03/21/2012 7:30PM

Sam Houston: Quarter Horse meet opens Thursday

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Sam Houston Race Park will have an expanded wagering format for its 27-date Quarter Horse meet that opens Thursday night and continues through May 19. The track has also grouped four of its most important stakes on a single card April 14, with the program led by the Grade 1, $100,000 Texas Challenge Championship and the Sam Houston Futurity that last year was worth $600,000.

Sam Houston introduced two new wagers during its Thoroughbred meet and has carried them over to the Quarter Horse season. A pick five will be offered on the final five races of the program. Sam Houston will also offer the Houston Hi-Five, in which bettors have to select the first five finishers in a race. It will be held twice a card. Each bet will have a 50-cent minimum, as well as a reduced takeout of 12 percent. In addition, pick three wagers will feature a low 12-percent takeout this meet, a policy that has long been tradition at Sam Houston.

The Texas Challenge Championship, a 440-yard race for 3-year-olds and up, is the most prestigious of the 19 stakes scheduled for the meet. Trials for the race are March 30. The finale on April 14 will share a card with the Grade 2 Sam Houston Futurity, a 330-yard race that could feature as many as 18 trials on March 31. (Due to the large number of trials expected, post for the March 31 card has been moved up from 7 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) The other stakes on the April 14 card include the Sam Houston Derby and the Sam Houston Juvenile.

The Grade 2, $50,000 Sam Houston Classic, 3-year-olds and up at 440-yards May 5, and the Grade 3 Texas Juvenile Challenge, at 350 yards May 19, are other highlights of the stakes schedule. Purses at the meet are projected to average $95,000 a card, according to Eric Johnston, vice president of racing for Sam Houston.

Sam Houston is scheduled to race on a Thursday-through-Saturday schedule most weeks, with first post of 7 p.m. Central. There is a special Sunday card set for May 13. The track on Saturday will feature $1 admission, hot dogs, ice cream, and soda as part of a Dollar Day promotion March 24.

In other activities, handicapper Martha Claussen will put on a free fan education program every Saturday in the paddock area, beginning at 6:30 p.m. She will have special guests from the racing industry, while the first 20 people in attendance each week will receive a free $2 wagering voucher and handicapping materials, both provided by the American Quarter Horse Association. Claussen is a member of the Q-Racing Aces, a touring, fan education program instituted by the AQHA.