are some nice fillies in the race.”
The field includes several fillies who ran in the Darby’s Daughter, including runner-up Wink Texas, trained by Jason Meaux; Swift Red Bird, who finished third for Ray Bustamante; Cosmetology from the barn of Danny Pish and Great Affection, trained by Steve Asmussen. Thatsalotofbling, runner-up in the Pan Zareta last July at Lone Star Park, also joins the field. The daughter of Too Much Bling is trained by Austin Gustafson.
In 2005, the Texas Thoroughbred Association renamed many of their stakes to honor a famous Texas Thoroughbred. Two Altazano was the winner of the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks in 1994. The accomplished mare, owned by the late Harold V. Goodman, also captured the 1994 Sam Houston Oaks with Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day in the saddle.
Several Stakes Winners Return in the $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Houston Turf Stakes
Saturday night’s action includes a full field of fillies and mares competing at one mile on the Connally Turf Course in the $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Turf Stakes.
Ivan Yarnot’s Corluna will break from post position ten as the 3-1 morning line choice for trainer Sarah Delany, The 6-year-old mare sired by Unbridled’s Heart was slated to run in this race last year, but kicked her stall prior to the race and was out of action for several months. A multiple-stakes winner at Lone Star Park, Corluna was the runner-up in the 2019 San Jacinto Stakes at Sam Houston and prepped for this with a bullet drill on February 13 at Delta Downs. Delany reports she is ready to make her 28th career start here on Saturday.
“She’s a very special horse and I can’t give enough credit to Ian Yarnot,” Delany stated. “He’s an amazing owner and is 100% all about Corluna!”
Delany will give a leg up to Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez, who continues to be one of the more underrated riders on the Texas circuit.
“I love our post,” added Delany. “She’s a mare who can run well on the lead or sit off the pace. The only thing I know is that she likes to be in the pack being challenged by her rivals.”
Trainer Karl Broberg is well known for his claiming prowess but has had his share of nice Texas-bred stakes winners. Ima Discreet Lady, owned by Raymond Todd White and Duane Coker, captured the 2019 Bara Lass here; one of the four career stakes victories by the daughter of Discreet Cat. Ry Eikleberry has the call aboard Ima Discreet Lady who makes her first start since September 12 at Remington Park.
“I’ve had her from day one,” said Broberg of $38,000 TTA in Training 2-Year-old Sale 2018 purchase. “We were trying to get a prep race for this, but a lot of the races came off the turf.”
Shes Our Fastest owned by Mark Norman and Norman Stables Inc., is the highest earner in the field and will make her fourth start at Sam Houston Race Park odds of 4-1. The 6-year-old daughter of Oratory is trained by Scott Gelner and will be ridden by Floyd Wethey, Jr. The dark bay filly won the 2019 Yellow Rose here and most recently, ran in the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic on January 31.
Post time for the Bluebonnet Stakes, the first of two turf features on the card, is 8:42 pm.
Direct Dial Faces Nine Rivals in the $75,000 H-Town Stakes
Some of the most durable Texas veterans will match strides in the $75,000 H-Town Stakes. The seven furlong main track feature attracted a field of ten, topped by 2018 Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year, Direct Dial.
William S. Farish’s homebred, Direct Dial, a son of Too Much Bling, has won eight of his 25 career efforts, banking $386,437 since winning his debut at Keeneland in April, 2017. He won the 2018 Jim’s Orbit at Sam Houston Race Park and has stakes victories at each of the three Texas racetracks. Trainer Steve Asmusssen has given the call to current leading rider Stewart Elliott, who will break from post position seven as the morning line choice at odds of 9-5.
“He’s a wonderful Farish homebred and Texas Horse of the Year,” said Asmussen. “Physically, he is a beautiful horse who continues to have a few solid races every year. We are excited to run him again on Saturday night at Sam Houston.”
Michael Grossman’s Kenai Bob is cross entered in the H-Town Stakes and Houston Turf for trainer Francisco Bravo. The versatile 5-year-old son of Shackleford made his last start here on January 30, rallying for the victory in a one-mile allowance on the main track.
“He ran in open company and beat them solidly,” said Bravo. “There are some pretty nice horses in both of the stakes.”
Trainer Bret Calhoun has two interesting entrants in the H-Town: Gold Pilot and He’s a Suitor. Larry Hirsch and Wayne Sanders own Gold Pilot, a 4-year-old son of My Golden Song who won the 2020 Jim’s Orbit here last February. Ry Eikleberry has the call and will break from post eight.
