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HIDDEN CONNECTION TO FACE SIX RIVALS IN THE GRADE 3, $300,000 HOUSTON LADIES CLASSIC AT SAM HOUSTON RACE PARK ON SATURDAY, JANUARY 27

Trainer Steve Asmussen In Pursuit of His Fifth Victory in the Championship for Fillies and Mares

HOUSTON, TX- The fields are set for the premier day of Thoroughbred racing at Sam Houston Race Park.   The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Saturday, January 27 with an afternoon post time of 1:00 pm (Central).  

 

Now in its twelfth running, the Houston Ladies Classic, at a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track, attracted seven fillies and mares with many compelling story lines.

 

Bret Calhoun, who has been running Thoroughbreds at Sam Houston since its opening in 1994, returns with Hidden Connection, who ran second to Pauline’s Pearl last year. Owned by Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds, the 5-year-old daughter of Connect tuned up for the Houston Ladies Classic with a four-length score in the $100,000 Joseph E. “Spanky” Broussard last month at Fair Grounds. 

 

“We had some ups and downs getting her ready for last year’s Houston Ladies Classic,” said Calhoun. “She finished her 4-year-old campaign with a really sharp win; I feel she is doing as good if not better coming into the race this time.”

 

Hidden Connection worked four furlongs in :49.20 seconds at Fair Ground on Saturday. Installed as 9-5 morning line favorite, she will ship to Houston this Thursday and reunite with last year’s pilot Reylu Gutierrez, breaking from the far outside post.

 

Hall of Fame Steve Asmussen will attempt his fifth victory as he sends in Kaleem Shah Inc.’s Bellamore, a 6-year-old mare by Empire Maker, who is already onsite at Sam Houston Race Park. She made five starts in 2023 in graded stakes company, running third in the Grade 1, Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. The dark bay filly out of the Smart Strike mare Smart N Soft has banked $468,592 in 19 lifetime starts, posted four works at Oaklawn and covered  five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Saturday morning at Sam Houston. She will break from post position four under three-time Sam Houston leading rider Stewart Elliott. 

 

“She’s a quality mare and Grade 1 placed,” said Asmussen. “We had her pointed to this after her last race (the G3 Fall City Stakes on November 23) at Churchill Downs. The Houston Ladies Classic has been a very good race for us.”

 

Louisiana-bred mare, Free Like a Girl, who began her career at Lone Star Park, makes her Sam Houston Race Park debut for trainer Chasey Deville Pomier. Owned by Gerald Bruno Jr., Jerry Caroom and Pomier, the 5-year-old daughter of El Deal was bred in Louisiana by retired jockey Kim Stover and her sister Lisa Osborne and has won 15 of her 33 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,077,578. While the majority of her 14 stakes wins were contested in Louisiana, the 2022 Louisiana Horse of the Year has made three out of state Graded stakes appearances, finishing in the money in each.

 

“We have never had problems with her,” explained Pomier. “She’s sound and does everything easily. When people ask me what makes her special, I just tell them it’s her heart.”

 

Pomier, a mother of two, grew up in a racing family and knows that training a million-dollar earner does not come easily.

 

“I’ve been in the game for over 20 years and began scrubbing buckets in the barn when I was just six,” she added. “Free Like a Girl has been amazing; her success has enabled me to attract new owners and get some more horses.”

 

Freddy Mannrique has the call aboard Free Like a Girl from post six.

 

Bret Calhoun, who has been running Thoroughbreds at Sam Houston since its opening in 1994, returns with Hidden Connection, who ran second to Pauline’s Pearl last year. Owned by Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds, the 5-year-old daughter of Connect tuned up for the Houston Ladies Classic with a four-length score in the $100,000 Joseph E. “Spanky” Broussard last month at Fair Grounds. 

 

“We had some ups and downs getting her ready for last year’s Houston Ladies Classic,” said Calhoun. “She finished her 4-year-old campaign with a really sharp win; I feel she is doing better coming into the race.”

 

Hidden Connection worked four furlongs in :49.20 seconds at Fair Ground on Saturday. She will ship to Houston this Thursday and reunite with last year’s pilot Reylu Gutierrez breaking from the far outside post.

 

Nationally prominent conditioner Ken McPeek has two entrants in the Houston Ladies Classic: Five Fillies Stable and Balios Racing Stable's Corningstone, who most recently was second beaten four lengths by Hidden Connection in the Broussard, and Barry Fowler and Magdalena Racing's Dear Lady , owned by Barry Fowler and Magdalena Racing.  McPeek  made his first trip to Sam Houston in 2002 with the incomparable Take Charge Lady who won the $275,000 NTRA Great State Challenge Distaff.  He returned in 2013 and saddled the winner of the Maxxam Gold Cup, Unstoppable U. The Kentucky-based horsemen made a third trip to Houston with Frac Daddy, who ran a game second to 2014 Maxxam Gold Cup winner Red Rifle.

