LETRUSKA STEALS THE SHOW IN THE GRADE 3, $300,000 HOUSTON LADIES CLASSIC
Spooky Channel Defeats Solid Field of Turf Specialists in the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup
(Houston, TX) – A very successful renewal of the Houston Racing Festival at Sam Houston Race Park took place on Sunday afternoon under sunny skies and thrilling finishes in both the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup.
The ten-race card was well-received by horseplayers on a national level, setting an all-time handle record of $5,342,599for Sam Houston Race Park.
Letruska, bred and owned by St. George Stable, LLC, was heavily touted in this year’s Houston Ladies Classic and did not disappoint as she added another graded stakes victory to her record. The 5-year-old mare by Super Saver out of the Successful Appeal mare Magic Appeal, shipped in from Florida one week ago and settled in perfectly for her trainer Fausto Gutierrez. Breaking from post seven under jockey Jesus Castanon, the talented mare went directly to the lead, where she covered the first quarter-mile in :23.66 and continuing her lead through fractions of :48.35; 1:12;99; 1.38.42 before her final clocking of 1:45.02.
“I had never ridden her before, but watched her races” said Castanon. “She was comfortable the entire race and wanted to keep going once we crossed the wire!”
This was the 12th win in 16 career efforts for Letruska, with impressive performances in the Grade 3, Shuvee last August at Saratoga, as well as the Grade 3, $100,000 Rampart at Gulfstream Park last month. Gutierrez felt that the Houston Ladies Classic would be an ideal beginning to her five-year-old campaign.
“This race has always attracted quality fillies,” said Gutierrez. “She continues to run with more confidence after we removed the blinkers. She is a wonderful filly.”
“We will see how she comes out of this race,” he added. “The logical step to go Oaklawn Park and attempt the (Grade 1) Apple Blossom.”
Trainer Michael Maker ran second with Ujayji, a 5-year-old mare by Smarty Jones for her breeder and owner T. L. Wise. The Pennsylvania-bred mare exited a third-place finish in the $100,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct on January 17. Rider Rafael Manuel Hernandez felt she gave a good account of herself.
“We had a good trip,” said Hernandez. “The filly was in the lead and set a good pace early. That helped her a lot.”
Defending champion Lady Apple is a 5-year-old daughter of Curlin, closed for third for her owner Phoenix Thoroughbred III Ltd. Stewart Elliott had the call for Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen.
Trainer Tom Amoss who ran second in last year’s edition of the race with Serengeti Empress, sent in Figure It Out, a 5-year-old Paynter mare, who ran fourth. Asmussen’s other entrant, Motion Emotion was next, followed by Jeweled Princess and Shes Our Fastest.
Sent off as the prohibitive favorite, Letruska paid $2.80 for the win. Her winner’s share of $176,00 vaulted her career earnings to $487,319.
Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016. Several of its past champions, most notably, 2019 Eclipse Award winner Midnight Bisou, have gone on to compete in the Grade 1, Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park with even greater national stakes as the year progresses.
Spooky Channel Topped a Quality Field in the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf
The Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, at the distance of one and one-half miles, attracted a field of ten, including three turf specialists from the barn of Mike Maker.
Maker’s trio gave a good account of themselves, but it was Spooky Channel who took the title under a well-timed ride by Julien Leparoux. Owned by Terry Hamilton, the impeccably bred son of English Channel out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Spooky Kitten, broke from post position ten and was unpressured early, with the early pace set by Conviction Trade. Leparoux was content to follow fractions of :24.57, :48.97, 1:14.00 before taking the lead at top of the stretch, and crossing the wire of the 1 ½ mile stakes in 2.30.94 over the turf course.
“I have ridden him before and felt he would like this turf course,” said Leparoux. “Brian and I talked and we knew he would have enough to come off the pace and make his run. He left it up to me and the horse did exactly what he hoped for.”
Leparoux was pleased that he did not have to face his good friend, jockey Florent Geroux in this year’s edition of the Connally.
“Yes, we left him at Oaklawn; he’s better over there,” he quipped.
Trainer Brian Lynch gave the chestnut gelding a freshening following his start in the Grade 1, Manhattan last July at Belmont Park. His first race back was the Grade 2, Ft. Lauderdale on December 12 at Gulfstream Park, where he ran fourth to Largent. Lynch opted to send the eight-time winner to Houston instead of defending his title in the W.L. McKnight last Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Lynch did not make the trip to Houston, but was very pleased with the effort from his runner and the quality ride by Leparoux.
“It was exciting to be part of the big stakes day at Sam Houston Race Park,” said Lynch from his base in South Florida. “Spooky Channel is true marathoner and ran a great race. Julien is a multiple Eclipse winning rider and I am one of his biggest fans! I am grateful to my owner Terry Hamilton, who is also a great friend.”
Lynch was not certain of the next start for Spooky Channel, but did have one other comment on winning his first Connally Turf Cup.
“Very rarely do I get to finish in front of Mike Maker,” he added.
Maker has won seven of the last nine editions of the Connally, and did complete the exacta with Ajourneytofreedom for owners Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher. The 4-year-old gelded son of Hard Spun closed under rider Jesus Castanon. Conviction Trade, who was claimed by Staudacher and tested his distance prowess last month in the H. Allen Jerkens, held for third. Tenfold, Signalman, Celerity, Strong Tide, Henley’s Joy, Marzo, Changi, Vettori Kin (BRZ) and Tut’s Revenge completed the order of finish.
Bred by Calumet Farms, Spooky Channel was sent off as the favorite and paid $5.00 for the win. He has now won nine of his 18 starts with earnings of $395,022.
About Sam Houston Race Park
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.