RICH HISTORY AT SAM HOUSTON RACE PARK FOR NATIONALLY PROMINENT TRAINER BRET CALHOUN
Friday, January 6 Is Opening Day for the 43-Day Live Thoroughbred Meet
HOUSTON, TX – Since opening as the first Class 1 racetrack in Texas, Sam Houston Race Park has played a pivotal role in the careers of many accomplished horsemen and women. In 1994, Bret Calhoun was one of the young trainers in the inaugural live racing season.
“Sam Houston Race Park marked my first time running a string on my own,” said Calhoun. “They opened with a great purse structure, and I will never forget the crowds there on opening day!”
Born in Dallas, Calhoun is a second generation trainer as his father, William “Buddy” Calhoun, owned and trained Thoroughbreds. Just shy of his 30th birthday, Calhoun was fully committed to his profession and the challenges starting out on his own.
“I slept in the backside dorm at Sam Houston Race Park as I felt I had to be with my horses 24 hours a day and seven days of the week,” admitted Calhoun. “The only help I had was my mom and dad.”
His father gave him some valuable advice as he watched his son walk his horses to the saddling ring and accompany them back to the barn following their races.
“He told me that I had better start spending more time with my owners as other trainers were up in the suite trying to get their business,” recalled Calhoun.
That proved to be sage counsel as attracting quality owners has propelled Calhoun to excellence in Texas and major racetracks in North America. Since his first career victory with Ramjet on April 1, 1994, at Trinity Meadows, his operation has grown significantly. As 2022 winds down, Calhoun’s stats on Equibase reflect that he has won 3,464 races and his horses have earned $99,791,958.
“I am straight up with my owners and offer honest and real assessments on each of their horses,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to swallow, but fortunately, my owners and I have mutual respect.”
Calhoun’s hard work has paid off with a growing number of graded stakes winners, led by My Standards ($2,294,430);Chamberlain Bridge ($1,866,259); Dubai Majesty ($1,407,547) and Mr Money ($1,360,430).
His many Sam Houston highlights include a victory by Chamberlain Bridge in the 2011 Railsplitter Stakes, just two months after the intrepid son of War Chant won the Grade 2, Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs. Calhoun won many Texas Champions Day stakes with Clarence Scharbauer Jr. homebreds, including Coyote Legend, Gold Coyote, Swift Shock and Fiftyshadesofgold.
Next month, Calhoun is hoping to add another Sam Houston stakes victory with Hidden Connection in the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic. The Kentucky-bred filly, sired by Connect, won the 2021 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, before finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) for owners Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds.
“She showed up early and was very talented, with a high cruising speed and the ability to carry it,” stated Calhoun. “Following the Oaks, we gave her time off and she has bounced back well.”
Calhoun ran the dark bay filly in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance on December 16 at Fair Grounds and she rallied gamely under Rey Gutierrez, winning by a margin of 7 ½ lengths. That victory provided plenty of options for her 4-year-old campaign. Calhoun’s goal for Hidden Connection is the Grade 1, Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. Several key stakes preps are logical for fillies and mares aiming for the prestigious stakes, including the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classicon January 28. The rich history of HLC winners emerging victorious in the Apple Blossom include Forever Unbridled, and millionaires Midnight Bisou and Letruska.
“I liked the way Hidden Connection won at Fair Grounds and feel she is at a peak level of fitness,” said Calhoun. “We are absolutely considering the Houston Ladies Classic for her next start; I would say it’s a 90% chance that she will run at Sam Houston.”
Longtime assistant Hernan Zamudio, known as “Pancho,” will oversee Calhoun’s Sam Houston Race Park’s 32-horse barn for the upcoming live racing season.
Calhoun’s ascent into the very competitive world of Thoroughbred racing has been impressive. He was asked about eclipsing the $100 million dollar earnings mark with horses running at Fair Grounds and Delta Downs over the remaining days of 2022.
“It’s certainly mind blowing,” admitted Calhoun on reaching that milestone. “I’m very grateful to so many owners who have supported me and hope to win my 4,000th race. This business has been very good to me.”
Sam Houston Race Park Post Times and Promotions
The 2023 live racing season opens on Friday, January 6. Live racing returns on Friday, January 6 and concludes on Saturday, April 8 with afternoon racing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm (Central). Holiday Monday racing, also at 1:00 pm, will take place on Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day. Admission is $5.00 on all live racing days.
