SAM HOUSTON RACE PARK WRAPPED ITS 2023 QUARTER HORSE LIVE RACING SEASON ON SATURDAY, JUNE 17
By Martha Claussen
HOUSTON, TX –Sam Houston Race Park closed out its 2023 live racing season on Saturday, June 17 with quality performances in the final four stakes of the meet and honored trainer Jesse Yoakum, who was a longtime supporter of Texas racing and Willie Hickman, who played many pivotal roles in the Sam Houston racing office.
Eye Will Decide was a Decisive Winner in the $54,000 Jesse Yoakum Memorial 870 Stakes
A competitive field of distance specialists went to the starting gate in the $54,000 Jesse Yoakum Memorial 870 Stakes. The race is named in honor of the late Quarter Horse trainer Jesse Yoakum, who supported Sam Houston Race Park from its opening in 1994 until his passing in 2019.
The victory went to
Post time favorite Ghost Bear has been a versatile stakes competitor for his owner Sarah Huskey. The 6-year-old son of Phantom Menace was bred in Texas by Sandra Garnett and is trained by Esteban Rubio. This will be his seventh appearance at Sam Houston Race Park with one of his most memorable races was his dead heat victory with Dak in the 2021 Sam Houston 550 Stakes. Luciano Duenez rode Ghost Bear in his 870-yard prep race here on May 5 and will break from post position six as the 2-1 choice.
Yoakum was a strong supporter of Texas racing and had tremendous success at Sam Houston Race Park. He was a jockey prior to beginning a training career that spanned 30 years and saddled 418 Quarter Horse winners with earnings in excess of $3.2 million. He trained Sam Houston Futurity (G1) winner Beduinos Rusty, Sam Houston Classic (G2) winner A Glint Of Gold, 870-yard specialist, The Field Cricket, Governor's Cup Marathon (G3) winner Doctor Streakin, and Barnmaster Sprint Stakes (RG3) champion Turfinator.
Jesse Yoakum’s wife Sharon, son Jerry Lee, his wife, Rosslyn and daughter Jaycee presented the trophy.
Jess Good Leader Earns His First Stakes Victory in the $55,000 Willie Hickman Memorial
One of the most exciting finishes of the closing night card came in the $55,000 Willie Hickman Memorial Stakes. The 400-yard stakes for accredited Texas-breds drew an excellent field of ten including the heavy favorite, Jet Black Grace and defending champion, Pete Scarmardo's homebred His Time To Deal.
However, when the gates broke, Jet Black Grace did not get away well and looked initially like he would not even hit the board. Scarmardo’s other runner, Jess Good Leader was gaining momentum and was able to hold off a furious late rally by the favorite, winning by a nose. Leading Sam Houston jockey Ali Rivera had the call, crossing the wire in
Carlos Ponce’s Jet Black Grace, a 4-year-old son of Jet Black Patriot, rallied for second under rider Jose Herbert. The earner of $740,627 is conditioned by Juan Diaz, Jr., who won his third leading trainer title at Sam Houston Race Park.
The stakes is named in honor of Willie Hickman, a longstanding member of the racing office. The native of Red Rock, Texas passed away in Houston on March 15, 2022 at the age of 64. Hickman was involved in many roles in the racing community, from training racehorses to serving in a variety of duties in the Sam Houston Race Park racing office for over 20 years. As stall superintendent, and stakes coordinator, Hickman had lasting relationships with horsemen in both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing. He also did an excellent job as jockey agent to rider Alfonso Lujan, who won over 2,100 races prior to his retirement in 2018.
His daughter Cheyenne Hickman Bourgeois and family members including Shyrl O’Banan Hopkins and Hanna O’Banan made the presentation in the winner’s circle to the winning connections.
OntheRocks Earns First Stakes Victory in the $54,250 Sam Houston 550 Stakes
Surging powerfully from the far outside post,
Viva Le Don, who passed the half-million dollar mark on April 2 at Remington Park. Owned by Rockin J Running Horses and trained by Tammy Kay Johnson, the 7-year son of Rock Solid Jess had won three for three stakes at Sam Houston Race Park and earned $10,850 for his runner-up effort with Jose Vega in the saddle.
One of the most accomplished distance horses in the country Shockinglyfamous ran third after winning the 2022 Jesse Yoakum 870 Memorial. The 7-year-old son of One Famous Eagle is co-owned by Kasey Willis and Stone Chase Stables, LLC. Dm Preacher Man, Eye Am Tuff, Master Reigns and One Mighty Eagle were next.
Jess a Dashing Angel Fires Fresh Off the Layoff in the $56,500 Sam Houston 250 Stakes
The final race of the 2023 Sam Houston Quarter Horse meet is the $56,500 Sam Houston 250 Stakes. The race attracted a field of ten accredited Texas-breds with a resilient performance by
broke her maiden at Evangeline Downs on December 1 and added four more consecutive victories, including the Cherokee Overnight Stakes in April at Sandy Ridge at the Red Mile. She was ridden by Gilbert Ortiz, who was a three-time leading Sam Houston jockey and has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the Evangeline Downs meet this December.
About Sam Houston Race Park
Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston. Owned by Penn Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ – PENN), 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: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tick Tok or YouTube
Photos: Coady Photography