“Gold Pilot lost on the turf (on August 11) at Lone Star Park,” explained Calhoun. “I gave him the rest of the year off and have been looking for a prep for this. He will come off the layoff but is training well and has a good record here.”
Collinsworth Thoroughbred Racing LLC’s He’s a Suitor, a 4-year-old gelded son of Hat Trick (JPN) ran second in a main track allowance here on January 22.
“He’s a Suitor is cross entered here and in the Houston Turf. I’m not sure which direction he will go,” said Calhoun.
Racing fans may not want to overlook Blackhorse Farm LLC’s Algebra, who has come off the pace to win his last two allowance races for trainer Danny Pish and jockey Lane Luzzi. The 4-year-old son of Algorithms has hit the board in 11 of his 16 career starts.
Defending Champion Redatory Faces Eight Turf Specialists in the $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes
The second turf feature of Texas Champions Preview Night is the $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes. Nine horses were entered and will compete at a mile and one sixteenth on the Connally Turf Course.
James Wessels’ Redatory was just recently announced as 2020 TTA Horse of the Year. The 6-year-old son of Oratory is trained by former jockey, Allen Dupuy. His seven turf stakes victories include the 2019 Richard King at Sam Houston Race Park as well as last year’s Houston Turf.
“He’s doing good,” said Dupuy. “I had to give him a little time off after Remington Park, and he probably needed his last start (on January 30) here. I look for him to run a good race.”
Dupuy was one of the original members of the Sam Houston Race Park jockey colony and began training in 2003. He has given the mount to Rey Gutierrez, who is off to a very solid start this season.
“He’s a talented rider with a good attitude,” added Dupuy. “Last year, DeShawn (Parker) rode Redatory and got along with him real well. I think Rey will know what to do.”
The morning line favorite at odds of 6-5 is Sunlit Song, who will make his 25th lifetime start for owners Carolyn Barnett and Becky Harding. Barnett bred the 6-year-old gelding by My Golden Song, who showed his affinity for the turf last season in Oklahoma, winning the Remington Park Green at odds of 13-1. He prepped for this with a driving finish in a turf allowance here one month ago. Lindey Wade has the return call for trainer Mindy Willis.
“He won a turf allowance here, so he’s undefeated this year,” stated Willis. “These older horses are so cool! I didn’t think he could get any better, but he’s sound, willing and happy. Lindey always rides him with such confidence; I never have to tell him anything because he knows that he can go to the lead or rally off the pace.”
Moojab Jr owned by John L. Pierce has tested the waters with Redatory and Sunlit Song and drew the two hole with Iram Diego up for trainer Paul Duhon. Kenai Bob and He’s a Suitor are cross entered in the H-Town.
Carbon Stryker Goes From the Far Outside to the Rail in the $75,000 Jim’s Orbit
A field of seven will run six furlongs in the final stakes of the Texas Preview Night card, the $75,000 Jim’s Orbit. The race is for colts and geldings sired by Texas stallions who are nominated and remain eligible to the Clarence Scharbauer Jr. Stallion Stakes Series.
Three Feathers Farm’s Carbon Stryker will try to win his second stakes of the meet for trainer Karl Broberg. The son of Crossbow took the lead under jockey Ernesto Valdez-Jimenez and drew off to a 2 ¼ length victory in last month’s My Dandy Stakes. He fired from the far outside post in that win but will break from post position one on Saturday as the 7-5 choice.
“I’m not thrilled about the rail,” said Broberg. “That post leaves so little margin for error; I just hope he breaks clean.”
Valdez-Jiminez is well-acquainted with the bay gelding.
“Two races ago, I tried to hold him back and he did not like it,” said Valdez-Jiminez. “In the My Dandy, I let him go and he ran very well. He is happier when he goes to the lead.”
Doug Scharbauer’s Stone Cafe rallied for second in the My Dandy under Lindey Wade who has the return call. Trainer Bret Calhoun likes his chances and hopes for a better effort from stablemate Dust Em.
“Stone Cafe got away tardy, but was running late,” Calhoun said. “I really don’t know how to explain the poor effort by Dust Em. He had a bang up comeback race (on December 18 at Remington Park), so hoping we can draw a line through his My Dandy finish and have a better result on Saturday.”
The field also includes Sr. Bi Bi, KC Tiz Moro and Island Sun who also competed in the My Dandy.
In 2005, the Texas Thoroughbred Association named the colts and gelding division of the Texas Stallion Stakes for Jim’s Orbit, who won the Grade 2 Ohio Derby prior to competing in the 1988 Kentucky Derby.
Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston. The Park 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 www.shrp.com.
Photos: Coady Photography