SEVEN TEXAS CHAMPIONS STAKES TO BE CONTESTED ON SATURDAY, MARCH 20 AT SAM HOUSTON RACE PARK
Purses for Each of the Features for Texas-bred Boosted to $100,000 This Year
HOUSTON, TX- Sam Houston Race Park will present seven stakes on Saturday, March 20 saluting accredited Texas-breds. Since 1994, Texas Champions Day, with features on both the main track and Connally Turf Course, has served as a tribute to the breeders, owners and Thoroughbreds in the Lone Star state.
Purses for the seven features have been increased to $100,000 this year and competitive fields have been drawn for each of the Texas Champions Day stakes. The 11-race card will get underway at 5:45 pm (CT) with an excellent weather forecast of sunshine and highs in the low 70’s.
Good Judgment Takes on Nine Rivals in the $100,000 Spirit of Texas
A field of eight colts and geldings will kick off the stakes action in the six furlong $100,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes.
Good Judgment, the runner-up in the $75,000 Jim’s Orbit one year ago at Sam Houston Race Park appears to be rounding into his best form as a 4-year-old. The son of Too Much Bling was bred by Larry S. Huntsinger, out of the Global Mission mare Libbies Mission, returns to the stakes level after two wins this season for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Owned by Michael P. Lyons, Clark O. Brewster and Montgomery Lair, Good Judgment has won five races to date and has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Leading rider Stewart Elliott will guide the colt from post position four.
Trainer Bret Calhoun has two entrants in the Spirit of Texas: Gold Pilot and He’s a Suitor. Gold Pilot, a son of My Golden Song is owned by Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch and was the winner of the 2020 Jim’s Orbit.
Both he and Collinsworth Thoroughbred Racing LLC’s He’s a Suitor competed in last month’s $75,000 H-Town Stakes, finishing fourth and fifth.
“Gold Pilot has worked well in the mornings, so it’s a little frustrating to see how he’s doing this year,” said Calhoun. “We’ll run him with blinkers, which might help him focus. He’s a Suitor might be more of a closing type. Just hoping for a good race from both.”
Layem Down Racing II’s homebred Gunnerscelesticman ran second to Direct Dial in the $75,000 H-Town and merits consideration. Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez will ride the 5-year-old for trainer Teofilo Garcia, Jr.
The Spirit of Texas is carded as the fourth race of the evening with an approximate post time of 7:25 pm (CT) and will be followed by the next six features.
Direct Dial Leads the Field in the $100,000 Star of Texas
In recent years, it would be difficult to find a Texas-bred with a better stakes record than William S. Farish’s homebred, Direct Dial. The 6-year-old son of Too Much Bling out of the Mineshaft mare Fast Find has been prominent in Texas with victories here in the 2018 Jim’s Orbit, 2019 Spirit of Texas and most recently, a standout victory in last month’s $75,000 H-Town Stakes. The 2018 Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year dominated his six rivals in the seven furlong main track feature under the meet’s leading rider, Stewart Elliott.
Conditioned by Asmussen, Direct Dial, who was honored as 2018 Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year, will take on six rivals in the one mile $100,000 Star of Texas.
Elliott has the return call aboard Direct Dial, who drew post position two as the 4-5 morning line choice.
“He’s just a cool horse,” said Elliott following the win in the H-Town on February 20. “I was confident the entire way and he made me feel that he was ready to go when I asked him.”
Direct Dial has won nine of his 26 career efforts with earnings of $430,237.
His rivals include Michael Grossman’s Kenai Bob who exits a third-place finish in last month’s $75,000 Houston Turf for trainer Francisco Bravo. The 5-year-old son of Shackleford rallied for the victory in a one-mile allowance on the main track here on January 30. Regular rider Ry Eikleberry will ride the bay gelding who posted a four furlong bullet work on March 21. Another notable runner is Blackhorse Farm LLC’s Algebra, who finished third in the H-Town for trainer Danny Pish and jockey Lane Luzzi.
Competitive Group of Colts and Geldings Assembled for the $100,000 Groovy Stakes
The $100,000 Groovy Stakes features a field of nine colts and geldings squaring off at the distance of six furlongs.
