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The Houston Racing Festival will take place at Sam Houston Race Park on Sunday, January 31 with a special afternoon post time of 1:45 pm (CT). The event includes six stakes, highlighted by the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic with the acclaimed Connally Turf Course receiving its fair share of attention in the entry box as well.
Trainer Mike Maker has won seven of the past nine editions of the G3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup which is contested at the distance of one and one-half miles. A field of 12, including three turf specialists from the barn of Maker will compete, with post positions drawn Sunday.
Race 9 at Sam Houston on Sunday, January 31 - Post 7:07 PM
|5||Conviction Trade||7-2||Rafael Hernandez
|7||Tut's Revenge||9-2||Ry Eikleberry
|9||Vettori Kin (BRZ)||20-1||Miguel Mena
|10||Spooky Channel||5-2||Julien Leparoux
|11||Strong Tide||30-1||Sophie Doyle
|12||Henley's Joy||15-1||Declan Carroll
One of his prospects this year, Three Diamonds Farm's Marzo, ran third in last year's edition of the race before running in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. Sired by Medaglia D' Oro, Marzo has won four races and $310,000 to date. He will break from post six with Albin Jimenez in the saddle.
"Marzo had been off since running in the Sword Dancer last August at Saratoga," said Maker. "He did not handle the synthetic surface at Turfway Park (on December 31). We just used that race as a workout."
Ajourneytofreedom closed to complete the superfecta in the $100,000 Gio Ponti at Aqueduct last November for her owners Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher. The 4-year-old gelded son of Hard Spun will be ridden by Jesus Castanon, breaking from post three.
"I believe he will love the Sam Houston turf course," he stated.
Maker's third starter is Conviction Trade, who was claimed by Staudacher and tested his distance prowess last month in the H. Allen Jerkens, a two-mile turf stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred son of Exchange Rate held the lead throughout the race, but had to settle for second.
"He had a good trip and showed his liking for the distance," said Maker, who will give a leg up to rider Rafael Hernandez. "He was a little unlucky to lose, but that should set him up well for the Connally."
Maker's past Connally winners include Papa Bodie in 2012; Admiral Kitten in 2014; Coalport in 2015; Da Big Hoss in 2016 and a three-peat by Three Diamonds Farm's Bigger Picture who captured the 2017-2019 editions of the turf stakes. Last year, Maker finished second and third to the Brad Cox trained Dot Matrix.
"I was disappointed, for sure," admitted Maker. "I felt that each of my horses had a chance, but that's racing. Guess I will just have to start a new streak on Sunday!"
Maker's trio will have some very stiff competition from a number of quality turf runners including Spooky Channel who has been tabbed as the 5-2 morning-line choice. Owned by Terry Hamilton, he is impeccably bred for the turf, sired by English Channel out of the Kitten's Joy mare Spooky Kitten.
Trainer Brian Lynch gave the chestnut gelding a freshening following his start in the Grade 1, Manhattan last July at Belmont Park. His first race back was the Grade 2, Ft. Lauderdale on December 12 at Gulfstream Park, where he ran fourth to Largent. Lynch opted to send the eight-time winner to Houston instead of defending his title in the W.L. McKnight last Saturday at Gulfstream Park. He drew post position ten and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
"I thought the Connally was a very appealing fit," said Lynch from his base in South Florida. "Spooky Channel is a marathon sort of horse and Julien has won on him before He came off a long layoff for the Ft. Lauderdale and finished well. I believe he will enjoy the Houston turf course."
Signalman will make his first start at Sam Houston when trainer Ken McPeek sends in the 5-year-old son of General Quarters for owners Tommie M. Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Demaree, David A. Bernsen, LLC and Jim Chambers. The Kentucky-bred will be making his 18th career start and has already banked $671,005, largely from his purse money from the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and victory in the Grade 2, Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Jockey Reylu Gutierrez has the mount and will break from post position two at odds of 12-1.
"He has run well on the synthetic (at Turfway Park) and I definitely think he will like the distance," said McPeek. "In a full field, it's all about the timing, but I feel Reylu will get him into a good position."
Claim To Fame Stable's Tut's Revenge has a solid turf record with five wins from seven starts for trainer Clinton Stuart. The 5-year-old gelding by Eskendereya had a great season at Remington Park, winning his last two and finishing second in the Remington Park Green. Ry Ekleberry has the call at odds of 9-2.
The John B. Connally Turf was awarded Grade 3 status in 2006 and boasts a solid roster of past winners including Chorwon, Fort Prado, Rod and Staff as well as three-time champions, Candid Glen and Bigger Picture.
As previously announced, the ninth renewal of the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic will run as the eighth race on the Houston Racing Festival Card. The field of seven, from the rail, with riders and morning line odds, is as follows: Motion Emotion, Miguel Mena, 7-2; Jeweled Princess, Reylu Gutierrez, 8-1; Ujjayi, Rafael Manuel Hernandez, 6-1; Lady Apple, Stewart Elliott, 4-1; Figure It Out, Lane Luzzi, 15-1; Shes Out Fastest, Ry Ekleberry, 20-1 and Letruska, Jesus Castanon, 1-1.
In addition to the two graded stakes on the Houston Racing Festival card, Sam Houston Race Park will present the following features:
$200,000 Texas Turf Mile- 3YO -1 Mile (T)
$100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint - 4&up - 5 Furlongs (T)
$75,000 Stonerside Sprint - 4&up F&M - 1 1/16 Mile (T)
$75,000 Stonerside Sprint - 4&up - 6 Furlongs
"The goal five years ago was to create a special day of racing not only for our fans in Houston but develop an event that would evolve into a great day of racing on a national level," said Frank Hopf, Sam Houston Race Park's Senior Director of Racing Operations. "None of this is possible without the tremendous support we have received from the trainers and owners. The 2021 edition of the Houston Racing Festival is an indication we are getting closer to our goal."
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