Belmont Stakes & Bag of Donuts
June 8, 2024
May 24, 2017


Record Eighth Leading Trainer Title for Judd Kearl Jockey Rodrigo Vallejo and Owner A.D. Maddox Finish on Top

The 2017 Sam Houston Race Park Quarter Horse Meet concluded on Monday, May 22 with twelve races and the presentation of the End of the Meet awards.


This Is An Eagle, a 2-year-old son of One Famous Eagle out of the First Down Dash mare Lady Lilia, was named 2017 Horse of the Meet. Bred in Texas by Pete Scarmardo, he was born on February 14, 2015, and was the sale topper at the 2016 TQHA Yearling Sale. Scarmardo set his purchase price at $100,000, and prominent Texas owner, Mary G. Lynne Thompson was the top bidder.


“We wouldn’t have sold him for less,” said Scarmardo. “That was the mark and Mary Lynne was gracious enough to step up. She bought a nice colt and I wish her the very best with him and look forward to watching him run at Ruidoso.”


Trained by Leon Bard, This Is An Eagle made his racing debut in trials for the $483,600 Sam Houston Futurity (G2) on April 8, winning his heat in :16.757 seconds. He returned in the April 14th final under jockey Francisco Calderon, breaking alertly and winning the 330-yard dash in :16.542, earning a 103 speed index.


This was the first Sam Houston Futurity victory for the 70-year-old Bard, who had a career-best meet this year.


“He’s just an exceptional horse,” said Bard. “Pete and I are close friends, and I knew right off the bat that this colt would be special. I am happy for Pete, and of course, for Mary Lynne, who has been a very loyal owner for many years.”


Bard reported that This Is An Eagle is already stabled at Ruidoso Downs and will make his next start in trials for the Rainbow Futurity, July 7 and 8.


“He kind of floats across the ground,” added Bard. “He’s paid into the All American Futurity as well,” added Bard. “Provided everything goes well, he’ll come back to Texas for the Texas Classic Futurity at Lone Star Park.”


Several Sam Houston Futurity winners have gone on to greatness at Ruidoso Downs. Especially Tres and Kiss My Hocks, were honored as Horse of the Meet in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Especially Tres was the fastest qualifier to the All American Futurity and Kiss My Hocks captured the Ruidoso Futurity and was named 2014 AQHA Champion Colt.


"We congratulate owner Mary Lynne Thompson and trainer Leon Bard for the top performance of this talented 2-year-old," said Matt Crawford, Sam Houston Race Park racing secretary. "He was undefeated this meet, winning the richest event of our season. We all look forward to watching his progress at Ruidoso Downs and throughout 2017."


Judd Kearl Wins His Eighth Leading Trainer Title at Sam Houston

Trainer Judd Kearl was feted in January as 2016 AQHA Champion Trainer. He returned to Sam Houston Race Park for the 2017 Quarter Horse meet with a full barn of established stakes runners and rising stars, and today, was honored as the meet’s leading trainer.


Kearl, 42, grew up in Tremonton, Utah and got his start in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. He made his move to Texas in 2004 and resides in Spring, just ten minutes away from Sam Houston Race Park and operates a farm and training center in New Waverly, Texas.  His first leading trainer title at Sam Houston Race Park came in 2006. Last year, he tied the late Steve VanBebber, who dominated from 1994-2000.


Kearl's stakes wins this meet included Jessies First Down, who won the $103,320 Bank of America Challenge Championship; Gustafame in the $55,260 Adequan Texas Derby Challenge and So Rapido, winner of the $197,700 Sam Houston Derby (G3).


He completed the Sam Houston Race Park season with a record of 30 winners from 156 starts, with 30 second-place and 19 third-place finishes. His runners earned $449,693.  Kearl will be prominent in the upcoming season at Ruidoso Downs and will also run horses this year at Retama Park and Lone Star Park.


"We've had another great meet,” said Kearl. “I have really good owners and excellent help; I can't thank them enough. (Assistant trainer) Jimmy Padgett has done a really good job since he's moved down here, and Alonso Hernandez is part of our team, handling our horses at Delta and Retama.”


