Nominations have closed for the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, which will be contested on Saturday, January 25. A record number of fillies and mares representing racing’s top connections from the East and West coast have been in contact with the Sam Houston racing office. The richest Thoroughbred race in Texas is the marquee event of the 2014 live racing season at Sam Houston Race Park, which gets underway on Friday, January 17.
The winner of the inaugural Houston Ladies Classic was Joyful Victory, who set a new track record for the distance of a mile and one-sixteenth under jockey Rosie Napravnik. The striking gray mare continued her stellar year with two graded stakes victories. Trained by Larry Jones for Fox Hill Farm, Joyful Victory earned $1.2 million in her illustrious career and will be equally impressive as a broodmare. She is a finalist for the 43rd Annual Eclipse Awards, in the older female division, which will be announced on Saturday, January 18.
Sam Houston officials are hopeful that another extraordinary champion will be crowned on January 25, and early indications are that this will be a highly competitive field. This year’s event closed with 38 fillies and mares, topping the 20 nominations received in 2013. Some of the most prominent horsemen from both coasts including Mike Maker, Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, Kiaran McLaughlin, Ken McPeek, Michael Matz, Tom Albertrani, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer, Peter Miller and Jeff Bonde, have contenders in mind.
Trainer Mark Casse shipped in Sisterly Love for the 2013 Houston Ladies Classic and the daughter of Bellamy Road ran a respectable third. The Kentucky-bred mare won back-to-back stakes last year at Woodbine and has been training for her 2014 debut at Palm Meadows in Florida.
Don’t Tell Sophia, bred by Stonerside Stable, performed well in stakes company in 2013 with a victory in the Grade 2 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs last November. Phil Sims trains the 6-year-old daughter of Congaree and is also the co-owner with Jerry Namy.
And Why Not is under consideration according to her trainer Michael Matz. The 5-year-old mare ran fourth to Princess of Sylmar in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational last September at Belmont Park. Matz, a distinguished member of the United States Olympic Equestrian Team, is an extremely accomplished Thoroughbred trainer, best known as the conditioner of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Jockey Luis Saez, who celebrated his 1,000th career win milestone on January 11 at Gulfstream Park, would be Matz’s choice to pilot the daughter of Street Cry.
Another possible entrant is Unusual Way, who captured the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks on November 27 for trainer Jeff Bonde. The California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat is closing in on the $600,000 career earnings mark. Rider Edwin Maldonado, who was an apprentice at Sam Houston 10 years ago and is now one of the top jockeys in Southern California, rode Unusual Way at Zia.
Rose to Gold is another top-caliber nominee who will ship in from Florida this week for trainer Sal Santoro. The daughter of Friends Lake won both the Grade 3 Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park, punching her ticket to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks last May at Churchill Downs. Santoro is hopeful that jockey Calvin Borel, who is riding at Oaklawn, will jet in to ride the chestnut filly.
Trainer Larry Jones has always done well at Sam Houston Race Park and is considering the Brereton Jones homebred Same Cross for the Houston Ladies Classic. The 5-year-old mare comes off a victory in a six furlong allowance at Fair Grounds on November 29.
Eclipse Award winning trainer Steve Asmussen has nominated Sister Ginger, a 4-year-old daughter of Student Council owned by Millennium Farms and Littlebrother Farm. Asmussen has run horses annually at Sam Houston Race Park, winning five training titles as well as three leading owner honors.
Fiftyshadesofhay is a multiple-graded stakes winner for Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert. The Pulpit filly won the Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico and had a solid runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes last August at Saratoga. This would be the first time Baffert has run at Sam Houston Race Park.
“We are extremely gratified that so many prominent horsemen have made nominations for the Houston Ladies Classic” said Eric Johnston, Sam Houston Race Park’s vice-president of racing. “Joyful Victory was an amazing champion last year and we look forward to presenting another exceptional evening of racing for our fans here in Houston and across the country.”
The Houston Ladies Classic will benefit the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure®. Since 1982, Komen has led the way in the fight against breast cancer. Sam Houston Race Park will donate $1 for each guest attending the exceptional evening of racing on January 25.
In a partnership announced earlier this month, HRTV, “The Network for Horse Sports” will broadcast a two-hour special beginning at 9:00 pm (CT) from Sam Houston Race Park on January 25th. The special will include live race coverage and special events as part of the stakes-filled card highlighted by the 2nd Annual $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup.
The Houston Ladies Classic will be the first stakes of the inaugural Penn Gaming Racing Challenge. The national program will incorporate over 20 stakes races in 2014 worth over $5.5 million. The stakes will take place at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Sam Houston Race Park, and Zia Park. The Challenge includes tie-ins between groups of races in the series, as well as bonuses and prizes that include free nominations, refund of entry and starter fees, and trips to the PNGI owned M Resort in Las Vegas.