01/16/2013 4:59PM

Sam Houston: New $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic highlight of meet

Reed Palmer Photography
Joy’s Paradise is back to defend her title in the $50,000 Yellow Rose

Sam Houston Race Park opens Friday night with a number of changes to its racing program, led by the creation of the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic. The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on Jan. 26 will be the richest Thoroughbred stakes run during the past year in Texas, and it will share a card with the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup.

Sam Houston will race 33 dates through March 17, and during that period there will be 21 stakes worth $1.7 million. The track has also reduced takeout on some of its wagers, has made changes to post times, and is introducing a new mobile wagering application.

The Houston Ladies Classic will be the richest race ever run at Sam Houston.

“We looked at the national calendar and we found an opportunity, we think, for this type race, a need for this type of race in the first quarter,” said Sam Houston’s president, Andrea Young. “Anything we do we want to bring national attention to Sam Houston, in the fourth largest market in the country, and this race is an important anchor to our program.”

Young said Sam Houston officials spent time at the Breeders’ Cup recruiting horses for the Houston Ladies Classic. She said an increase in handle the past few years, coupled with the move to a shorter meet in 2010, have allowed for the creation of the race, which will be broadcast on HRTV and Fox Sports Southwest.

The Houston Ladies Classic will be run on a night card, with Sam Houston’s new Saturday night post of 6 p.m. Central. In the past, first post on Saturdays had been 7 p.m. Sam Houston has also switched to Sunday afternoon racing this meet, moving post up from 5 p.m. to 1 p.m.

“I think it’s a better fit,” Young said of running Sunday afternoons. “There’s less crowds on Sunday nights both ontrack and offtrack. Getting people in a market like Houston out on Sunday night is very difficult. They’re focused on the upcoming work week.”

Sam Houston’s new mobile wagering app will enable ontrack fans to bet live and simulcast races from their smartphones.

“We’re the first in Texas to do it, and really, there are only a small number of tracks nationally that have made that investment,” said Young. “We have a young audience that comes out to Sam Houston, and we’re trying to [serve] that audience. They’re a generation of multi-taskers.”

In another significant move made for racing fans, takeout on all multi-race wagers has been reduced to 12 percent. This includes pick fours, as well as rolling daily doubles that will now be offered on all races. Sam Houston has also added a carryover pool for its pick five in the event there are no winning 5-of-5 tickets.

Purses this meet will average $165,000 a day, about the same as last season, said Young. Sam Houston’s stakes program, which was worth $1.1 million last year, begins Friday night with three Texas-bred stakes for fillies or mares as part of Texas Champions Weekend.

Esscalator, fresh off a win in the $75,000 fillies division of the Texas Stallion Stakes, leads the $50,000 Bara Lass; Patty’s Pride will be out to turn the tables on Smiles Golden Song in the $50,000 San Jacinto; and Joy’s Paradise is back to defend her title in the $50,000 Yellow Rose. Saturday night, Coyote Legend returns in the $100,000 Star of Texas, while Skip a Smile, anther top older statebred, leads the $50,000 Richard King.

Other highlights of the stakes schedule include the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, a 1 1/8-mile race for 4-year-olds and up on March 2. It will share a card with three other stakes, including the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Cup.

Karl Broberg, who won last year’s title at Sam Houston, is back for the new season, as is Glen Murphy, the defending riding champ. Hal Wiggins, the retired trainer who won the Kentucky Oaks with Rachel Alexandra, will be an agent this meet for jockey Paul Nolan. Wiggins lives in Houston.

First post Friday night is 7 p.m. Central.