Nominations have closed for the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic which will be contested on Sunday, January 29. The mile and one-sixteenth stakes was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 2016, and remains the richest Thoroughbred race in Texas.
Inaugurated in 2013, the Houston Ladies Classic was formed to serve as the marquee race for Sam Houston's meet, which opened Friday, January 20th. Now in its fifth running, the Houston Ladies Classic will anchor The Houston Racing Festival, which also includes the Grade 3, $250,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, the $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint, the $50,000 Houston Distaff and the $50,000 Space City Stakes. The January 29 card will get underway at a new post time of 12:00 pm (CT).
Sam Houston Race Park officials have spoken to many nationally prominent horsemen including Todd Pletcher, Larry Jones, Steve Asmussen, Wayne Catalano, Tom Amoss, and Richard Mandella. The stakes closed with 25 nominations.
Jones has nominated I'm a Chatterbox, a 5-year-old daughter of Munnings, bred and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher Gray. She broke her maiden at Keeneland on October 15, 2014, and boasts three Grade 1 wins and over $2.2 million in earnings in 17 career starts. The Houston Ladies Classic will be her first start since the Grade 1, $2 million Longines Breeder's Cup Distaff last November at Santa Anita. Jones has been pointing I'm a Chatterbox to this stakes since she resumed training at Fair Grounds in December. Her works have garnered attention and rising star Florent Geroux, who won his 1,000th career race last month at Fair Grounds, is expected to pilot the chestnut mare.
Jones has won two editions of the Houston Ladies Classic, first with Joyful Victory in its inaugural running in 2013, and then with Cassatt in 2015. Both were bred and owned by Fox Hill Farms, Inc. Last year's champion, Charles Fipke's Forever Unbridled won two Grade 1 stakes, the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and the Beldame at Belmont Park, before finishing third behind Beholder and Songbird in the Breeder's Cup Distaff.
Family Tree, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly owned by Gary and Mary West and trained by Wayne Catalano is another classy nominee. She exits a dominating victory in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks on November 23, a race that is also part of the Penn Gaming Racing Challenge. The Kentucky-bred filly ran third in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga and notched graded stakes wins at Indiana Grand and Prairie Meadows.
Eclipse Award winning conditioner Todd Pletcher has nominated Grade 3, Rampart winner Starladies Racing's Eskenformoney and Unbridled Mo, owned by Red Oak Stable. She is sired by Uncle Mo and had her five-race win streak snapped last November in the Grade 3, $250,000 Comely at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old filly has been training forwardly in Florida, posting an impressive four furlong work in :48.60, fastest of 25 trainees, at Palm Beach Downs two weeks ago.
Maggi Moss' Big World captured the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies at Fair Grounds on December 10. Trained by Tom Amoss, the 4-year-old daughter of Custom for Carlos has won four of her eight starts with $318,600 in earnings.
The Grade 3, $250,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup, closed with 49 nominations, and will be run at the distance of one and one-half miles for the second year in a row. 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 Candid Glen. Trainer Michael Maker has won four of the last five editions of the Connally with Papa Bodie in 2012; Admiral Kitten in 2014; Coalport in 2015 and last year's running with Skychai Racing LLC's Da Big Hoss. The defending champion is one of Maker's nine turf specialists nominated for the 2017 stakes. Flamboyant (GB), a multiple-graded stakes winner from the barn of Paddy Gallagher, is also under consideration for the Connally.
The draw for the Houston Racing Festival stakes will take place on Monday, January 23. Sam Houston Race Park is pleased to announce that $1 for each paid admission on January 29 will benefit the American Heart Association (AHA).
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