Jan 23, 2024


One of Two Graded Stakes to Be Contested Saturday, January 27

HOUSTON, TX- The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Saturday, January 27 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, and is always one of the most anticipated championships at Sam Houston Race Park. The stakes is named in honor of the late Texas Governor John B. Connally, who was instrumental in the passage of pari-mutuel racing in Texas. He will never be forgotten as Sam Houston Race Park was the first Class 1 racetrack to open in the Lone Star State.


While trainer Mike Maker is not a Texan, he has stamped his imprint on the Connally Turf Cup with victories in seven of the past ten editions of the mile and one-half  stakes. This year he will ship in a quartet, led by Michael Dubb’sCatch That Party, who has been installed as the 3-1 morning line choice. The 7-year-old New York-bred son of More Than Ready has won 6 of his 24 starts and will make his graded stakes debut on Saturday. David Cohen has the call and will break from the rail. Street Ready was claimed for $100,000 by owner Michael Hui, who owned Hogy, the intrepid sprinter who made three appearances over the Connally Turf Course, winning the 2018 Frontier Utilities Sprint. Three Diamond Farms’ Dynadrive makes his Sam Houston debut with Reylu Gutierrez in the saddle. The gelding by Temple City is owned by Three Diamonds Farm, whose millionaire Bigger Picture won three editions of the Connally Turf. Maker’s fourth entrant is Red Run who captured the 2022 Bob Bork Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park when he was in the Steve Asmussen barn.

“We enjoy running at Sam Houston Race Park and have had great success on their turf course,” said Maker. “Many of our loyal owners like coming to Houston for this race. It’s rewarding to see our turf marathoners continue to be competitive as older horses, and several of them have shown their best in the Connally.”

Three years ago, trainer Mark Casse sent in John C. Oxley’s Palazzi for the second running of the Texas Turf Mile. It was a stakes-winning effort by the son of PioneeroftheNile, stalked from mid-pack and closed swiftly in the stretch to defeat a full field of ten with a time of 1:36.89. Casse was reached in Ocala, Florida about the return of Palazzi, who is now owned by Gary Barber.


“He ran well in Houston, but following that win, went through a period in which he was under-achieving,” he explained. "We gelded him and he had a very good year in 2023.”


Rain is falling in Houston and forecast through Thursday, but Casse does not see that as a deterrent.


“He’s pretty versatile,” he added. “No rock hard turf surface is required for Palazzi.”


Freddy Manrrique has the call aboard the 7-2 second choice, breaking from post five. 


The shippers will have to deal with Texas Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse, Sunlit Song who has an impressive record on the Connally Turf Course. The 9-year-old son of My Golden Song was bred in Texas by Carolyn Barnett and owned by Barnett and Becky Harding. The striking gray gelding will make his 44th lifetime start on Saturday for trainer Mindy Willis.  His 2023 record was impressive with five wins and a second in 6 starts, including four stakes victories.

“He loves the turf and just keeps getting better and better,” said Willis. “Last Friday, he worked six furlongs in 1:13.00 as a 9-year-old! People ask me when he will retire and I tell them he will retire when he tells us he’s ready, but he’s not ready yet!”

Stewart Elliot has been one of Sunlit Song’s top riders and has the return call, from post 10 at 6-1.

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 and Bigger Picture.  It will run as race eleven, with an approximate post time of  6:15 pm (CT).


The field, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds: Catch That Party, David Cohen, (3-1);  Sword Zorro(IRE), Iram Diego, (20-1); Seductive USA, Leandro Goncalves, (30-1); Summer Lover, Richard Bracho, (50-1); Palazzi,  Freddy Manrrique, (7-2); Street Ready, Jose Alvarez, (20-1); Singapore Flash, Rene Diaz, (8-1); Dynadrive, Reylu Gutierrez (10-1), Paluxy, Floyd Wethey, Jr. (15-1); Sunlit Song, Stewart Elliott (6-1); Ocelot,  Elvin Hernandez, (12-1) and Red Run, Fernando Jara (9-2).


As previously announced, the twelfth renewal of the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic will run as the tenth race, with an approximate post time of 5:40 pm (CT). Last year’s runner-up Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds’ Hidden Connection returns for trainer Bret Calhoun. The field, from the rail, with jockeys and morning line odds: 

Corningstone, Fernando Jara (6-1); Appropriated Funds, Iram Diego (20-1); Dear Lady, David Cohen (9-2); Bellamore, Stewart Elliott (7-2); Perfect Wish, Floyd Wethey, Jr. (20-1); Free Like a Girl, Freddy Mannrique (3-1) and Hidden Connection, Reylu Gutierrez (9-5).


“We are proud of our Houston Racing Festival, which continues to attract top connections and competitive fields,” said Bryan Pettigrew -Vice President and General Manager of Penn Entertainment’s Texas Racing Operations. “There will be plenty of activities to accompany our quality racing program on Saturday afternoon!”



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.



Photo credit:  Coady Photography