Trainer Steve Asmussen In Pursuit of His Fourth Victory in the Championship for Fillies and Mares

HOUSTON, TX- The fields are set for the premier day of Thoroughbred racing at Sam Houston Race Park.   The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Saturday, January 28 with an afternoon post time of 1:00 pm (CT).  

Now in its eleventh 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.  Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussenwill go for his fourth victory in the stakes with Stonestreet Stable LLC’s homebred and defending champion Pauline’s Pearl. The filly by Tapit out of the Dixie Union mare Hot Dixie Chick, drew post position five with Stewart Elliott  riding the 6-5 morning line favorite.  

Following last year’s victory, Pauline’s Pearl ran in four graded stakes, winning the Grade 1, $750,000 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 6.  This will be her first start since running third in the Grade 2, Fleur De Lis last July. Asmussen has been targeting the Houston Ladies Classic for her 2023 campaign with a series of works at Fair Grounds, including her most recent five furlong work in 1:00.80 on January 15.

“She is a tremendous Stonestreet Stables homebred who got her year off to a good start in the Houston Ladies Classic, then winning a Grade 1,” stated Asmussen of the mare, who has banked  $1,695,200 in 15 career efforts. “We are definitely trying to duplicate that.”

Asmussen is the only conditioner to win three editions of the Houston Ladies Classic. He won withMidnight Bisou in 2019, the remarkable champion who went on to capture five Grade 1 stakes, banking $7.4 million and was honored as 2019 Eclipse Award winning Older Female. He also captured 2020 Houston Ladies Classic with Lady Apple is a 5-year-old daughter of Curlin owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III Ltd. 

Trainer Bret Calhoun, who has been running Thoroughbreds at Sam Houston since its opening in 1994, will send in Hidden Connection for owners Hidden Brook Farm and Black Type Thoroughbreds. The Kentucky-bred filly, sired by Connect, won the 2021 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

“She showed up early and was very talented, with a high cruising speed and the ability to carry it,” said Calhoun. “Following the Oaks, we gave her time off and she bounced back well.”

Calhoun ran the dark bay filly in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance on December 16 at Fair Grounds in which she rallied gamely, winning by a margin of 7 ½  lengths. That victory provided plenty of options for her 4-year-old campaign, with the goal of competing the Grade 1, Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

“I liked the way Hidden Connection won at Fair Grounds and feel she is at a peak level of fitness,” he added.

Jockey Reylu Gutierrez has the call and will break from post four at odds of –3-1. The talented young rider will make his third appearance in the Houston Ladies Classic after riding the Mary Rose last year for trainer Johnny Ortiz.

Also shipping from Fair Grounds in New Orleans will be Susan Moulton’s Oliviaofthedesert.  Sired by Bernardini, the 5-year-old mare exits a victory in the $100,000 Blushing K. D. Stakes on December 26. The multiple-stakes winner will make her 23rd start for trainer Wayne Catalano, who  has given the call to veteran jockey James Graham.

Lothenbach Stables Inc.’s homebred She Can’t Sing will make her Sam Houston debut for trainer Chris Block. The 6-year-old mare, also sired by Bernardini out of a Distorted Humor mare Distorted Music, has won eight of her 33 lifetime starts, most recently the Grade 3, $300,000 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs. Jareth Loveberry has the riding assignment for Block, who will also ship in defending champion Another Mystery in the Grade 3, $200, John B. Connally Turf.

“We had a few options for this mare,” acknowledged Block. “She’s been working well since winning at Churchill (on November 19). Owner Bob Lothenbach and I felt she deserves a chance.”

Sixtythreecaliber, owned by My Racehorse Stable and Spendthrift Farm LLC, will ship in for trainer Tom Amoss. The 4-year-old filly by Gun Runner has won five of her seven career starts and exits a victory in the Grade 3, $175,000 Comely Stakes on November 25 at Aqueduct. Kendrick Carmouche has the return call and will break from post position six. 

Conditioner Brendon Walsh will send in Moon Swag for owner Farfellow Farm, Ltd. The 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon won the $100,000 “Spanky” Broussard Memorial Stakes last month at Fair Grounds. Corey Lanerie , who was the Sam Houston Race Park leading rider in 1995 and 1996, will ride the mare bred by Spendthrift Farm LLC.

Completing the field is Fast and Feminine, who will make her stakes debut for owner/trainer Randy Snipes. The 4-year-old filly by Oxbow won an allowance at Sam Houston on January 20 under rider Weston Hamilton, who will guide the Kentucky-bred filly from the rail.

The Houston Ladies Classic will run as the ninth race, with an approximate post time of 5:25 pm (CT). The field, from the rail, with jockeys and morning line odds:

Fast and Feminine, Weston Hamilton (30-1); Oliviaofthedesert, James Graham (15-1); She Can’t Sing, Jareth Loveberry (7-2); Hidden Connection, Reylu Gutierrez (4-1); Pauline’s Pearl, Stewart Elliott (6-5); Sixtythreecaliber, Kendrick Carmouche (3-1) and Moon Swag, Corey Lanerie (8-1).

Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016. The list of former champions is as follows:

Houston Ladies Classic Champions 

2022            Pauline’s Pearl                     Joel Rosario                           Steve Asmussen                1:44.43

2021            Letruska                               Jesus Castanon                      Fausto Gutierrez               1:45.02

2020            Lady Apple                          Ricardo Santana Jr.               Steve Asmussen                1:44.19

2019            Midnight Bisou                    Mike Smith                            Steve Asmussen                1:44.52

2018            Tiger Moth                           Florent Geroux                      Brad Cox                           1:46.01

2017            Unbridled Mo                      Jose Ortiz                              Todd Pletcher                    1:42.89

2016            Forever Unbridled               Joel Rosario                           Dallas Stewart                  1:43.74

2015            Cassatt                                 Kerwin Clark                         Larry Jones                       1:44.96

2014            Rose to Gold                        Jesus Rios                              Sal Santoro                       1:43.87

2013            Joyful Victory                      Rosie Napravnik                    Larry Jones                       1:42.30

Press releases on the additional Houston Racing Festival features will be forthcoming. The Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, the $100,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile, the $100,000 Bara Lass and the $100,000 Gexa EnergyGroovy will also be contested on Saturday, January 28.

About Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston.  Owned by Penn Entertainment Inc., the racetrack, which opened in 1994, offers a variety of attractions including a Suite Level featuring luxurious suites overlooking the racetrack, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and theJockey Club.  For more information on upcoming live racing, shows, events and tickets, please visit