Defending champion Cassatt and graded stakes winners Forever Unbridled and Cali’s Star lead the field for the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, which will be contested on Saturday, January 30 with a special early post time of 5:00 pm (Central).
The first running of the Houston Ladies Classic in 2013 was formed to serve as the marquee race for Sam Houston Thoroughbred racing season. The mile and one-sixteenth stakes was awarded its graded status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in December, and remains the richest Thoroughbred race in Texas.
This year’s edition of the stakes brings in several new owners, trainers and jockeys. Charles Fipke’s Unbridled Forever was installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite in the seven-horse field. The 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song is trained by Dallas Stewart, who has retained the riding services of one of the top jockeys in North America, Joel Rosario. Stewart has not run at Sam Houston Race Park since shipping in Even The Score for the Grade 3 Connally Turf Cup. He reports that his filly is training well since her last race, the Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct on November 28. She came from off the pace to win that main track effort, which was just her second stakes since competing in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs last year.
“She’s training very well,” said Stewart. “She’s always been an honest filly and we got two good works in her this week. We look forward to Saturday and are pleased we were able to get Joel; he’s a pretty great rider.”
Defending champion Cassatt, a 5-year-old Tapit mare owned by Fox Hill Farms, Inc. and Hill ‘N Dale Farm, is the second choice at 4-1. She is trained by Larry Jones, who won the inaugural Houston Ladies Classic with Joyful Victory.
Cassatt won the $100,000 She’s All In Stakes at Remington Park on December 13 in front-running fashion, and has posted four solid works at Fair Grounds.
“She is finally settling down, and acts like she might be sitting on a good year” said Jones. “Joyful Victory was her best as a 5-year-old, and this mare, also by Tapit, seems like she is following a similar path.”
Jones has also secured a very sought-after rider, Florent Geroux, who won the Arlington Million last summer and two Breeders’ Cup stakes last November at Keeneland. Born in France, Geroux, has been riding in the United States since 2007, is currently one of the leading riders at Fair Grounds and will make his Sam Houston debut on Saturday. He has not ridden Cassatt in a stakes, but has worked her in New Orleans.
“She is a very nice mare,” said Geroux. “She has been working very well and I am looking forward to riding the defending champion for Larry.”
Trainer Mark Casse will ship in The Ogony, a 6-year-old daughter of Curlin owned by Conrad Farms. Casse began training her after her 3-year-old campaign and had to nurse her back off shin issues. His patience paid off as she really came into her own as a 5-year-old with a solid finish in the Grade 2 Fall City Handicap at Churchill Downs.
“She did a lot of her running on synthetic, but we decided to give her a try on the dirt,” explained Casse. “We were very pleased with her effort in the Fall City. Her Pippin (at Oaklawn) was very good as well; she was hung wide on both turn, but still ran second.”
Joe Bravo will ride The Ogony, as well as Connally Turf Cup probable favorite, Kaigun.
Cali Star, a 5-year-old Street Cry mare who won the Grade 3 Rampart at Gulfstream Park, will be shipped from Florida by trainer Martin Wolfson. She will be making her 19th lifetime start for owners Ben Walden and Larry Taylor. Her jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, was honored with the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey.
“She’s on her way,” said co-owner Walden. “We give all the credit to Marty for developing our filly into a real, legitimate stakes winner. She’s a sound, magnificent looking filly and we are very happy Tyler will make the trip to Houston to ride.”
The field also includes Diva’s Diamond, a 7-year-old multiple-stakes winner owned by Jerry Namy and trained by Karl Broberg. She has bankrolled $739,608 in her career, winning 11 races and ran in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland. Broberg tabbed veteran rider Patrick Valenzuela to pilot the Illinois-bred daughter of Crafty Shaw. Valenzuela rode A M Milky Way to victory for Broberg in the $50,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes.
The complete field, in post position order, with riders is: Unbridled Forever, Joel Rosario; Rose To Glory, Lindey Wade; Cassatt,. Florent Geroux; Diva’s Diamond, Patrick Valenzuela; The Ogony, Joe Bravo; Cali Star, Tyler Gaffalione and Welcome Aboard, DeShawn Parker.
The first of the four stakes, the $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint, ,will run as race 6, followed by the $50,000 Space City Stakes, the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup and the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic. There will be a $100,000 Guaranteed All Stakes Pick 4 on the four featured events and once again, Sam Houston Race Park is proud to announce that proceeds from the Houston Racing Festival will benefit the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen foundation.