Cowgirl N Up * Photo by Coady Photography

Two defending champions will be in action at Sam Houston Race Park this Friday when live racing returns for the annual Thoroughbred meeting.

Friday’s opening ten-race card will be highlighted by three Texas Champions Weekend stakes: the$50,000 Yellow Rose for older fillies and mares; the $50,000 Bara Lass for 3-year-old fillies and the50,000 San Jacinto Stakes with fillies and mares competing on theConnally Turf Course.

Saturday’s Texas Champions Weekend stakes will include the $50,000 Groovy Stakes, $50,000 Richard King Stakes, $50,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes and the $50,000 Star of Texas Stakes.

Cowgirl N Up to Defend her Title in the $50,000 Yellow Rose Stakes
Defending champion Cowgirl N Up leads the field of eight fillies and mares in the six furlong$50,000 Yellow Rose Stakes.

Last year, Cowgirl N Up returned to action off a seven-month layoff, and drew off impressively for the win under regular rider Larry Taylor. Owned and trained by Caroline Dodwell, the 5-year-old daughter of My Golden Song has always fared well on Texas Champions Weekend; in 2012, she was victorious in the $50,000 Bara Lass.

She drew the rail and will face her stiffest test from stakes winners Platinum Song andTastefullyxcessive. Platinum Song captured the 2013 Bara Lass for owner Scott Brown and prepped for the Yellow Rose with a win last month at Fair Grounds. Trainer Danny Pish has given the mount to Roman Chapa.

“She ran hard for 18 months, so we gave her some time off after Lone Star,” said Pish of Platinum Song. “She has matured nicely and ran well in her second start back (Fair Grounds on December 23). That set her up nicely for this stakes.”

The Yellow Rose will run as the seventh race on the card with an approximate post time of 9:36 p.m. (CT). The field, from the rail, with riders: Cowgirl N Up, Larry Taylor; Expect Royalty,Gerardo Mora; Nurse Goodnight, Bryan McNeil; Lasting Bubbles, Fabio Arguello; My Golden Belle, Jeremy Collier; Platinum Song, Roman Chapa; Tastefullyxcessive, Eddie Martin, Jr. and Catchalooneybird, Ivan Arellano.

$50,000 Bara Lass Stakes
A competitive field of 11 will go postward in Friday’s eighth race, the $50,000 Bara Lass for 3-year-old fillies at a distance of six furlongs.

Trainer Jack Bruner has entered Forever Since, the winner of the $75,000 Texas Stallion Stakes last month at Retama Park. Owned and bred by Tom Durant, the daughter of Supreme Cat broke her maiden at Zia Park on September 14 and became a stakes winner on December 7 at Retama Park.

Gerardo Mora, who was the leading rider at Sam Houston last year, retains the mount and will break from post position eight. Trainer Bret Calhoun will send out Scooter’s Choice, owned byWayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch; Ed Few’s Discreet Girl and Clarence Scharbaurer’shomebred Coyote Queen.

Pish has an intriguing filly, Swifterthantaylor, who will make her stakes debut following her eight-length maiden victory one month ago at Retama Park. Larry Taylor has the return call for owner John Silverthorne Ranch Inc. Track announcer Tom Harris should enjoy the play on words of Taylor on Swifterthantaylor during his race call.

Pish is pleased with the jockeys who will ride this meet at Sam Houston Race Park, and will tap the talents of Taylor, Mora, Chapa, Lindey Wade and veteran Deshawn Parker, who is riding in Houston for the first time in his career.

“Larry worked the filly at Retama and fits her well,” said Pish. “There is a lot of depth in the Sam Houston jockey colony this year; a very quality group of riders.

The field for the Bara Lass, from the rail out is: Discreet Girl, Deshawn Parker; Bakken Baby, Junior Chacalatana; Scooter’s Choice, Lindey Wade; Miss P V Bailey, Jose Medina; Way Too Naughty, Roman Chapa; Seneca Destiny, Bryan McNeil; Forever Since, Gerardo Mora;Anatery, Justin Shepherd; Coyote Queen, Eddie Martin, Jr. and Thegirlinthatsong, Glen Murphy.

