February 13, 2022 – Houston, TX - Despite a precipitous decline in handle caused by the HISA imbroglio, despite bureaucratic indifference, despite all the confusion and uncertainty and anxiety, the show will go on, with five stakes races Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park during Texas Preview Day. The show goes on entirely because of the state’s horsemen, because of their resolve and dedication. As trainer Bret Calhoun explained, most of the owners with horses in his stable are Texans. And they prefer to see their horses race in Texas. This is home, after all. But, of course, beneath the resolve is an awareness that economic imperatives can wash away preferences just as easily as the tide can sweep away sand castles.
A quick background: On Jan. 31, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals denied a request by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) and the Federal Trade Commission to overturn the appellate court’s ruling that HISA is unconstitutional. By declining to vacate its November ruling, the Fifth Circuit said in effect it will not change its opinion in light of a statutory amendment.
Because Texas refused to comply with HISA, the state’s racetracks have not been allowed to export their simulcast signals for the last eight months. But after the Fifth Circuit ruling, Amy Cook, the executive director of the Texas Racing Commission, announced the tracks could resume interstate simulcasting, which is the largest source of wagers, or handle. Two days later, however, Sam Houston announced it would not resume interstate simulcasting after all, because it needed “more time … to fully evaluate the many legal complexities surrounding recent court decisions.” Sam Houston is owned by Penn Entertainment, which operates in 20 states.
And so that’s where things stand, waiting for the tide to come in. But the show goes on, with Texas Preview Day. Saturday’s five stakes, each worth $75,000, are preparatory for a much bigger event: Texas Champions Day on March 25, when seven stakes will offer $700,000 in purses.
Saturday’s stakes begin with the Jim’s Orbit, which is part of the Clarence Scharbauer Jr. Texas Stallion Stakes series. Bling Bling Bling, a two-time stakes winner for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is the most accomplished youngster in the field, and even though he faded to 10th in last month’s Groovy Stakes, he’s the one to beat here. The Groovy was run over an uncommonly slow, muddy surface, and Bling Bling Bling used all his energy disputing a lively pace. He could control the pace here. Also among those entered are Just Whiskey, Hard Gold, and I’m a Cowboy, who are all stakes-placed.
The Houston Turf Stakes could turn out to be a showcase for Sunlit Song, who just might be the most admirable Texas-bred in training. The 8-year-old has won four stakes in his career, including the Remington Green at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, and has earned more than $526,000. A big gray gelding with a stride that devours real estate, he has finished “in the money,” or top three, in 23 of his last 24 starts for trainer Mindy Willis. But the Houston course isn’t his favorite: Yes, he has won 28 percent of his starts over the local course, but he has won 45 percent of his starts elsewhere. As the 1-2 favorite, Sunlit Song was upset in this race a year ago, losing a photo finish to Singapore Flash, who led for most of the 1 1/16 miles and will try to repeat his success Saturday. Also among those entered is Truly Danzig, Sunlit Song’s younger half-brother who’s also trained by Willis.
In the Two Altazano Stakes, the filly edition of the Texas Stallion Stakes series, Izatiz looks formidable. She won last month’s Bara Lass Stakes by more than seven lengths. It was by far the best performance of her career, but did it represent a major step forward or did it just insist the filly loves a muddy a surface?
Bubbles and Bling is an intriguing member of the cast. Making her debut, she got within a half-length of the lead in the Bara Lass before fading to fourth in deep stretch.
“She probably needed another work or two,” said her trainer, Jaylan Clary, “but we decided to give her a chance. . . . Since then, she’s definitely grown up some.”
The H-Town Stakes, a seven-furlong affair for older horses, matches two of the best sprinters in the state, multiple stakes winners Algebra and Gold Pilot. In their personal confrontations, Algebra holds a 3-2 advantage. But returning from a seven-month layoff, Gold Pilot defeated Algebra in their most recent meeting, on Jan. 20 at Sam Houston. Gold Pilot advanced through traffic, angled to the outside and finished with a burst to win by nearly three lengths.
“He might be a little better going around two turns,” said Calhoun about Gold Pilot, whom he has trained for the gelding’s entire career. “But I thought he looked very good in that last race. I was very impressed.”
Late Saturday afternoon, trainer Karen Jacks could be the busiest person in Houston — and one of the most successful. She’ll saddle three horses in the Ms. Bluebonnet Stakes, which matches fillies and mares at a mile on the grass. No Mas Tequila is the star of the trio. The 6-year-old mare won the Ms. Bluebonnet by more than six lengths last year. She followed with a score in the San Jacinto Stakes and then concluded her campaign with two stakes victories at Lone Star Park. Jacks will also saddle Imaluckycharm, who as a 3-year-old finished third behind her more accomplished stablemate in the Fiesta Mile Stakes. Imaluckycharm will make her 4-year-old debut Saturday. And Discreet Smile, the third member of the Jacks trio, is a speedy veteran who won the San Jacinto Stakes in 2021 at Sam Houston. In other words, a Jacks trifecta seems possible.
And Texas racing is all about possibilities.
First post time for Saturday’s nine race card is 1 p.m. Admission is $5. For information on upgraded seating, including reservations in the Winner’s Circle Experience restaurant go to www.SHRP.com or call 281-807-8760. ##
Dwight Berube, Vice President & General Manager, Sam Houston Race Park
281-807-8827 • email Dwight.firstname.lastname@example.org