Sam Houston Race Park saluted accredited Texas-breds Saturday, March 20 with seven Texas Champions Day stakes. It was an exceptional renewal of the annual racing event with many compelling story lines. Several undisputed favorites did not disappoint and there were plenty of impressive performances from first-time stakes winners. From the $100,000 Spirit of Texas to the final stakes on the card, the $100,000 Yellow Rose, there were thrills for each of the connections as well as racing fans in Houston and those watching via simulcasting.
Gunnerscelesticman Surprises in the $100,000 Spirit of Texas
The Texas Champions night card kicked off the first of seven stakes with a bit of an upset as Gunnerscelesticman ($14.60) won the $100,000 Spirit of Texas Stakes.
Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez and Gunnerscelesticman sat near the pace before pulling ahead in the stretch and clearing the field of eight by two lengths by the wire. In his previous start, he was second to Direct Dial in the $75,000 H-Town Stakes at Sam Houston last month.
Gunnerscelesticman posted a final time of 1:10.71 for the six-furlong sprint on the main track. The 5-year-old horse is trained by Teofilo Garcia, Jr. and is owned by Layem Down Racing II, who also bred the son of Celestic Night out of Lady Hi Teck, by Hi Teck Man.
“I knew I that he would run well tonight after finishing second to Direct Dial,” said Garcia. “He got the lead tonight; that’s what he likes. He’ll go to Lone Star next.”
Gold Pilot closed from last to get up for second, and Dr. Boehrer finished third. Completing the field were Best Little Man, Shotsoft, Good Judgment, He’s a Suitor and Crosstime.
Direct Dial Continues Winning Ways in $100,000 Star of Texas
February’s $75,000 H-Town Stakes at Sam Houston proved to be a key race ahead of the Texas Champions card; while the runner up, Gunnerscelesticman, won the first stake of the night, the winner, Direct Dial, returned with another stakes win in the second race, the $100,000 Star of Texas Stakes.
A heavy favorite thanks to his multiple stakes wins, Direct Dial ($3.20) rewarded fans with 1 ¼ length win in the one mile contest on the main track. The final time was 1:38.10.
Current meet-leading rider Stewart Elliott returned to ride the 6-year-old horse for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner and breeder W.S. Farish. Sired by Too Much Bling and out of the Mineshaft mare Fast Find, Direct Dial has now won 10 of his 27 career starts and has earned $490,237 to date. The star of the Texas-bred program has won multiple Texas-bred stakes dating back to 2018 and was honored that year as the Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA) Horse of the Year.
“He’s such a cool horse,” said Elliott. ” Nothing bothers him and I was not worried about the mile. I asked him to settle and he did his job. Steve puts me on great horses and makes my job easy.”
Kenai Bob chased Direct Dial to finish second. Trumps Revenge completed the trifecta, followed by Mucho Dinero and Algebra. Gold Pilot was scratched.
Silence d’Oro Earns First Career Stakes Win in the $100,000 Groovy Stakes
Fresh off his three-length maiden-breaking score in February, Silence d’Oro returned to earn his first career stakes victory in the $100,000 Groovy Stakes.
Jose Alvarez led the 3-year-old Silentio colt to a gate-to-wire victory, fending off a late closing move by favorite Bobby Brinkley to win by a length and a half.
Silence d’Oro ($6.40) is trained by Dallas Keen for owner Epona Thoroughbreds LLC, who bred the colt out of Flair for Fashion, by Old Fashioned. He defeated a field of eight other talented Texas-bred 3-year-olds in the six-furlong dirt sprint with a final time of 1:10.99.
“This is the first foal by Silentio, and he was a really nice horse,” said Keen. “I told Joan from day one that this was a stakes horse.”
Texas owner Joan Franklin was rooting for her homebred and overcome with emotion watching Silence d’Oro win his stakes debut.
“This is a horse owner’s dream,come true,” said Franklin. “I was there when he was born on Easter Sunday and loved him immediately. He’s been a sweetheart all along.”
Frank Lucarelli trainee Bobby Brinkley gained ground to finish second and put four lengths between him and third-place finisher Island Sun. Completing the field were Bling’s Bellwether, Lucky Promise, Stone Café, Texas Titan, Dust Em and Brother Robert.
Sunlit Song Overcomes Obstacles to Win $100,000 Richard King Stakes
It appeared that everything was working against Sunlit Song on Saturday night, but nothing could keep the 6-year-old My Golden Song gelding out of the winner’s circle for the $100,000 Richard King Stakes.
Post-time favorite Sunlit Song ($4.20) popped through his gate prior to the start of the race, though jockey Lindey Wade maintained his mount. The pair was able to reload, only to hesitate at the break and spot the field several lengths at the start of the race. In an expert ride, Wade was patient, saved ground and closed swiftly in the stretch despite a slow early pace. The final time for the 1 1/8 mile turf event was 1:51.88.
“He sprung through the gates which was worrisome,” explained Wade. “Then when he left, he stumbled. I had to ask him quicker than normal to get him into position. Maybe he wasn’t quite ready in his last, but he was 100% tonight.”
