Belmont Stakes & Bag of Donuts
June 8, 2024
May 31, 2023


The Ten-Race Program Gets Underway at 6:25 pm (Central)

By Martha Claussen

HOUSTON, TX – An outstanding night of Quarter Horse racing is set for Saturday, June 3 at Sam Houston Race Park with four stakes, highlighted by the $461,835 Sam Houston Futurity (G2). The $51,535 Sam Houston Juvenile will also be contested along with two features named in honor of ​prominent Texas horsemen John Buchanan and Leon Bard​.​ 


$50,000 John Buchanan Memorial Stakes Features Ten Texas-Bred Fillies

The $50,000 John Buchanan Memorial Stakes honors Texas horseman John Buchanan, who passed away in September, 2020 The resident of Peaster, Texas, was a “hands on” trainer who took extraordinary care of each of his horses throughout a career that spanned over 30 years. He was prominent in each of the Texas racetracks with major stakes wins at Sam Houston Race Park from Pivotal Decision, Gone Celebrating, Lead Story and the diminutive filly, No Fees. Buchanan gained national recognition winning the 1987 All American Futurity (G) with Elans Special and the accomplished Brimmerton, who won the Rainbow Derby and All American Derby at Ruidoso Downs. 


Rob Werstler, Texas Quarter Horse Association executive director, first met Buchanan at Remington Park, when John was training for Bobby D. Cox. .He is one of many industry executives who misses Buchanan greatly.


“He was an excellent horseman; very smart and easy going,” said Werstler. “I always looked forward to visiting his barn. John was a good guy to talk to and willing to help others in the industry.”


A field of nine Texas-bred 3-year-old  fillies will compete in the John Buchanan Memorial Stakes, led by Carlos Ponce’s Susie Que. The daughter of Apollitical Blood exits a $20,350 allowance win here on May 19. Conditioned by Sam Houston’s leading trainer Juan Diaz, Jr. drew off convincingly under jockey Victor Urieta, Jr. She  will break from the rail as the 9-5 morning line choice.


Other entrants in the 350-yard feature include Passage of a Woman, who qualified for the $209,000 Sam Houston Derby on May 19 with jockey Francisco Giles aboard. She will make her eighth career start for owner   Victor R. Villareal, M.D. and trainer Martin Rodriguez.  Sunset Well Service, Inc’s Dakota Gurl ran in trials for the Sam Houston Derby, but did not qualify. However, the filly by Muddy Watters was a finalist in both the Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs Futurities last year. She is trained by  Jorge Valenzuela and will break from post position eight under rider Raul Hernandez, Jr.


The John Buchanan Memorial will run as the seventh race on the program. Buchanan’s wife, Iris and daughter Amanda, will be at Sam Houston Race Park to present the trophy.


Full Field of Texas-bred Colts and Geldings To Run in the $54,000 Leon Bard Memorial Stakes 

Quarter Horse trainer Leon Bard died on January 5, 2022 in Wheelock, Texas, following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 75 years-old. Respected in the Texas Quarter Horse racing community as a skilled horseman and industry leader, Bard was prominent at Sam Houston from 1994- 2021.


Bard saddled 2,275 Quarter Horses since 1993, with purses of $5.9 million. He won a record five editions of the TQHA Sale Futurity(RG1), beginning with Silver Gol in 2015 as well as  Grey Daze (2014), Cartels Pop (2015), Just Another Natural (2017) and Dak (2018). SF Hot Pass, had an exceptional record at the classic distance of  440-yards, including a victory in the 2019 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1). Bard also won the 2017 Sam Houston Futurity(G2) with This Is An Eagle. His top earner was Gary W. Hartstack’s Zip First ($552,356), winner of the 2002 Ruidoso Futurity (G1).


Werstler added his praise of Bard’s contribution to Texas Quarter Horse racing.


“Leon trained at the highest level for many years and was a strong supporter of our annual Yearling Sale,” he said.


Scott Sherwood, TQHA director of racing, was a close personal friend of Bard and his family.


“On a personal level, he was a great friend and mentor,” said Sherwood. “He was a giant in the Texas racing industry, even before the passage of pari-mutuel racing in our state. Many people are not award of his role in preparing many horses that were winners in California and New Mexico.”


Nine Texas-bred colts and geldings are entered in the 350-yard stakes honoring Bard. Three Bar T Quarter Horses’ Phreedom, a son of Tempting Dash won the 2022 TQHA Sires Cup Futurity for trainer Toby Keeton. He will make his 3-year-old debut under jockey Raul Ramirez, Jr., breaking from post position two. TIC It to the Dance exits a fifth-place finish in the 2023 Sam Houston Derby for owner Joe Ruiz, Jr. The son of Mr Jess Perry is trained by Oscar Contstancio, Jr., who will give a leg up to rider Froylan Ramirez. In addition, trainer Alvin Francis, Jr. will saddle two entrants:  Eagle Powers with Luis Vivanco up and  Brock Landers, who will be ridden by 2022 Sam Houston Race Park top jockey Ali Rivera.


The Leon Bard Memorial Stakes will run as the eighth race on Saturday night’s card. His daughters Shelly Burnett and Caryl Merchant will make the presentation to the winning connections.


Sam Houston Futurity and Sam Houston Juvenile Will Showcase Talented 2 Year-Olds

As previously announced, the richest race of the Sam Houston Race Park live racing season, the $461,835 Sam Houston Futurity (G2) will be contested as the tenth race of Saturday night’s card. The ten fastest qualifiers from 33-yard trials run on May 12-13, return for the prestigious championship. 


The 11th-20th fastest qualifiers from the Sam Houston Futurity trials were invited to compete in the $51,535 Sam Houston Juvenile, a 330-yard stakes, which is slated for the ninth race on the June 3 program. Priscilla Arredondo’s homebred Jb Kool Jess has been installed as the 9-5 morning-line choice. The colt by Mr Jess Perry is undefeated in three starts and won his trial in :16.946 seconds under Gaspar Garcia, who will have the return call for trainer Raul Rodriguez, Jr.



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