Kearl was proud of each of his horses, and looks forward to running Ted Abrams, Sr.'s homebred Jessies First Down in the $250,000 Remington Park Invitational (G1) on June 3.  The Texas-bred is the reigning AQHA world champion, and has run here in the Bank of America Texas Challenge for the past three seasons.


"Jessies First Down is a super horse," he added. "Two years in a row, he was fastest qualifier and we couldn’t get the job done. The year, when he was the third-fastest, I told Ted maybe the third year would be the charm. He not only won; he set a new track record. Jessie has been a dream horse for us.”


Leon Bard, who was third last year, had an exceptional meet, winning 18 races, including his first Sam Houston Futurity with This Is An Eagle. Bard also won two regional AQHA Challenge races. Stolis Pro won the AQHA Distance Challenge and Brookside for the Merial Distaff Challenge Championship.


Jose Sanchez was third with 16 wins; he won a very contentious edition of the $50,000 Sam Houston Classic (G2) with Politically Corrupt.


Rodrigo Vallejo Picked Up His Fifth Leading Rider Title

The battle for leading rider went to the wire with Rodrigo Vallejo holding off a late charge by Francisco Calderon to pick up his fifth Sam Houston leading jockey title. He finished the meet with 28 wins and earnings of $371,984.


The native of Jalisco, Mexico, continues his prolific association with Kearl. Vallejo piloted each of the aforementioned Kearl stakes winners this meet, and thanked Kearl and his crew for their excellent teamwork.


“I am grateful to Judd, who is an amazing trainer and great friend,” said Vallejo. “To ride the world champion is amazing, and Gustafame showed so much in his two wins this meet as well. I am looking forward to riding them and So Rapido in their next starts.”


Francisco Calderon had an excellent meet, winning 26 races and top purses of $427,863. He teamed with Bard for multiple stakes wins, including the Sam Houston Futurity with This Is An Eagle, and also piloted Stolis Pro to two stakes wins and qualified Brookside for the Merial Distaff Challenge Championship. Juan Francisco Garcia, Jr. was third with 19 victories.


A. D. Maddox Repeats As Leading Owner

This was the fifth title for A. D. Maddox, whose horses are trained by James Gerhards.  He started 27 horses this meet, winning eight races with five seconds and five horses running third. His top performer was his homebred, Race Me Or Chase Me, who won two of his three starts this season.


Maddox, who resides in Houston, was out of town on closing day and unable to accept his trophy. Gerhards, who has trained for him for close to 20 years, acknowledged his support of Texas racing.


“He has been a great owner and remains loyal to Texas breeding and racing,” said Gerhards.


Pete Scarmardo of Caldwell, Texas, finished second with five wins. He has been honored as leading owner three times at Sam Houston Race Park. Jerry Windham and Rogelio Marquez, Jr. tied for third with four victories each. 


Sam Houston Race Park will remain open seven days a week offering a comprehensive menu of simulcast racing. Next up is the simulcast the final leg of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 10. Popular race meets including Monmouth Park, Saratoga and Del Mar will showcase top Thoroughbreds this summer and Quarter Horse fans will be able to watch and wager on "America's fastest athletes" at Ruidoso Downs, beginning May 26.


Handle Numbers Flat in the 2017 Quarter Horse Meet

Sam Houston Race Park officials noted positive trends in handle for the 24-day Quarter Horse meet, which began on March 31. Despite a 4% decrease in total runners, handle totals were flat to 2016. Monday afternoon racing continues to show growth with an average daily handle reaching over $515,000 over the eight Monday’s. Additionally in 2017, the Sam Houston Futurity trials were split into two days and surpassed the $1 million mark in handle with a 28% increase compared to 2016.


Sam Houston Race Park, Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, is located just 15 miles from downtown Houston, and offers a variety of attractions including 16 luxury suites overlooking the race track, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and Jockey Club.  For more information on upcoming shows, events and tickets, please visit



Photo: THIS IS AN EAGLE- The Sam Houston Futurity

Photo Credit: Coady Photography