The slogan for the upcoming season is “Houston’s Best Bet!” and fans will be able to enjoy the excitement of live racing with three major Festival events as well as a variety of promotions, special events and food and beverage offerings. In addition to the popular Winner’s Circle Restaurant, the upcoming season will feature new food and bar outlets. The Finish Line Bar will offer fans great views of the track and a high-end drink experience. Those with a sweeter tooth will enjoy the new Whole Scoop, offering a variety of dessert favorites. Happy Hour will be offered each Friday from 3:00- 5:00 pm during the thoroughbred meet. A full schedule of post times and special racing events is posted on shrp.com.
Houston Life Live at Sam Houston Race Park on Friday, January 6
One of Houston’s most entertaining local news shows, Houston Life, will be onsite at Sam Houston Race Park for opening day of the 2023 Thoroughbred racing season. In its sixth year, the daytime program is produced by KPRC 2, hosted by Derrick Shore and Courtney Zavala with Lauren Kelly, Melanie Camp and Enrique Ramirez reporting. It airs weekdays from 1:00-2:00 p.m. highlighting the best of what’s local and entertaining in Houston and its surrounding areas.
The live telecast will give viewers an up close and personal look at Sam Houston Park, including interviews with jockeys, trainers and track announcer Nick Tammaro. And of course, plenty of live racing action as the Thoroughbreds return for the 43-day season!
Racehorse Ownership Seminar Set for Opening Weekend
The Texas Thoroughbred Association is continuing its campaign to educate and recruit new racehorse owners and breeders in Texas during the Sam Houston Race Park race meet. In 2022, the TTA campaign brought 42 new Texas racehorse owners into the game. The first new owner preview event will be held during Sam Houston’s opening weekend races on Saturday, January 7, 1 pm post time. Learn all about owning and racing a Texas Thoroughbred during the event from a special guest, horse racing author and screenwriter John Perrotta. His books and novels include the Thoroughbred Investor’s Bible, Racetracker and Half A Chance. Be a guest in a suite during the races on January 7. Event hospitality includes complimentary admission, suite seating, hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, racing program and in-suite wagering. A cash bar is available. Attendance is limited and available first come. Advance registration is required at TxRaceHorse.com
Wagering Menu For the Live Racing Season
Sam Houston Race Park was one of the first North American racetracks to initiate an industry-low take-out fee of 12% on multi-race wagers and will also offer win, place, show, exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagers. The Space City Pick 6, the track’s classic Pick 6 wager will be offered on the last six races of each card. For more information on wagering and simulcast offerings, visit shrp.com.
Nominations for the Houston Racing Festival Close on Saturday, January 14
The Houston Racing Festival, with five stakes races offering over $800,000 in purses, will take place on Saturday, January 28 with a 1:00 pm (Central) post time. The Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic, now in its eleventh running, anchors the Houston Racing Festival, which also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, $100,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile, $100,000 Bara Lass and $100,000 Groovy Stakes.
Contact the Sam Houston Race Park racing office at (281) 807-8889 to nominate to the Houston Racing Festival.
2023 Sam Houston Race Park Thoroughbred Stakes Schedule
Saturday, January 7, 2023
$75,000 Darby’s Daughter 3yo F- 5.5 Furlongs
$75,000 My Dandy 3yo C&G- 5.5 Furlongs
Saturday, January 28, 2023 Houston Racing Festival
$300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) 4&up F&M- 1 1/16 Mile
$200,000 John B. Connally Turf (G3) 4&up- 1 1/2 Mile (T)
$100,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile 3yo- 1 Mile (T)
$100,000 Bara Lass Stakes 3yo Texas-bred Fillies- 6 Furlongs
$100,000 Groovy Stakes 3yo Texas-bred- 6 furlongs
Saturday, February 18, 2023 Texas Preview Day for Texas-breds
$75,000 Jim’s Orbit 3yo C&G- 6 Furlongs
$75,000 Two Altazano 3yo F- 6 Furlongs
$75,000 H-Town 4yo & up- 7 Furlongs
$75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Turf 4&up F&M- 1 Mile (T)
$75,000 Houston Turf 4&up- 1 1/16 Miles (T)
Saturday, March 25, 2023 Texas Champions Day for Texas-breds
$100,000 San Jacinto 4&up F&M- 1 1/16 Mile (T)
$100,000 Spirit of Texas 4&up- 6 Furlongs
$100,000 Yellow Rose Stakes 4&up F&M- 6 furlongs
$100,000 Star of Texas 4&up- 1 Mile
$100,000 TTA Derby 3yo C&G- 1 Mile and 70 yards
$100,000 TTA Oaks 3yo F- 1 Mile and 70 yards
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 www.shrp.com.
Photo credit: Coady Photography