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The fields are set, and the excitement is building at Sam Houston Race Park for its most prestigious event of the 2021 Thoroughbred racing season. The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Sunday, January 31 with a special afternoon post time of 1:45 pm (CT). The ten-race card includes six stakes, highlighted by the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic.
Now in its ninth running, the Houston Ladies Classic, at a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track, has been a springboard for top older fillies and mares, and once again, attracted a highly competitive field.
Race 8 at Sam Houston on Sunday, January 31 - Post 6:32 PM
|1||Motion Emotion||7-2||Miguel Mena
|2||Jeweled Princess||8-1||Reylu Gutierrez
|4||Lady Apple||4-1||Stewart Elliott
|5||Figure It Out||15-1||Lane Luzzi
|6||Shes Our Fastest||20-1||Ry Eikleberry
Defending champion Lady Apple is a 5-year-old daughter of Curlin out of the Clever Trick mare Miss Mary Apples owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III Ltd. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred mare has won six of her 18 starts with earnings of $1,045,984. One year ago, she closed gamely to defeating a contentious field which included 2019 Kentucky Oaks champion Serengeti Empress and Street Band.
Following her victory, Asmussen shipped her to Oaklawn Park where she competed in both the Grade 2, Azeri and Grade 1, Apple Blossom. Her third place finish in last month's Spanky Broussard at Fair Grounds served as a solid prep for her return to Sam Houston Race Park, where she will break from post position four under veteran rider Stewart Elliott at odds of 4-1.
"She needed that race, and I had no problem with the result," said Asmussen. "Lady Apple is a quality filly who loves the track surface at Sam Houston and is training really well."
Letruska, bred and owned by St. George Stable, LLC, has been installed as the even-money favorite. The 5-year-old mare by Super Saver out of the Successful Appeal mare Magic Appeal, has won 11 of her 15 career efforts including the Grade 3, Shuvee last August at Saratoga.
She exits a victory last month in the Grade 3, $100,000 Rampart at Gulfstream Park and when her trainer Fausto Gutierrez began planning her 5-year-old campaign, he felt that the Houston Ladies Classic would be an ideal beginning.
"She's a filly with a great deal of speed," explained Gutierrez. "We removed the blinkers and felt that she finished much better. I ran at Sam Houston twenty years ago and know it has an excellent track surface. They have always attracted quality fields for the Ladies Classic and I feel that this will be a perfect start for her year. Our plan is to head to Oaklawn Park and point to the (Grade 1) Apple Blossom."
Letruska was flown from South Florida to New Orleans and vanned from Fair Grounds to Sam Houston Race Park early Sunday morning. Jockey Jesus Castanon has the call aboard the bay mare and will break from post position seven.
Asmussen will also saddle Motion Emotion for owners MyRacehorse.com and Spendthrift Farm LLC. The 5-year-old mare sired by Take Charge Indy has topped the half-million dollar mark in her 16 career starts and will be ridden by Miguel Mena at odds of 7-2. Sunday's race will be her first start since running fourth in the Grade 1, Personal Ensign at Saratoga. She has been stabled at Asmussen's Sam Houston barn all month, with a solid work tab, including two bullet drills on January 16 and 23.
"She's been training like a steam engine," declared Asmussen. "We are fortunate that Spendthrift bought her at the Night of the Stars Sale (on November 8) and look forward to running her in the Ladies Classic."
The victory by Motion Emotion or Lady Apple would vault Asmussen into the record books as the only conditioner to win three editions of the Houston Ladies Classic. Asmussen, who is nominated for Eclipse Award winning trainer honors along with Brad Cox and Bob Baffert, won with Midnight Bisou in 2019. The remarkable champion went on to capture five Grade 1 stakes, banking $7.4 million and was honored as 2019 Eclipse Award winning Older Female. Larry Jones is the only other trainer to win two Ladies Classic titles.
Jeweled Princess is on target to ship to Houston and represent owners Walking L Thoroughbreds of The Woodlands, Texas. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the 4-year-filly by Cairo Prince, earned her fourth career win on December 18 at Remington Park when she captured the $75,000 She's All In Stakes.
"This filly keeps getting better and better," said McPeek. "She deserves a chance to step up."
Jockey Reylu Gutierrez has the call at odds of 8-1. He joined the Sam Houston jockey colony this year and is off to an excellent start, ranked second behind veteran Stewart Elliott. McPeek won the 2004 Great State Challenge Distaff at Sam Houston Race Park with Take Charge Lady as well as victories in the Maxxam Gold Cup with Unstoppable U in 2013 and Blueridge Traveler in 2018.
