From a Daily Racing Form article by Mary Rampellini:

The eyes of racing will be upon Sam Houston Race Park on Friday night, when the track launches the first meet in Texas since the passage of legislation that provides for a significant increase to purses.

Officials with the Houston track are projecting purses during the 39-date season will average $240,000 a program, up from $140,000 a card in 2019. Sam Houston has added seven race dates to its meet, which runs through March 28.

“This is the largest structure we’ve had in at least 15 years,” said Frank Hopf, senior director of racing operations for Sam Houston.

“It’s very exciting to be given the opportunity to be the start of something that we hope will be long lasting in Texas. Certainly, we’re putting in every effort to make it successful not only for 2020, but the years to come.”

Texas passed a law in 2019 calling for a portion of existing taxes on specified horse products and services to be placed in an escrow account that will be capped at $25 million a year. The funds, which began accruing Sept. 1, are tabbed for the betterment of the state’s breeding and racing industry. A large percentage can be used for purses at the state’s tracks, which are not allowed to conduct off-track betting or casino gaming like some neighboring jurisdictions.

Sam Houston has been able to increase purses for maiden special weight races to $36,000 from last year’s $20,000, while allowance races will start at $37,000 versus last year’s $21,000. Hopf said purses for some claiming races have been increased by as much as 80 percent. A $5,000 claiming race that last year was worth $6,250 now has a purse of $11,500.

The increases extend to the track’s $1.75 million stakes calendar, which starts Jan. 26 with a program of six stakes led by the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup. The new $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds will be introduced on the same Houston Racing Festival card, which boasts stakes purses of $950,000.

“I think the goal after last season was to bring back a 3-year-old race onto the stakes schedule,” Hopf said. “Internally, we wanted to focus on what we’re known best for and that’s the turf course.”

Sam Houston increased the purses of the other three stakes on the card by $25,000 each. Hopf said entries for the Houston Racing Festival will be taken Jan. 19. There will be a special 1 p.m. Central post for the program, which is the lone Sunday card of the Sam Houston meet.

The track will race every Wednesday at 12 p.m. and every Friday and Saturday night at 6:45 p.m. Tuesdays will be added March 10, with a noon post.

Sam Houston’s other major stakes card is March 21, when seven stakes – each boosted from $50,000 to $75,000 – will make up the annual Texas Champions Day.

Hopf said Sam Houston’s wagering menu will again feature a 12 percent takeout on all multi-race wagers. He said the Houston High 5 – which runs on both the fifth and last race of each card – has been converted to a jackpot wager. Hopf said the bet that has a 20-cent minimum and a 12 percent takeout will feature a 75 percent major pool and a 25 percent carryover pool, just like the track’s pick six jackpot, the Space City.

Sam Houston’s races will be broadcast in high definition this meet, said Hopf.

The A-B-C’s of the Texas training ranks – Steve Asmussen, Karl Broberg, and Bret Calhoun – will have divisions at the meet, as will fellow staples Danny Pish and Mindy Willis. The increased purse structure also has lured some new outfits: J.R. Caldwell, Robertino Diodoro, Scott Gelner, Ron Moquett, Mac Robertson, Greg Tracy, and Scott Young. The riding colony includes David Cabrera, Iram Diego, Quincy Hamilton, Lane Luzzi, Deshawn Parker, Sasha Risenhoover, and Lindey Wade.

James Leatherman is the new racing secretary, while also continuing in the same role at Retama Park near San Antonio. Chris Griffin, who came on board as Sam Houston’s announcer in 2018, added the role of marketing manager in November, said Hopf.

Griffin will be calling 10 races opening night. The average field size is 10.8 horses in what is a Texas-sized start to a new era of racing in the Lone Star State.

Come out and support Texas racing!

The Texas Thoroughbred Association is offering the TEXAS TRIFECTA, which provides three years of membership for the price of two. That means a three-year traditional individual membership is just $120 (save $60) and joint memberships (for couples and business partners) and family memberships (parent[s] and children under 18) are just $200 (save $100).

Plus, the TTA will donate $20 in your name to one of the following Thoroughbred aftercare organizations: LOPE Texas, Remember Me Rescue or The Paddock Foundation. This promotion is good for new members and renewals, even if your membership is not yet expired. This promotion ends June 30, 2020, and one lucky new or renewing member will be drawn at random to win a lifetime TTA membership valued at $2,000.

To take advantage of this special discount, call the TTA office at (512) 458-6133 or go here to download a membership form or pay online – .

Tonight at Delta Downs, Scott Gelner will saddle multiple stakes winner Shes Our Fastest (Oratory – Dawali) for the $65,000 Orleans Stakes for owners Mark Norman and Norman Stables LLC (Robert A. Norman).  Bred by Eureka Thoroughbred Farm, the 5-year-old mare finished second in the $100,000 Treasure Chest Stakes here on November 15th and has a career record of 22-7-6-4 with $272,810 in earnings.  She has odds of 7/2.

On Saturday, stakes placed Nova Boy (Boys at Tosconova – Jealous Forum) runs in the $35,000 Mint Mission Overnight Stakes at Charles Town.  The 5-year old gelding was bred by Wes Melcher and now runs for Armonte Craig. He won his last out here on November 29th.

Online bidding for the TTA Stallion Season Auction has closed, and you now have the opportunity to secure a breeding to some very nice stallions for an excellent price. Check out the list of stallions at Any that are not marked as “Sold” are available for purchase at the minimum stated bid on a first come, first served basis. Contact Mary Ruyle in the TTA office at 512.458.6133 to purchase.