Photo: Mary Cage
There is a saying that goes, "Everything is bigger in Texas." Growing up in the Lone Star State, I know all too well that this applies to the state itself. It takes several hours to drive from one big city to the next.
I have been to tracks across the country (Belmont in New York; Churchill, Keeneland and Turfway in Kentucky; Oaklawn in Arkansas; Remington in Oklahoma; and Santa Anita in California), but up until this weekend, the only track in my home state I had been to was Lone Star Park - the closest racetrack to me and the track I frequent during their spring meet. Eventually, that had to change. This year's Houston Racing Festival seemed like the perfect opportunity for my first trip to Sam Houston Race Park.
Making the near-five-hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to northwest Houston proved to be worth it - and not just because of the great racing. I was welcomed with open arms by a number of people at the track, and encountered many of my friends on the Texas circuit that I know from Lone Star. A special thanks goes out to the Director of Player Services, Mike Steindler; Director of Marketing, Jamie Nielsen; and the Coady Photography team at Sam Houston for being wonderfully hospitable towards me during my visit.
Mornings spent at the barn, particularly with a filly I own a share in who is making her debut at Sam Houston this upcoming Saturday, were the highlight of my trip but the quality stakes racing on Sunday finished a close second.
The stakes races kicked off with the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint going five furlongs on the turf. The grass sprint proved for an exciting finish, with Partly Mocha and graded stakes winner Hogy finishing together in a rush as two longer shots – Shadow Rock and Mascherato – did the same not far behind. In the end, it was Partly Mocha who got his head in front for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker.
|Partly Mocha heads to the paddock|
|Partly Mocha, sporting his goggles, in the paddock|
|The post parade for the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint|
|Partly Mocha (#1) holds off Hogy (#3), with longshot Mascherato (#5) making his run behind|
Newly turned three-year-olds took the stage next in the Space City Stakes, a six-furlong event on the dirt. However, it proved no contest when Laughingsaintssong crossed the wire geared down by Kerwin "Boo Boo" Clark.
|Laughingsaintssong in the paddock|
|Laughingsaintssong wins the Space City effortlessly|
Next up was the first graded stakes event of the day, the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes (gr. III), named for the former Texas governor and the turf course – regarded as one of the best in the country – itself. This proved to be a huge race for Mike Maker, who finished 1-2-3 with Bigger Picture, Oscar Nominated and Greengrassofyoming.
|Bigger Picture in the paddock|
|Fall of Troy (#7), Oscar Nominated (#8), and Bigger Picture (#4) first time by in the John B. Connally|
|Bigger Picture wins the John B. Connally|
|Bigger Picture returns a winner|
The following race was the main event: the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (gr. III). This race marked the 2017 debut of multiple grade one winner I'm a Chatterbox, but despite a grand effort from the now five-year-old mare, a blossoming four-year-old filly trained by Todd Pletcher – Unbridled Mo – came home with the victory. A daughter of Uncle Mo, the Red Oak Stable homebred coasted to the wire to win by 2 ¾ lengths. This win also gave jockey Jose Ortiz his third stakes win on the card.
|I'm a Chatterbox enters the paddock|
|Unbridled Mo (with I'm a Chatterbox behind her) in the paddock|
|I'm a Chatterbox and trainer Larry Jones in the paddock|
|Unbridled Mo warming up|
|Unbridled Mo draws clear in the Houston Ladies Classic|
|Unbridled Mo wins the Houston Ladies Classic|
The nightcap, and the final stakes of the day, showcased fillies and mares on the turf in the Houston Distaff Stakes. This race proved to be a walk in the park for the favorite, Hip Hop N Jazz, who led from start to finish under Florent Geroux to win by 1 ½ lengths for her owners/breeders, the Heider Family, and trainer Tom Proctor.
|Hip Hop N Jazz in the paddock|
|Hip Hop N Jazz wins the Houston Distaff|
The winners were not the only horses that captured my attention and the focus of my camera. Here are a few of my other favorites from the day...
|Texas-bred Magic Bow breaks her maiden in the opener with Sasha Risenhoover aboard|
|The field for the second race gallops by for the first time over the luscious John B. Connally turf course|
|Horses race down the lane in the third race|
|The stunning Tell All You Know prior to the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint|
|Meme Jo, who became one of my favorites during the 2016 Lone Star meet, |
and his popular side-eye prior to the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint
|Mascherato, eventual fourth place finisher in the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint|
|Susie Bee, eventual fourth place finisher in the Houston Distaff|