Belmont Stakes & Bag of Donuts
June 8, 2024
Jun 18, 2023


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 Eye Will Decide, bred and owned by Bryon Gardner, who prepped for this stakes with a win on April 22, drawing off by a margin of two lengths under rider Noe Villatoro. The 5-year-old gelded son of Majestic Cartel covered 870 yards in :47.456 over the fast main track.

Trainer Adan Guzman was pleased with the first stakes win by the Texas-bred out of Valiant Lil Lady, who is a full sister to All American Derby [G1] winner Rustys Miracle.


'I have just trained him this year,' said Guzman. ''When he ran so well (on April 23), we decided to try this stakes. Winning made me so happy; we have a very good horse!''

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.

Eye Will Decide ($6.20) earned $32,400  for the fourth win of his career; his lifetime earnings increased to 



Ghost Bear, with Luciano Duenez in the irons, made a late gain for the wire but finished second. The 6-year-old son of Phantom Menace was the dead heat winner of the 2021 Sam Houston 550 Stakes is trained by Esteban Rubio, for owner Sarah Huskey.


Jax Louisiana Game completed the trifecta with jockey Froylan Ramirez up, followed by Stargate, Flyings rusty, Anzio, Cjs Rockhard N Ready and Superfragilistic.

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 20.003 seconds, equaling a 99 speed index. 


It marked the first stakes win for the 4-year-old son of Jess Louisiana Blue, out of the Corona Cartel  mare Cartel Leader. Trained  by John Stinebaugh and the 33rd win of the meet for rising star Rivera. 


"As we came to the wire, I saw the six horse coming, but I was pretty sure we had it," Rivera said. "I had my choice on both horses, but the last time I rode him, he had just come back from Remington Park, and I felt he needed that race."


Scarmardo was in the winner’s circle, pleased with the performance of Jess Good Leader and His Time to Deal, who ran third under jockey Gilbert Ortiz.


"I knew the six did not get out well and saw we were coming,” he commented. “Jet Black Grace showed his class and made it a horse race. I'm glad we were able to hang on. I always respected Willie Hickman and was happy to win the inaugural running of this race last year.”


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.


Dm Moonpie, Jb Shiner Bok, You Look Famous, Won Famous Dash, D Cosmic Cartel, Rock Solid Stones andBiden Record completed the field.


Jess The Leader, sent off at 7-1, returned $15.20 for the win, his fourth victory from 15 starts. He will head to Retama Park with earnings of $258,178.

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, Onthrocks dispatched a quality field in the $54,250 Sam Houston 550 Stakes.  Owned and bred by Ware Racing and Ranching LLC, the 4-year-old gelding showed his affinity for the added distance, drawing off to a length victory in. :27.707 seconds.


Trained by Esteban Rubio, Onthrocks exited a third-place finish in the 440 yard Sam Houston Classic (G2) on May 19.  Veteran jockey Raul Ramirez, Jr. piloted the son of A Revenant to the wire in :27.707 seconds, one length ahead of Viva Le Don.


''I told Rubio after the Sam Houston Classic, that this horse wants to go longer,” explained Ramirez. “He wasn’t 100% ready last month, but he was today! He’s a pretty talented horse.''


The 4-year-old gelding prevailed over 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.


Onthrocks ($5.40) will run next in the 2023 Retama Park Quarter Horse meet, which gets underway on June 29 and runs through August 19.


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 Jess A Dashin Angel who was making her first start in six months.


The 5-year-old daughter of Dash Master Jess out of the Jet Black Patriot mare Mi Angela, crossed the wire in :13.316 seconds under jockey Noe Villatoro. She earned a 98 speed index, one neck ahead of  Hallmarke and Phreedom, who finished in a dead heat for second.


Cesar Rosales of the Dash Mastter Jess Partnership commended her effort.


"We are very proud of this mare," said Rosales. "She is high strung and not easy to handle, but always gives her all when she competes."


Trainer Frank Mendez gave credit to his team for preparing the talented mare.


"She was ready," said Mendez. "My crew has worked hard; everyone did a wonderful job. She's strong and  a very sound mare and gives everything she has. We'll see  how she pulls up, but our plan is to send her to Retama Park and then onto Lone Star Park.


Jess a Dashing Eagle ($11.60) added $33,900 for her victory and has now earned $244,005 in 20 lifetime starts.

Hallmarke, who was sent off as the favorite, is a stakes winner daughter of Duponte owned by Laney Fowler and trained by Justin Powell. Bobby D. Cox bred the 4-year-old in Texas from the First Down Dash mare Zenergy. The well-traveled mare, 
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. 


Phreedom is a 3-year-old daughter of Tempting Dash, trained by Toby Keeton for owners  Three Bar T Quarter Horses.  Regular rider Raul Ramirez, Jr. had the return call.


Mr Teco was next followed by Mo Delirio, D Golden Fortune, Hes No Average Bear, Shes Racey, Speedy Lil Number and Amateur Night completed the field.


A press release on the end of the meet winners will be sent on Tuesday, June 20.



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 or follow on: FacebookInstagramTwitterTick Tok or YouTube





Photos:  Coady Photography