Trainer Frank Lucarelli sent a string to Sam Houston Race Park this year and has been very pleased with the racing opportunities in Texas. His owners Chad and Josh, who reside in Washington, claimed Bobby Brinkley for $62,500 here on opening weekend. The son of Shanghai Bobby out of the City Zip mare Brinkley was bred by Douglas Scharbauer and made five starts in 2020 for trainer Bret Calhoun.
“He is really well-bred,” explained Lucarelli. “We wanted to claim some Texas-breds as my owners and I were looking to test the waters here and then at Lone Star Park.”
Reylu Gutierrez will ride the 2-1 favorite from the far outside post. He was aboard on February 26 when the dark bay gelding ran second in a mile main track allowance optional claiming prep.
“I think this is a wide-open race and like his draw and the fact that he is coming off a good effort at one mile,” added Lucarelli. “Rey is a very good rider; my owners and I are excited about this race.”
Calhoun will send out the winner and runner-up in last month’s $75,000 Jim’s Orbit. It was the first stakes victory for Stone Cafe, a of Stonesider, bred and owned by Scharbauer. Jockey Lindey Wade has the return call and will try to hold off the late charge of stablemate Dust Em with Ry Eikleberry once again on Saturday night. W.S. Farish’s homebred Island Sun, who completed the trifecta in the Jim’s Orbit, returns in his fifth stakes appearance for Asmussen and rider Stewart Elliott.
Compelling Turf Rivalry Continues in the $100,000 Richard King
A contentious field of nine turf specialists will compete in the $100,000 Richard King Stakes for 4-year-olds and upward at a mile and one-eighth on the Connally Turf Course.
On February 20, the $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes was expected to be another showdown between Redatory and morning line favorite Sunlit Song. However, the victory went to Moojab Jr owned by John L. Pierce, who had previously tested the waters against the two favorites before running a huge race for jockey Iram Diego and trainer Paul Duhon.
All three return on Saturday night with several other worthy turf runners to make the Richard King one of the most anticipated features on the Texas Champions Day card.
Sunlit Song, owned by Carolyn R. Barnett and Becky Harding, will break from post position five as the 6-5 morning-line favorite. Barnett bred the 6-year-old gelding by My Golden Song, who showed his affinity for the turf last season in Oklahoma, winning the Remington Park Green at odds of 13-1. He has finished in the top three in each of his last nine starts. Lindey Wade has the return call for trainer Mindy Willis. She reflected on his runner-up effort in the Houston Turf Stakes three weeks ago.
“You can’t win them all,” stated Willis. “He came out of that race in great shape and his mind is on the game. All I can say is that whoever beats him will have to be really good!”
Trainer Paul Duhon will saddle Moojab Jr for owner John Pierce with Iram Diego looking to make another brilliant closing kick. Duhon credited the turf excellence of Redatory and Sunlit Song in his post-race interview after the 7-year-old won the Houston Turf.
“These are two great horses that we traded punches with, and we always got the worst of it,” said Duhon. “I just believed that if he got the right trip, we could turn things around.”
Redatory, owned and bred by James Wessel, is the defending champion in the Richard King. The 2020 Texas
Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year is trained by retired jockey Allen Dupuy and will be ridden by Rey Gutierrez.
Singapore Flash, a 5-year-old son of Shanghai Bobby, was impressive here on March 4 in a one-mile turf allowance. Owned by DARRS, Inc. and trained by Michael Stidham, the 5-year-old gelding will be ridden by Ry Eikleberry in his 11th turf start.
Happy Sailor Faces Seven Fillies in the $100,000 Bara Lass Stakes
A field of eight accredited Texas-bred fillies will compete at the distance of six furlongs in the $100,000 Bara Lass. Diamond W Racing Stable’s Happy Sailor will make her stakes debut off back to back sprint victories this season at Sam Houston Race Park.
The daughter of Midshipman out of the El Corredor mare Forest Path was bred by Larry S. Huntsinger. Karen Jacks trains the bay filly, who will make her sixth career start as the 2-1 choice.
“We gave her some time off after Lone Star and she has run very well this year,” said Jacks, who will give a leg up to rider Iram Diego. “She’s a really smart, mature filly and nothing seems to bother her.”
