One of Two Graded Stakes Set for the Houston Racing Festival on Sunday, January 30

(From SHRP press release)

HOUSTON, TX- The Houston Racing Festival will take place on Sunday, January 30 with a special afternoon post time of 1:45 pm (CT). The event includes six stakes, highlighted by the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic. The second graded stakes feature, the G3$200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, attracted an overflow field of 14 turf specialists.

Trainer Mike Maker has won seven of the past ten editions of the mile and one-half  stakes which is run on the Connally Turf Course, named for the late Texas Governor John B. Connally. The esteemed conditioner will saddle three entrants, with a fourth possibility if Shady McGee draws in from the also-eligible list.

Trainer Mike Maker — Coady Photography

Maker’s runners this year will include 2021 Connally runner-up, Ajourneytofreedom, who drew post position 11 at odds of 7-2.  Owned by  Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher, the 5-year-old son of Hard Spun, will be making his 23rd career start. The bay gelding exits the H. Allen Jerkens, a 2-mile feature at Gulfstream Park on December 24. Nationally prominent rider Joel Rosario, who was aboard in the Grade 2, Jockey Gold Cup last June at Belmont Park, has the call.

“He’s a deep closer, so the post is really not an issue, said Maker. “This horse always runs a strong race and I have faith that Joel will figure it out.”

Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher also own Malthael,  who ran sixth in the H. Allen Jerkens. Claimed by Paradise Farms for a $35,000 in June at Belmont Park,  he will break from post seven under up and coming young rider Reylu Gutierrez. The gelded son of Nobel Mission impressed Maker in his allowance victory at Keeneland last October.

“He ran a great race going a mile and a half at Keeneland,” said Maker. “I’m happy to give the mount to Reylu; he won a stakes for me at Finger Lakes (Blue Gator in the 2020 New York Breeders’ Futurity). He’s riding very well lately.”

Tide of the Sea, a 6-year-old son of English Channel, was given a freshening by Maker following his tenth-place finish in the Grade 2, Red Smith at Aqueduct on November 20. Tyler Gafflione will ride the impeccably bred turf runner who has banked $453,253 in 19 previous efforts. Tide of the Seas is owned by Three Diamonds Farm, who won three editions of the Connally with Bigger Picture.

“We gave him a break after Aqueduct,” said Maker of Tide of the Sea. “He’s been training well.”

Maker’s past Connally winners include Papa Bodie in 2012; Admiral Kitten in 2014; Coalport in 2015; Da Big Hoss in 2016 and a three-peat by Three Diamonds Farm’s Bigger Picture who captured the 2017-2019 editions of the turf stakes. For the past two years, Maker’s runners finished second to Dot Matrix in 2020 and Spooky Channel last year. With multiple entrants each year in the Connally, rounding out the exotics is not what Maker is aiming for on Sunday.

“I love coming over to Houston and winning the Connally is something I look forward to each year,” acknowledged Maker. “It will be a busy weekend, but I’m planning on winning the Pegasus and flying to Texas to get my winning streak back on track on Sunday!”

Maker’s trio will have some very stiff competition from a number of quality turf runners including Fantasioso. Co-owned by Jeff Bloom and Ignacio Correas, IV, the 7-year-old Argentinian bred gelding, has won five of his 31 starts, and will make his Sam Houston debut off a third-place finish to Ajourneytofreedom in the aforementioned Allen Jerkins at Gulfstream Park.  James Graham will pilot Fantasioso from post position six at morning line odds of 9-2.

“He’s a seasoned veteran,” said Bloom, who purchased the son of Strategic Prince with Correas last year. “We have been looking at the Connally for some time as he’s run twice at two miles, but we believe this distance will suit him. James rides a lot for Ignacio and is one of the more capable turf riders on the circuit.”

Team Block, who won the 2006 Connally with Fort Prado, returns to Houston with Another Mystery Trained by Chris Block, the Illinois-bred son of Temple City  ran sixth in the 2020 edition of this turf handicap. Jareth Loveberry will ride the 6-year-old, who captured the Bob F. Wright Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds in November.

“In the 2020 Connally, he was coming off just ten days rest, but still ran a good race,” said Block. “This is his best distance and a good to firm turf course on Sunday would be ideal. He will face a very competitive field this year but I am looking for a big effort from him.”

Trainer Joe Sharp  will send in Logical Myth, a multiple-stakes winner for owner JPS Racing as well as Hierarchy, who surpassed the $400,000 earnings mark for Texas owner Carl Moore Management, LLC. 

The John B. Connally Turf was awarded Grade 3 status in 2006 and boasts a solid roster of past winners including Chorwon, Warleigh, Fort Prado, Rod and Staff,  Swift Warrior  as well as three-time champions, Candid Glen and Bigger Picture

The Connally Turf Cup will be run as race eight, with an approximate post time of  5:23 pm (CT).The field, from the rail, with riders and morning-line odds:Conviction Trade, Lane Luzzi, 20-1; Hierarchy, Corey Lanerie, 5-1; Tide of the Sea, Tyler Gafflione, 10-1; Strong Tide, Giovanni Franco, 10-1; Decision Maker, Marcelino Pedroza, Jr., 12-1; Fantasioso, James Graham, 9-2; Malthael, Reylu Gutierrez, 12-1; Logical Myth, Adam Beschizza, 6-1; Another Mystery, Jareth Loveberry, 8-1; Dyn O Mite, Stewart Elliott, 20-1; Ajourneytofreedom, Joel Rosario, 7-2; Parrot Head, Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez, , 30-1; Shady McGee (IRE), Richard Eramia ,30-1 and Celerity, Iram Diego, 50-1.

As previously announced, the tenth renewal of the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic will run as the seventh race on the Houston Racing Festival Card. The field of seven, from the rail, with riders and morning line odds, is as follows: Velvet Crush, Ry Eikleberry, 8-1); Audrey’s Time, Corey Lanerie, 7-2; Pauline’s Pearl, Joel Rosario, 6-5; Becca’s Rocket, Adam Beschizza, 10-1; Champagne Affair, Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez, 30-1; Golden Curl, Tyler Gafflione, 20-1, and The Mary Rose, Reylu Gutierrez 3-1.

In addition to the two graded stakes on the Houston Racing Festival card, Sam Houston Race Park will present the following features. An additional press release will be forthcoming.

$200,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile- 3YO -1 Mile (T) 

$100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint – 4&up – 5 Furlongs (T) 

$75,000 Jersey Lilly Turf – 4&up F&M – 1 1/16 Mile (T) 

$75,000 Stonerside Sprint – 4&up – 6 Furlongs 

“We are proud of our Houston Racing Festival, which continues to attract top connections and offer an exceptional afternoon of quality racing,” said Frank Hopf, Sam Houston Race Park’s Assistant General Manager. “Our thanks go out to our horsemen for marking our marquee day on their calendar, as well as our tremendous racing fans who support our entire meet with great enthusiasm.”

About Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park is Houston’s premier racing and entertainment facility, located just 15 miles from downtown Houston. Owned by Penn National Gaming. Inc., the racetrack, which opened in 1994, offers a variety of attractions including a Suite Level featuring luxurious suites overlooking the racetrack, The Pavilion Centre, and award-winning dining options at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant and theJockey Club.  For more information on upcoming live racing, shows, events and tickets, please