Vilao Seeks Back-to Back Wins in the $50,000 San Jacinto Stakes
Fillies and mares will take to the Connally Turf Course for the mile and one-sixteenth San Jacinto Stakes. Last year Vilao, owned by Rugged Cross Racing, closed with authority under jockeyRamon Luna to draw off to a three-length victory.

It was the first stakes for her trainer, Rebecca Baker, who reports that despite an 11-month, layoff, Vilao is training well for the defense of her title on Friday evening.

“She battled colic last February, so we took her back to Ohio and gave her the summer off,” said Baker. “We were pleased that she put on some weight and looked ready to resume training.”

That took a little longer than Baker expected due to the winter storms which delayed their arrival in Houston. But the 5-year-old mare has made up for lost time and is expected to give a good account of herself in the San Jacinto.

“She loves Sam Houston; broke her maiden here and had a good work Monday from the gate,” added Baker. “I love her draw (post position 7) and expect her to run a big race.”

Green Briar Kitty with Ivan Arellano in the irons drew the rail, followed by Ataka’s Special, Iram Diego; Shezararebird, Roman Chapa; Mescaleress, Jeremy Collier; Elegant Gamble, Lindey Wade; Patty’s Pride, Gerardo Mora; Vilao, Ramon Luna; Smiles Golden Song, David Cabrera; Royal Cha Cha, Junior Chacalatana; Triplemental, Glen Murphy and Sera’s Tunnel,Rohan Singh.

Veteran Jockey Bobby Walker, Jr. Takes on New Role as Agent
Bobby Walker, Jr. 
has ridden the Texas and Louisiana circuit for over three decades. He retired several months ago citing a chronic hip injury, which will necessitate hip replacement in the future.

The 53-year-old Louisiana native will remain in the industry as he switches gears to the role of jockey agent for Justin Shepherd and Fabio Arguello.

When he was mulling the idea of becoming an agent, he made a trip to Remington Park to confer with agents Shawn Bergquist and Monty Penny. He also called Scott Hare for input.

“All of those guys represented me at some point of my career,” said Walker. “They gave me their usual amount of grief, but overall, were very helpful!”

Walker was more of a race rider toward the latter part of his career and rarely worked horses in the morning. However, now walking the barns in the early hours is essential to drum up business for his riders.

“It used to be that if I was here at 5:00 am, I was still up from the night before,” admitted Walker with a grin. “Now I am here every morning.”

His riders, Shepherd and Arguello have three mounts each for opening night.

Excitement Building for the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic
Sam Houston Race Park officials are looking forward to a stellar night of racing on Saturday, January 25. The $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, the richest Thoroughbred race in Texas will anchor an exceptional card, which will also include three additional stakes: the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup, the $75,000 Champion Energy Services Stakes, and the$50,000 Allen’s Landing Stakes. The marquee racing event will be broadcast on HRTV, “The Network for Horse Sports” and FOX Sports Southwest.

Advance wagering for the January 25 card will be offered on Friday, January 24 and Sam Houston will donate $1 for each patron to benefit the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen®.

Opening Day Promotions
On Friday, the kick off to Texas Champions Weekend, Sam Houston Race Park is celebrating Military Appreciation Night, with Free Admission for Military with Military ID.  It will also be the first of the ongoing promotion, entitled 50 Cent Beer Fridays featuring 50 Cent Draft Beer and $1.50 Wine Specials every Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Post Time for the 2014 Thoroughbred Meet
Live racing will run four days a week throughout the Sam Houston Race Park Thoroughbred meeting, which runs from January 17 – March 11. Post times are Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (7 p.m.), Monday (1 p.m.) and Tuesday (1 p.m.).