By Nick Tammaro
What looked to be a day comprised of celebrating past champions played out that way, even with some of those victories being by narrower margins than expected.
GOLD PILOT REPEATS IN STAR OF TEXAS
Gold Pilot, a six year-old by My Golden Song, earned his 2nd straight win in the Star of Texas and third tally of the 2023 Sam Houston Race Park meet. Facing a small field with very little early speed, jockey Jose Alvarez kept the gray gelding closer than normal before making a bid at the quarter pole. He eventually reeled in a stubborn foe in Dust Em, scoring by a neck as the 2/5 favorite for owners Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch and trainer Bret Calhoun.
“He’s been pretty steady and solid but has gotten more consistent this year,” Calhoun said. “ There’s limited opportunities but when there’s races for him, he shows up.”
IMA DISCREET LADY TAKES DOWN FOURTH STRAIGHT YELLOW ROSE
A strong and evenly matched field came together for the Yellow Rose, and Ima Discreet Lady proved best for the second straight year. The 7 year-old daughter of Discreet Cat ran her lifetime record at Sam Houston Race Park to 7-10 with a decisive score from off the pace. She previously won the 2021 and 2022 editions under Ry Eikleberry when contested at SHRP, and won the same event in 2020 when staged at Lone Star Park because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She loves Sam Houston,” Trainer Karl Broberg said. “Getting a 4th straight Yellow Rose is remarkable.”
SUNLIT SONG GRINDS OUT RICHARD KING SCORE
There is no doubt who sits atop the older Texas-bred male turf division, as Sunlit Song earned his second stakes win of the 2023 meet, as well as his second Richard King Turf score with a stirring win over Singapore Flash. The latter had bested Sunlit Song in the 2022 Houston Turf and they’d renewed their rivalry earlier this year with little fanfare. But Saturday they each showed up with their “A” games and a tremendous stretch run ensued.
Even in defeat, trainer JR Caldwell patted Willis on the back and gave her a hug, knowing his charge gave his all. Sunlit Song is now a heavy favorite to earn the Texas Bred Horse of the Year crown Willis covets. The 8 year-old has never won it outright.
JACKS PAIR IN SAN JACINTO GO 1-2 ONCE AGAIN
Karen Jacks mentioned how nerve racking it is to have her stable’s two stars face off. The stretch drive of the San Jacinto had to be at least a tad enjoyable. For the second straight time, Imaluckycharm staved off her older sister, who the public fancied more at the windows, to register a slight upset. In both the Miss Bluebonnet Turf and San Jacinto, Imaluckycharm was able to establish a comfortable early advantage and hold sway to the finish.
“No Mas Tequila is probably better with more distance and Imaluckycharm is razor sharp now,” Jacks said.
Jacks also noted the next time they’ll meet will likely be at 7.5 furlongs in the Danny Shifflett Scholarship Stakes at Lone Star Park on June 3.
TOO MUCH ACTION COMPLETES UNPRECEDENTED DOUBLE FOR JEREMIAH O’DWYER
With a decisive move between horses and a late thrust, Too Much Action was up in time to take the Spirit of Texas in an upset at 5-1. The even money favorite, Mr. Money Bags, was third beaten a head and a neck in his 2023 debut while the runner-up, Algebra, checked in second at odds of 5/2. Too Much Action had contested the H-Town on Texas Champions Preview Day 5 weeks earlier and hung on for second that day behind runaway winner Gold Pilot.
His trainer, Jeremiah O’Dwyer, was roughly 8,000 miles away when Too Much Action scored the win, as he had won the Dubai Golden Shaheen with Sibelius earlier that day at Meydan. It marked O’Dwyer’s first Grade I win in a burgeoning career that went to new heights on Saturday. Too Much Action earned a lifetime best 88 Beyer Speed Figure after stopping the clock in 1:10.97 for six furlongs.
SANTA FE GOLD, RELEASE MCCRAKEN TAKE INAUGURAL TTA OAKS, DERBY
Less than half an hour after Gold Pilot’s score in the Star of Texas, the same connections returned to the winner’s circle with Santa Fe Gold in the inaugural Texas Thoroughbred Association Oaks. Dispatched as the 3/5 favorite, Santa Fe Gold easily procured the early advantage and improved her position at each point of call. In the end she was over 8 lengths clear of her competition, proving much the best. A $50,000 purchase at the TTA yearling and horses of racing age sale in 2021, she has now banked over $130,000 for the owner-trainer partnership of Sanders, Hirsch and Calhoun. Bad racing luck had dogged her in a defeat in Kentucky last fall but she is now 2-2 since returning to Texas.
“We weren’t sure about the two turns, but she drew off very impressively,” Calhoun said about the wire-to-wire tour de force. Calhoun mentioned the Valley of the Vapors at Oaklawn on April 22 as a possible next stop for Santa Fe Gold, who earned a 81 Beyer Speed Figure in her victory.
In the final race on the card, Release McCraken benefited from a strong pace setup to win the inaugural Texas Thoroughbred Association Derby. Sent off as the 3rd choice at 4-1 despite morning line favoritism, the son of McCraken waited in the wings just off the taxing early pace before being unleashed at the quarter pole. He eventually drew clear to win by three lengths and gave Calhoun three parts of the superfecta with stablemates Send the Boss and Vietnam Victory checking in second and fourth respectively. Purchased for $125,000 at the TTA 2 year-old in training sale in April 2022, Release McCraken is now 3-6 with wins at Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds and Sam Houston Race Park. Calhoun noted the colt’s professionalism given it was his first start in over 100 days and first around two turns.
“Release McCraken looks, pedigree-wise, more like a miler so we were unsure about the two turns,” he said. “He stretched out and did it well with a less than stellar trip, even with a fast pace.”
Release McCraken is owned by Mansfield Racing, which purchased the two sales toppers at the April 2022 2 year-old-in-training sale at Lone Star Park. The sale topper, Free Drop Maddy, is a stakes winner in Louisiana for Calhoun and Mansfield. He earned a 80 Beyer Speed Figure for his win.
The 2023 Thoroughbred racing season at Sam Houston Race Park continues until Saturday, April 8. The Quarter Horse season will begin on Friday, April 21 and post time every day for that stand will be at 6:15 PM.