01/15/2014 3:57PM

Sam Houston: Eric Reed, Deshawn Parker among new faces at meet


Sam Houston Race Park in Houston opens a 32-date meet Friday night with its most important races on the immediate horizon, some notable new jockeys and stables, a revamped racing schedule, and a mobile wagering app that caters to patrons when they are ontrack. The season will run through March 11.

Sam Houston will fire its biggest stakes shots Jan. 25, when the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic and the Grade  3, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup anchor a program of four stakes worth $725,000 in total. The card is Texas’s richest for Thoroughbreds.

In all, Sam Houston has 20 stakes worth a cumulative $1.7  million in a program that had a makeover last year with the introduction of the Houston Ladies Classic, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares won by eventual Eclipse Award finalist Joyful Victory.

“The stakes program gives us something really marketable to talk about, and that helps the whole meet,” said Andrea Young, president of Sam Houston.

Young said nominations for the Houston Ladies Classic doubled from last year’s inaugural running, with 18 names in the hat this year. The early list of possibles includes And Why Not, Rose to Gold, and Unusual Way, according to Sam Houston’s vice president of racing, Eric Johnston.

“I truly expect a nine- to 10-horse field,” he said.

Both the Houston Ladies Classic and Connally are part of the inaugural Penn National Gaming Racing Challenge, an incentive program that links stakes at Penn-owned tracks. Penn is a co-owner of Sam Houston. The Houston Ladies Classic and Connally are scheduled to be broadcast on HRTV and Fox Sports Southwest.

Purses this meet are projected to average about $165,000 a program, the same as 2013. Sam Houston received requests for about 1,600 stalls, up about 5 percent from the corresponding meet a year ago, Johnston said. The track can house 1,134 horses.

“The most notable difference is the quality of the [stall] applications,” he said. “It’s just great quality.”

Eric Reed is one of the new trainers on hand, with a large division of runners. Allen Milligan, who has won training titles at Oaklawn and Lone Star Park, is back with a division after a four- to five-year absence, Johnston said.

Jockey Deshawn Parker, a winner of more than 4,400 races, is new to Sam Houston. Parker is best known for dominating the rider standings at Mountaineer Park, the West Virginia track that begins its 2014 season in March.

Parker is part of a riding colony that includes defending champ Gerardo Mora, Roman Chapa, Glen Murphy, and Lindey Wade. Bobby Walker Jr., now retired from race-riding, will represent jockeys Justin Shepherd and Fabio Arguello Jr.

Sam Houston will race four days a week – Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. The track dropped Sundays for the new meet and added Tuesdays with the hope that Tuesday afternoons will be as successful for the track as Mondays have been, Young said.

Sam Houston’s new wagering app allows patrons to place wagers while ontrack. It has several useful features, like a map of the facility and racing messages, if the user chooses to receive them, Young said.

Friday night’s card features the first half of the annual Texas Champions Weekend, and there are three stakes for female runners bred in the state. Saturday night’s card features four stakes for Texas-bred males. The seven stakes are worth $50,000 each.

Discreet Girl will break from the rail under Parker in the Bara Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs. She is one of three starters in the field for trainer Bret Calhoun, who also will send out Scooter’s Choice under Wade and Coyote Queen under Eddie Martin Jr.

The Friday stakes action starts with the Yellow Rose, a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares that drew such stakes winners as Lasting Bubbles, Cowgirl N Up, Platinum Song, and Tastefullyxcessive. The night’s other stakes is the San Jacinto, which drew 11.