 

Two young trainers will saddle the additional runners in the Houston Ladies Classic. Perfect Wish and Appropriated Funds. Perfect Wish will has won four of her eight starts for Jayde Gelner. A $70,000 Keeneland September Yearling  Sale purchase, the daughter of Midshipman is owned by Norman Racing Stables, LLC. She competed in the Grade 3 the daughter of Midshipman competed in the Grade 3, Remington Oaks and exits a victory in the She’s All In Stakes last month at Remington Park. 

 

Jaylan Clary, the daughter of the late Mike Neatherlin, trains BKD Consulting, LLC’s Appropriated Funds. Sired by Arrogate, she has won four of her fifteen lifetime efforts.

 

Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016. The stakes has produced an exceptional champions who have advanced to Grade 1 victories and captured national headlines. Joyful Victory, owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, trained by Larry Jones was the first winner of the Houston Ladies Classic. Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, captured the 2019 edition of the championship and surpassed the $7 million earnings mark with five Grade 1 victories. St. George Stable LLC’s Letruska, went on to win five consecutive stakes, including four Grade 1 titles before completing her 2021 campaign in the Grade 1, Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The complete list is as follows:

 

Houston Ladies Classic Champions

 

2023            Pauline’s Pearl                     Stewart Elliott                       Steve Asmussen                1:45.69

2022            Pauline’s Pearl                     Joel Rosario                          Steve Asmussen                1:44.43

2021            Letruska                               Jesus Castanon                      Fausto Gutierrez               1:45.02

2020            Lady Apple                          Ricardo Santana Jr.               Steve Asmussen                1:44.19

2019            Midnight Bisou                    Mike Smith                           Steve Asmussen                1:44.52

2018            Tiger Moth                           Florent Geroux                      Brad Cox                          1:46.01

2017            Unbridled Mo                      Jose Ortiz                              Todd Pletcher                   1:42.89

2016            Forever Unbridled               Joel Rosario                          Dallas Stewart                  1:43.74

2015            Cassatt                                 Kerwin Clark                        Larry Jones                       1:44.96

2014            Rose to Gold                        Jesus Rios                              Sal Santoro                       1:43.87

2013            Joyful Victory                      Rosie Napravnik                   Larry Jones                       1:42.30

 

 

Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016. Each year, the mile and one-sixteenth main track feature has produced exceptional champions who have advanced to Grade 1 victories and captured national headlines. Joyful Victory, owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, trained by Larry Jones was the first winner of the Houston Ladies Classic. Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, captured the 2019 edition of the championship and surpassed the $7 million earnings mark with five Grade 1 victories. St. George Stable LLC’s Letruska, went on to win five consecutive stakes, including four Grade 1 titles before completing her 2021 campaign in the Grade 1, Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. 

 

The Houston Ladies Classic will run as the tenth race on the Saturday, January 27 program, with an approximate post time of 5:40 pm (Central).  Twelve turf specialists will vie in the Grade 3$200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, at the distance of one and one-half miles. Competitive fields were also drawn in the $200,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile for three-year-olds.  The remaining stakes include the $75,000 Bara Lass and $75,000 Gexa Groovy Stakes.

 

Press releases on each of the Houston Racing Festival Stakes will be forthcoming.

 

 

Houston Racing Festival Promotions

Four Seats Up for Grabs in the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) Contest 

The Houston Racing Festival National Horseplayers Championship will take place Saturday, January 27 at Sam Houston Race Park. Registration is open for the contest with a $1,000 Bankroll Live Money format on the January 27 Sam Houston card and Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. Four seats to the prestigious National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas will be awarded, with the winner’s choice to compete in the 2024 NHC Contest, March 15-17 or the 2025 final.  For rules and additional information, click here.

 

Texas Style Hat Contest

Houston Racing Festivals first annual Texas Style Hat contest on January 27th with a first-place prize of $500. The second-place prize will be a Winner’s Circle Restaurant certificate for four and third place will be a Winner’s Circle restaurant certificate for two.

 

Jockey Meet and Greet and Silent Auction Benefitting the PDJF

Meet the jockeys riding in the Houston Racing Festival in an autograph session at Noon. Fans can bid on silent auction collector’s items such as a Secretariat Triple Crown Half Dollar, autographed pictures of Triple Crown Winners Secretariat, Justified, and American Pharoah, a Ron Turcotte signed $2 bill, lithograph prints of historical horse racing signed by George Finch Mason, and much more! The event will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) which provides financial assistance to former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.

 

Special 30th Anniversary Drink “On the Bridle” 

Enjoy our Delicious Sam Houston 30th Anniversary cocktail which consists of Vodka, Sauvignon Blanc, watermelon juice, simple syrup, lemon juice, raspberry, mint, and champagne. There will also be limited edition SHRP 30th anniversary glasses.

 

About Sam Houston Race Park

Operated by Penn Entertainment Inc., Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston. 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: FacebookInstagramTwitterTikTok or YouTube.

 

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Photo credit:  

Hodges Photography:  

Hidden Connection and Free Like a Girl

 

Jack Coady /Coady Photography:

Bellamore at Sam Houston Race Park

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