09/10/2003 12:00AM

Connally pushed back to April; one of 37 stakes


Sam Houston Race Park in Houston has moved the date of one of its top races, the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf, from February to April next year in one of several changes to a $2.1 million stakes schedule, which was released Wednesday.

In all, 37 stakes are planned for the track's upcoming Thoroughbred meet, which will run 93 days from Oct. 23 to April 10. Daily purses during the meet will average $110,000.

The Connally, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up, is typically run at the end of February. But this season, the race will be held on the final night of the meet, April 10. The reason for the move was two-fold, according to Eric Johnston, racing secretary at Sam Houston.

He said the new date eliminates conflict with the popular Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in February, and gives the race a chance to draw horses exiting the Mervin Muniz, formerly the Explosive Bid Handicap, at Fair Grounds.

There will be two other turf stakes run the same day that annually share a program with the Connally: the $50,000 Jersey Lilly and the $50,000 Sam Houston Turf Sprint Cup.

In other changes, the date of Texas Champions Day has been moved up from early December to Nov. 15. The program will include nine stakes worth $650,000. All but the $150,000 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile are restricted to horses bred in Texas.

The $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup for older horses on Jan. 17 will have a stronger supporting card next year that will include two stakes: the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap and the $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff. The program was beefed-up because Sam Houston will also be hosting the Texas Thoroughbred Association's annual meeting and awards banquet Jan. 17.