Houston Ladies Classic headlines a big night at Sam Houston

Houston Ladies Classic headlines a big night at Sam Houston
Photo: Coady Photography

The Houston Racing Festival is the biggest night of racing at Sam Houston Race Park, and at long last, January 30, 2016 is just about upon us. Led by the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, the evening boasts a foursome of consecutive stakes races, and I believe it is no exaggeration to say this is the finest card of racing ever assembled at Sam Houston. I had the opportunity to visit the Texas oval, just a short drive from downtown Houston, for the first time last year and I have nothing but good things to report. I was thoroughly impressed with the facility, people, quality of racing, and friendliness to the horseplayer. Without further ado, let’s jump right into the Saturday evening card set to roll with a special first post of 5pm Central.

A guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 4 of $100,000, with an industry low takeout rate of 12%, begins on race 6, with the $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint. The veteran turf sprinter, Marchman, boasts the back class of the five-furlong test. Away since finishing 9th of 14 behind Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, he will look to get back to his winning ways for trainer Bret Calhoun, but this is no easy spot. Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Galton won four times last year, and will be dropping back to a sprint distance where he has enjoyed past success. Brilliant Interest may not have the class of Marchman, but could be the one that they all have to catch on Saturday.

The $50,000 Space City Stakes will feature eight sophomores sprinting six furlongs in the second stakes race of the evening. Taylors Angiel and Twirling Cinnamon, the top two from the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, where they were separated only by a scant nose in December, figure to go off as the two favorites. Both have a big shot to win, although Taylors Angiel, with Pat Valenzuela in the irons, does have the advantage of controlling speed and the rail post. Meanwhile, Twirling Cinnamon will be making his Sam Houston debut for trainer Brad Cox, and will be ridden by Florent Geroux. Of the rest, Mud Light is coming off a nice maiden win, has a strong closing kick, and has been working well at Oaklawn Park for trainer, Steve Asmussen. 

The $200,000, Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup is race eight on the card, and features a solid group of older turf specialists going the distance of twelve furlongs. The morning line favorites are the hard-hitting duo of Kaigun and Da Big Hoss. They finished second and third respectively in the recent grade 3 McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park and certainly warrant respect, but my top pick in the Connally will be the Californian shipper, Big John B. The son of Hard Spun has proven to be a bear at extended distances, and back at twelve furlongs, I would expect him to run another big race like he did two starts back when finishing second to The Pizza Man in the Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar. His morning line odds of 6-1 would be a treat, if they let him go that high.

The Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic, to be run for only the fourth time, is the evening’s headliner, and this year’s edition, at 8 ½ furlongs, has attracted a well-rounded field of seven. Morning line favoritism has fallen to the classy Forever Unbridled, from the Dallas Stewart barn. She kept excellent company last year, and her 2015 closing performance, a hard-earned victory in the Grade 3 Comely in New York points her out as a formidable filly. Joel Rosario picks up the mount, and her trainer is pleased with her preparation. "She's training very well," said Stewart.

"She's always been an honest filly and we got two good works in her this week. We look forward to Saturday and are pleased we were able to get Joel; he's a pretty great rider."

This is by no means a one-mare race, though, as every entrant in the field offers something to like. Perhaps the one to like most of all is the defending champion, Cassatt. She has the most speed in the field for Florent Geroux to utilize, and she obviously knows the trip at Sam Houston. Cassatt won the $100,000 She's All In Stakes at Remington Park gate-to-wire in her most recent effort, and has posted four solid works at Fair Grounds. Her two-time Houston Ladies Classic winning trainer likes where she is, going into the rich race.

"She is finally settling down, and acts like she might be sitting on a good year" said Jones. "Joyful Victory was her best as a 5-year-old, and this mare, also by Tapit, seems like she is on a similar path."

The remainder of the Ladies Classic field includes; Thegony, Cali Star, Diva’s Diamond, Rose to Glory, and Welcome Aboard.

And if that’s still not enough to convince you that Sam Houston is the place to be on Saturday, they will also host a Wine Tasting Event on the club level, and a fundraiser for the Houston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen to support Breast Cancer Research and provide services to Houston area women. Whether you can make it out to Sam Houston Race Park, or you are betting the racing from elsewhere, it promises to be an outstanding evening!

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to HRN, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing webcast HorseCenter, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves on the Board of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars and is a Vox Populi committee member. He is a voter for racing's Hall of Fame, as well as a weekly NTRA poll voter. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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