News and Notes for January 18, 2019

According to a track press release, nominations have closed for the Grade 3, $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic which will be contested on Sunday, January 27. The mile and one-sixteenth main track feature anchors a rich stakes day on opening weekend of Sam Houston Race Park’s 25th anniversary season. The January 27 card will get underway at 1:00 pm (CT).

The Houston Ladies Classic closed with 33 nominations with considerable buzz on the 2019 debut of Midnight Bisou. Owned by Bloom Racing Stable, LLC, Madaket Stables LLC and Allen Racing, LLC, the daughter of Midnight Lute out of the Repent mare Diva Delight was bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds.

This will mark the start of her 4-year-old campaign and first race since finishing third in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs. She has been training at Fair Grounds under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen. The second-leading trainer by wins in North American Thoroughbred racing, Asmussen is a strong supporter of Texas racing, and has won ten training titles at Sam Houston Race Park. He was inducted into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2017. He and his family reside in Arlington, Texas and his parents Keith and Marilyn operate a breeding and training center in Laredo. Asmussen reports that Midnight Bisou will van to Houston early next week and that Mike Smith will retain the mount and make his first trip to Sam Houston Race Park. Smith is the all-time leading Breeder’s Cup winning jockey and pilot of the legendary Zenyatta and 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify.

Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, has nominated Blamed, a Maryland-bred daughter of Blame. She has won six of her eight starts; most recently taking the Grade 3, Comely at Aqueduct for her owner, Texan Cleber J. Massey.  

Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was formed to serve as the marquee race for Sam Houston’s Thoroughbred meet. Now in its seventh running, the mile and one-sixteenth Houston Ladies Classic anchors The Houston Racing Festival, which also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, the $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint, the $50,000 Houston Turf Stakes, the $50,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes and the $50,000 Stonerside Sprint.

The Houston Ladies Classic was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016.

The Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup to be run at the distance of one and one-half miles, closed with 36 nominations.

Two-time champion Bigger Picture owned by Three Diamonds Farm, is nominated and will attempt to be the second turf specialist in Connally history to win three times. The 8-year-old son of Badge of Silver, bred in Kentucky by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, will make his 38th career start on January 27. His 11 career wins include five graded stakes. He eclipsed the $1 million earnings mark winning last year’s Connally Turf Cup, and has amassed $1,374,135 since making his debut in 2013.

His trainer, Michael Maker, has won six of the last seven editions of the Connally with Papa Bodie in 2012; Admiral Kitten in 2014; Coalport in 2015; Da Big Hoss and the last two years with Bigger Picture.

The Connally Turf Cup was awarded Grade 3 status in 2006 and boasts a solid roster of champions including Chorwon, Fort Prado, Rod and Staff and three-time champion, Candid Glen.

Sam Houston Race Park will honor the late Robert C. McNair in one of the featured stakes on the Houston Racing Festival card. The Sam Houston Sprint Cup has been renamed the Stonerside Sprint in honor of McNair’s Stonerside Stable. The well-respected Thoroughbred operation in central Kentucky produced national and international racing stars, including Congaree, Bob and John, Tout Charmont and Chilukki. McNair sold Stonerside Stable to Darley in 2008 to devote his full attention to his Houston Texans NFL team and numerous philanthropic causes.

Stonerside Stable was also one of the leading breeders in Texas. Their stakes winners included Native Annie, General Charley and Catalissa. McNair’s Texas string was trained by Michael Stidham with John Adger serving as advisor. Adger, who lives in Houston, is a Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) board member, and was a close friend of McNair, who passed away in November.

“Bob was a wonderful person, true gentleman and the greatest boss I ever worked for,” said Adger. “He cared deeply about Texas racing and enjoyed seeing many of his horses win stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. He brought both Valid Expectations and Too Much Bling to stand in Texas. Valid Expectations was the leading Texas sire for the longest time and now Too Much Bling continues to produce top racehorses.”

Claiming horses fill the vast majority of race cards every day, but these hard-workers rarely receive recognition so the Texas Thoroughbred Association created the Texas Champion Claimer Award. The winning horse and his or her connections will be recognized alongside the other 2018 Texas Champions at the TTA Awards Dinner on March 23 at Sam Houston Race Park.

The Texas Champion Claimer Award is for Texas-breds who won at least three claiming races at Texas racetracks and earned at least $25,000 in total for 2018. (Starter allowance, starter handicap and optional claiming races in which the horse was not entered for a claiming price are not considered.) Horses are not selected or nominated to be included in the voting; any horse who meets the criteria above is included.

Voting ends Friday, February 1, at 5 p.m. CST. Only one vote is allowed per person. Multiple votes from the same email address or IP address or through the use of automated methods will be disallowed. Go to to get more information and cast your vote. 

NOTES: Steve Asmussen has early Meydan arrivals Tone Broke and Switzerland. He previously won the Dubai World Cup (G1) with Curlin and Gun Runner…Congrats to the connections of Too Much Bling who was cited by Thoroughbred Daily News as a “living legend” and a great value in a regional sire.