Sunlit Song has finished in the exacta in his last six starts, including his most recent effort in which he finished a head behind upset winner Moojab Jr in the $75,000 Houston Turf Stakes on February 20. Mindy Willis trains for owners Carolyn R. Barnett and Becky Harding. Barnett also bred Sunlit Song out of Fly So True, a daughter of Barnett’s stakes winning mare Truly Sunlit.
“This horse has been so good to us,” said Willis. ” I was in tears when I saw him stumble because I’ve never had one recover from a start that bad. He’s just so good; in every race, he just gets better!”
Singapore Flash was second in the close finish, and Moojab Jr closed from last to finish third. The remaining order of finish was Valentine Street, Easter Snap, Gottherightonebaby, Redatory and Aryscelestic Man. Men of Kyle was scratched.
Happy Sailor Impressive Winner of the $100,000 Bara Lass Stakes
Happy Sailor made her stakes debut a winning one; the 3-year-old filly won the $100,000 Bara Lass Stakes in style. Iram Diego sat just off the pace before guiding the filly to an impressive six-length win in a field of seven fillies. The pair stopped the clock in 1:11.90 for the six-furlong sprint on the main track.
Happy Sailor ($7.20) is undefeated in three starts as a 3-year-old, all at Sam Houston. She is now three for four lifetime and passed the $100,000 earnings mark with Saturday’s win.
“It was pretty exciting, ” said Jacks. “I want to thank Larry Huntsinger for breeding the filly and Eddie Milligan, Jr. for bragging on her until we bought her. Eddie kept saying she was “neat”. Now I know what neat means!”
The daughter of Midshipman is owned by Larry Huntsinger and trained by Karen Jacks. Diamond W Racing Stable bred the filly in Texas out of Forest Path, by El Corredor.
While there was no catching the winner in the Bara Lass, Ry Eikleberry and Mostly Distorted were up for second place, while Texas Red Bel, who set an early pace with Sophie Doyle, hung on for third. Samborita, Its My Money Too, Wink Texas and Thatsalotofbling rounded out the field of Texas-bred 3-year-old fillies. Lumberjack Leslie was scratched.
Discreet Smile Prevails in Thrilling Edition of the $100,000 San Jacinto Stakes
The six-horse field in the $100,000 San Jacinto Stakes quickly became a two-horse race as Discreet Smile and No Mas Tequila hooked up at the top of the stretch and dueled down to the wire in one of the most exciting races of the Texas Champions card.
In the photo finish, Discreet Smile ($7.60) and Sophie Doyle defeated post-time favorite No Mas Tequila and Leandro Goncalves by a head. The final time for the 1 1/16 miles on the turf was 1:45.66.
“She broke out a little when we left the gate,” said Doyle. “Once she got in stride, she traveled superbly. I looked around and saw we had an easy lead, but the rest was really exciting. I told Larry that she finished like a sprinter! He did an excellent job bringing her back off the layoff.”
Hailing from the barn of Larry Stroope, Discreet Smile was last seen on the racetrack in February of 2020, but the year-long layoff proved to be of no concern for the 5-year-old mare.
Sylvia Baird owns and bred the daughter of Discreet Cat, out of Smiles Golden Song, by My Golden Song.
A gap of four separated the first two finishers from Averys Miss in third, followed by Empressive Reward, Corluna and Veilazig. Ima Discreet Lady and Miss Perfecta were scratched.
Ima Discreet Lady Shows Versatility in the $100,000 Yellow Rose Stakes
In the final feature of the night, Ima Discreet Lady edged out Shes Our Fastest in a photo finish of the $100,000 Yellow Rose Stakes.
Ima Discreet Lady ($4.80) was entered in both the Yellow Rose and the San Jacinto, and trainer Karl Broberg selected the main track sprint for the versatile filly. She faced a field of six Texas-bred fillies and mares on the dirt and posted a final time of 1:10.94 for six furlongs.
Ry Eikleberry had the call on the 5-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat. He was also aboard for her previous start, a four-length victory in the $75,000 Bluebonnet Stakes, a turf mile, last month.
“She’s just a very game filly,” commented Eikleberry. “We knew the #1 had speed; she broke sharp and I just sat off her. I didn’t want to let her get too far in front; it just worked out. She’s just a pleasure to ride and I really appreciate the connections for giving me the opportunity.
The winner of the 2019 Bara Lass Stakes, Ima Discreet Lady has won nine of her 24 career starts and is a multiple stakes winner. She is owned by Raymond Todd White and Duane Coker and was bred by Larry Huntsinger, out of the Too Much Bling mare Ima Three Blinger.
White, who picked her out of the TTA 2-year-old in Training Sale with Broberg, was there for the victory.
“Karl has been a blessing for us,” stated White. “He’s campaigned this filly like no other. Everything he has done with her has been perfect!”
Broberg held off on the decision to run on turf or dirt, but made the call after talking with his owner.
“Karl told me he felt she could have won either stakes,” added White. “He asked me when the last time was we won a turf route stakes and dirt sprint within two weeks of each other with the same horse. I said never, so he said let’s run on the dirt.”
Shes Our Fastest and Stewart Elliott closed quickly to finish second. Boerne, who led early as the post-time favorite, finished third, and Light Up the Devil, Zarelda, Gee She Sparkles and Sardabling completed the field.
The 2021 Sam Houston Race Park Thoroughbred meet will continue through Saturday, April 3.