Sam Houston race weekend headlined by Houston Racing Festival

Sam Houston race weekend headlined by Houston Racing Festival

Sam Houston Race Park is gearing up for one of the biggest days of its thoroughbred meet. This Saturday, the Houston Racing Festival will feature a card loaded with five stakes races, including the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) and the John Connally Turf Cup (G3).  The graded status of these races makes them a big target for horses and trainers from around the country, and the weekend should feature top-class competition.

The Houston Ladies Classic is contested over a mile and one-sixteenth for a $300,000 purse. The race has featured big names in years past. Letruska used the 2021 edition to begin a multiple grade 1 winning campaign that saw her triumph in the Apple Blossom (G1), Ogden Phipps (G1), Fleur de Lis (G2), Personal Ensign (G1), and the Spinster (G1). With this track record of producing success, the Ladies Classic will give the winner coveted status as a graded stakes winner and could lead to much more.

This year’s field of seven is highlighted by last year’s champion Pauline’s Pearl, who is trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Stewart Elliot. Along with last year’s Lady’s Classic, Pauline’s Pearl also won the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs last May, and she has earned almost $1.7 million in her career.

An alternate to Pauline’s Pearl is the Bernardini mare She Can’t Sing. This five-year-old veteran of 33 races has posted eight victories, including the Grade 3 Chilukki Stakes last November at Churchill Downs. She Can’t Sing has also won numerous black-type stakes races on her way to amassing over $800,000 in earnings.

Sixtythreecaliber is another horse worth watching. This daughter of Gun Runner is owned by MyRacehorse and slated to be ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, who is traveling in from Aqueduct for the occasion. Sixtythreecaliber has scored three consecutive victories, the last two coming in stakes company, including the Grade 3 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct.

Sam Houston stalwart trainer Bret Calhoun will send out Hidden Connection. A daughter of Connect, this mare was victorious in the 2021 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs and is coming off an allowance win at Fair Grounds in December.

In the Saturday nightcap, the John Connally Turf cup will be contested over a mile and a half on the turf course. This race also features a $300,000 purse.

Spooky Channel is the strong early favorite, coming off three consecutive victories, including a win in the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland in October. The son of English Channel proved that he was back in good form after a long layoff with a win in the Buddy Dilberto Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds on December 26.

Last year’s Connally Turf Cup champion, Another Mystery, will look to pull the upset though he has not been in the best form lately.

Bemma’s Boy, a son of Into Mischief, is another contender. This horse missed most of 2022 but did win the Kitten’s Joy Pan American Stakes (G2) in 2020 and finished second in the Connally Turf Cup that same year.

The Houston Racing Festival card will also feature three black type stakes races in the Bara Lass Stakes for three-year-old Texas Accredited Fillies, the Groovy Stakes for Texas accredited three-year-olds, and the Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile Stakes. Each of these races carry a purse of $100,000.

Sam Houston will also host nine race cards on Friday and Sunday afternoons with first posts at 1 p.m.

This week’s Kentucky Derby points campaign stops at Oaklawn Park for the Southwest Stakes (G3). Nine horses will go to the post to battle for the 40 Derby points at stake, with the Bob Baffert trainee Arabian Knight looking like the class of the field. Arabian Knight won his debut start at Keeneland in November and should be a strong favorite Saturday.

In other national racing news, Gulfstream Park will host the Pegasus World Cup Saturday on a race card that will feature seven graded stakes races. The Pegasus World Cup represents the year’s first truly big horse race and features a field that includes horses returning from last year’s Triple Crown campaign, including Cyberknife, Simplification, White Abarrio, and Skippylongstocking. Art Collector and Proxy add depth and quality to an excellent field.

Sam Houston Race Park Horses to watch

Friday – Race 2 – Samurai Cause – This horse has been on the board in six of his last eight starts and is by First Samurai.

Saturday – Race 6 – Stelliot’s Legacy – In her only other start, this filly won the Darby’s Daughter Division of the Texas Stallion Stakes. If she can repeat that form, she should have a great chance.

Sunday – Race 9 – Mission Belle – This horse has been on fire, finishing first or second in her last six starts.

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