Wink Texas owned by Racing to the Cross LLC, has finished second to super star filly Star of the North, who won two stakes this season at Sam Houston Race Park, but was not eligible for the Bara Lass. Trainer Jason Meaux and rider Lindey Wade will reunite with the daughter of Too Much Bling. Douglas Scharbauer’s homebred Mostly Distorted will also make her stakes debut under rider Ry Eikleberry.
Ima Discreet Lady Returns in the $100,000 San Jacinto Stakes
The second turf feature of the evening is the $100,000 San Jacinto Stakes for fillies and mares. It will be contested on the Connally Turf Course at the distance of a mile and one-sixteenth.
Ima Discreet Lady, who was very impressive in last month’s $75,000 Miss Bluebonnet Turf Stakes, will take on seven rivals. Owned by Raymond Todd White and Duane Coker, the 5-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat out of the Too Much Bling mare Ima Three Bling has won eight of her 23 career starts. Versatile on both dirt and turf, she completed her 2020 campaign last September at Remington Park. Trainer Karl Broberg was hoping to get a prep for her earlier this meet, but the talented mare captured the Miss Bluebonnet in front-running fashion under Ry Eikleberry. He will ride the bay mare from post position four on Saturday, should she return to the turf.
“I’ll flip a quarter” said trainer Karl Broberg of his final decision to run Ima Discreet Lady in the San Jacinto or the six-furlong Yellow Rose Stakes on the main track.
Miss Perfecta finished second to Ima Discreet Lady, returns and is now in the barn of Steve Asmussen. His first-call rider Stewart Elliott will pilot the 5-year-old mare by Run Away and Hide from the far outside post. The fast closing No Mas Tequila and rider Leandro Goncalves, who ran third in the Bluebonnet, will also return as will Corluna.
Shes Our Fastest Returns in the $100,000 Yellow Rose Stakes
The Texas Champions Day stakes action will conclude with the six furlong $100,000 Yellow Rose Stakes.
Shes Our Fastest owned by Mark Norman and Norman Stables LLC. will make her fifth start at Sam Houston Race Park for trainer Scott Gelner. The 6-year-old daughter of Oratory has won five stakes in Texas and Louisiana, including the 2019 Texas Rose Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. She tested the waters in this year’s Grade 3, Houston Ladies Classic and tops the field in earnings with $349,577 in her 31 lifetime starts.
“Six furlongs is her best distance,” said Gelner. “We took a shot in the Ladies Classic and faced really tough fillies. She has stayed at Sam Houston all season; looking forward to running on Saturday.”
2019 Bara Lass winner Ima Discreet Lady is a notable contender should trainer Karl Broberg opt for the main track. In addition, De Luca and Sons Stable’s Boerne ships in for trainer Robertino Diodoro. The 4-year-old filly by Fed Biz will make her Sam Houston Race Park debut under rider Ty Kennedy. Gee She Sparkles who competed in the Miss Bluebonnet on the turf, returns to the main track for Danny Pish. The 4-year-old filly will be ridden by Danny Sorenson.
News and Notes: Jockey Leandro Goncalves Nearing His 2,000th Career Win
Leandro Goncalves, who is currently third in the Sam Houston Race Park rider standings, is approaching a major career milestone. According to Equibase, the native of Brazil has won 1,992 races in North America and will hopefully clinch his 2,000th victory in Houston before the meet wraps on April 3.
Goncalves attended the Jockey School in Sao Paulo, Brazil and rode in England before arriving in the United States in 2005. He has been honored as leading rider at racetracks including Hoosier Park, Indiana Grand, Turfway Park, Kentucky Downs and Canterbury Park. His graded stakes wins include the G2, Super Derby (Bourbon Courage), G2, Hagyard Fayette Stakes ( Nikki’s Sandcastle), G3, Matt Winn (Neck ‘N Neck) and G3, Iowa Derby (Looking Cool). Goncalves has earned more than $43.9 million in purses.
He is riding for a number of trainers in Houston including J. R. Caldwell, Karl Broberg, Austin Gustafson, Ronnie Cravens and Karen Jacks. Goncalves is booked on 28 mounts this week, including five Texas Champions Day Stakes this Saturday.
Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston. The Park 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.
Photos: Coady Photography