Trainer Michael Maker has entered Ujayji, a 5-year-old mare by Smarty Jones for her breeder and owner T. L. Wise. The Pennsylvania-bred mare exits a third-place finish in the $100,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct on January 17. She brings a record of four wins, four seconds and four thirds from 19 starts with earnings of $293,090. She drew post position three under rider Rafael Manuel Hernandez at odds of 6-1.
Trainer Tom Amoss who ran second in last year's edition of the race with Serengeti Empress will send in Figure It Out, a 5-year-old Paynter mare, owned by Joe Politi.
She began her year with an impressive allowance score at Fair Grounds on January 1 prior to running sixth in the $150,000 Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. He has given the call to Houston-based rider Lane Luzzi, who is currently tied for third in the standings. This will be the third time Amoss has shipped in for the Houston Ladies Classic. He ran fifth in the 2015 edition of the race with Kiss to Remember.
Trainer Scott Gelner will saddle Norman Racing Stables, LLC's Shes Our Fastest who drew post position six and will be ridden by Ry Eikleberry. The Texas-bred daughter of Oratory has won five stakes in Texas and Louisiana, including the 2019 Texas Rose Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. The 6-year-old mare has earned $344,537 in her 29 lifetime starts.
Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016. It anchors the annual Houston Racing Festival, which also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, the $200,000 Texas Turf, the $100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint, the $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes and the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint.
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JANUARY 21 - Nominations have closed for the Houston Racing Festival at Sam Houston Race Park. The annual event, featuring six stakes and purses in excess of $1 million will be contested on Sunday, January 31 with a special afternoon post time of 1:45 pm (CT).
The Houston Racing Festival includes two graded stakes, the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf.
The Houston Ladies Classic, to be contested at a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track, closed with 22 nominations including 2020 champion Lady Apple. The 5-year-old daughter of Curlin out of the Clever Trick mare Miss Mary Apples is owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III and KatieRich Farms.
Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred mare has won six of her 18 starts with earnings of $1,045,984. One year ago, she closed gamely under jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., defeating a contentious field which included 2019 Kentucky Oaks champion Serengeti Empress, Mylady Curlin and Street Band.
The victory was the second Houston Ladies Classic score for Asmussen, who is nominated for Eclipse Award winning trainer honors. In 2019, he saddled Midnight Bisou, who went on to national prominence winning five Grade 1 stakes, banking $7.4 million and honored as 2019 Eclipse Award winning Older Female.
Jeweled Princess is on target to ship to Houston and represent owners Walking L Thoroughbreds of The Woodlands, Texas. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the 4-year-filly Cairo Prince, out of the Scat Daddy mare Jersey Jules, earned her fourth career win on December 18 at Remington Park when she captured the $75,000 She's All In Stakes. McPeek won the 2004 Great State Challenge Distaff at Sam Houston Race Park with Take Charge Lady as well as two editions of the Maxxam Gold Cup.
Trainer Michael Maker has nominated Ujayji, a 5-year-old mare by Smarty Jones, who would make her Texas debut for her breeder and owner T. L. Wise. The Pennsylvania-bred mare exits a third-place finish in the $100,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct on January 17.
Additional nominees include two fillies trained by Tom Amoss who are currently stabled at Fair Grounds. Hoffman Racing Family, LLC and Steve Landry's Beautiful Trauma, a 4-year-old daughter of Tapiture exits a runner-up finish in the $75,000 Spanky Broussard on December 26.Figure It Out, owned by Joe Politi was an eight length winner in New Orleans on January 1. Trainer Scott Gelner is pointing Norman Racing Stables, LLC's Shes Our Fastest to the stakes. The Texas-bred daughter of Oratory won the 2019 Texas Rose Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park and has earned $344,537 in her 29 lifetime starts.
Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016.
Nominations were also strong for the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, at the distance of one and one-half miles with 43 nominations received by the Sam Houston Race Park racing office. Mike Maker, who has won the Connally a record seven times, has nominated 11 turf specialists. 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. 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. Maker's third likely starter isConviction 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 closed for second.
Signalman, a 5-year-old son of General Quarters who has earned over $671,000 in his 17 starts, has been nominated by McPeek. He competed in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and won the Grade 2, Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.
The John B. Connally Turf was awarded Grade 3 status in 2006 and boasts a solid roster of past winners includingChorwon, Fort Prado, Rod and Staff as well as three-time champions, Candid Glen and Bigger Picture.
The draw for the Houston Racing Festival will take place on Sunday, January 24. The remaining stakes include the $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for three-year-olds, which was added last year and drew a highly competitive field of ten; the $100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint, the $75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes and $75,000 Stonerside Sprint.
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