Wrangler Racing Aces Blog

Sam Houston starts it meet with a bang.

Sam Houston starts it meet with a bang.

Exemplary List of Champions Have Graced Sam Houston Race Park
By Martha Claussen

How many racetracks celebrate the opening night of a live racing season with two AQHA world champions on the card? Throw in the recently crowned Blane Schvaneveldt Champion Trainer recipient and you have a pretty amazing trifecta of talent!

Well, that’s what Sam Houston Race Park is serving up on Friday, March 31, as their 24th annual Quarter Horse racing season gets underway. Ted Abrams, Sr.’s homebred Jessies First Down is entered in race seven, one of two trials for the 440-yard Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship (G2).  Then 2014 AQHA world champion JRC Callas First headlines the field in the 550-yard Harris County Stakes. Judd Kearl, who had a phenomenal 2016, topping all Quarter Horse conditioners in both races won and money earned, will saddle seven runners on the opening night card.

None of the three are first-timers at the northwest Houston racetrack, that opened in 1994 and runs a dedicated Thoroughbred meet followed by 24-days of Quarter Horse racing each year.

Jessies First Down has made five starts at Sam Houston since 2015, finishing second in the 2015 and 2016 Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship and winning the $50,000 Sam Houston Classic (G2) last May.  JRC Callas First is another star who has a rich history in Houston, running seven times since 2013, capturing the 2014 Harris County Stakes and last year’s Bank of America Texas Challenge, in gate-to-wire fashion over Jessies First Down.

Kearl won his first Sam Houston leading trainer title in 2006. With his seventh score last year, he tied the late Steve VanBebber, who dominated from 1994-2000. AQHA Chief Racing Officer Janet VanBebber won six training titles in Houston from 2001-2008.

Fans at Sam Houston Race Park have seen some of the most accomplished Quarter Horse legends in the sports’ history. Kool Kue Baby, Tailor Fit, Azoom, Streakin Sin Tacha, Oak Tree Special, Kates Dynasty, Stolis Winner, Brimmerton, Charal Kid and Kiss My Hocks are some of the many Sam Houston Race Park stakes winners that have been voted AQHA champions or honored as part of the elite group of Supreme Racehorses.

The live racing season at Sam Houston Race Park continues Friday, Saturday evenings and Monday afternoons through May 22. There is no doubt that followers of American Quarter Horse racing will see some thrilling races and future champions in the making.

JRC Callas First Returns to Action in the $20,000 Harris County Stakes
by Jennifer Hancock

Sam Houston Race Park opens its Quarter Horse meet March 31 with two stakes and two trials for the 440-yard Bank of America Sam Houston Challenge (G2) on the nine-race card. The 10 fastest qualifiers from the Challenge trials will meet in the April 22, $95,000-added final with the winner receiving the first berth of the year to the Challenge Championships to be held at Prairie Meadows in the fall.

The opening-night features will be the 330-yard, $20,000 Miss Sam Houston Stakes (R) for Texas-bred fillies and mares and the 550-yard, $20,000 Harris County Stakes. We’ll take a closer look at the Harris County Stakes, where 2014 AQHA World Champion JRC Callas First is entered for his first race of 2017.

The American Quarter Horse derives its name from being the fastest horse in the world at the quarter mile, or 440-yard, distance, which is considered the classic distance in sprint racing. We often see Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds competing together at the 870-yard distance, which is just shy of half a mile or four furlongs. At the 550-yard distance, handicappers are often forced to evaluate horses dropping down from racing at the 870-yard distance or stretching out from 440 yards or less. One advantage for horses racing at 550 yards for the first time versus racing at 870 yards for the first time, the 550-yard races are straight and not around a turn. Horses drawing an inside post and racing at 870 yards for the first time might miss making the hook and take out rivals. A fast break is an important element in Quarter Horse racing especially in shorter contests. In longer races, a horse that breaks slowly can overcome that start and still find the winner’s circle.  

#2 Heza Bell Perry is the only horse in the 10-horse field to start a race in 2017, and the 6-year-old won his 2017 debut, a 440-yard allowance at Louisiana Downs in February. This group of runners, which range in age from 4 to 9, gives us plenty of past performance data to analysis, and three of the horses (#6,#7,#8) will be making their first start at this distance.

#9 JRC Callas First jumps off the page as the highest money earner in the race with $619,117 in earnings, but what really catches your attention is the fact that the 7-year-old Winners Award gelding is a perfect 6-for-6 at the 550-yard distance. The world champ likes the Sam Houston surface, too, and has won four of his seven starts at the Houston track. JRC Callas First won two races at Sam Houston in 2016 before he ran into some bad racing luck. His 2016 trip notes are filled with bumps and stumbles, but a five-month layoff should have him back in shape and ready to go.

In October, #3 Corona La Jolla won an allowance race at this distance at Lone Star Park, but what caught my attention is the horse’s trainer, Judd Kearl. Last year, Kearl earned his seventh training title at Sam Houston on his way to a phenomenal year that saw him win major races across the country and earn his first AQHA Champion Trainer title. Corona La Jolla has raced at the 550-yard distance 11 times and has hit the board in seven of those races. At 8-1 in the morning line, Corona La Jolla is definitely worth a look.  

#2 Heza Bell Perry won his 2017 debut by a length at 440-yards. The Heza Fast Dash gelding has only raced twice at this distance, but he finished second in one of those contests. Heza Bell Perry will be making his first start at Sam Houston and has the riding services of Alfonso Lujan.  
#5 If I Were Famous was lightly raced in 2016, but one of his three starts included a victory in the 550 TQHA Stakes at Retama Park. The 7-year-old One Famous Eagle gelding will be making his second start at Sam Houston Race Park.

Jennifer Hancock’s Harris County Stakes Picks:
#9 JRC Callas First
#3 Corona La Jolla
#2 Heza Bell Perry
#5 If I Were Famous

Wrangler Racing Aces in March
Visit the Q-Racing page on Facebook or follow the Aces @Q-Racing on Twitter for timely updates on Quarter Horse racing across North America. The Wrangler Racing Aces are following the horses, jockeys, trainers and milestones at Los Alamitos, Sunland Park, Turf Paradise, Remington Park and Sam Houston Race Park.

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHARacing on Twitter, “like” Q-Racing on Facebook and visit www.aqharacing.com.