Top jockeys set to appear at Sam Houston’s racing festival
Friday night’s opening of thoroughbred season at Sam Houston Race Park comes with one standby and several new twists.
The standby is Sunday’s Houston Racing Festival, featuring two significant races and some of the nation’s most successful jockeys.
Mike Smith, Joe Bravo, Jose Ortiz and Florent Geroux are among those flying in hoping to win the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic and $200,000 Connally Turf Cup. The season’s only Sunday program will start at 1:15 p.m.
The 32-date thoroughbred meet continues through March 30. It will be followed by a 20-day quarter horse meet, to begin on April 12.
Friday and Saturday racing will start at about 7 p.m. Last year’s Saturday cards got under way at 6 p.m., but first-hour wagering was soft.
Wednesday racing will begin at noon, which is the start time for matinees on the last three Tuesdays of March.
SHRP has dropped the Maxxam Gold Cup. Fields became too small to sustain the $100,000 race.
According to Dwight Berube, Sam Houston’s general manager, track officials also plan to lighten their lobbying effort for casino gambling in Texas. Track officials for years have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Texas legislators to approve casinos. That add-on wagering at tracks in neighboring states has lifted purses beyond what Texas tracks could match.
“I’m not optimistic that Texas will expand gambling” with slots at horse tracks, Berube said. “Instead of pursuing a casino bill, we’re concentrating on our (racing) product. We’re working with horsemen to make it even better.”
SHRP officials have added a so-called pick six, in which bettors try to select winners of six consecutive races. A traditional pick six elsewhere might pay 50 percent to bettors who correctly select winners of five out of six races. The pool’s other 50 percent would carry over to the next day. The jackpot would build until one or more wagerers nails all six winners.
At Sam Houston, when no one picks all six winners, the track will return 75 percent on consolation wagers. Only 25 percent of the pool will carry over to the next day.
Several conversations with horsemen and the Texas Racing Commission resulted in starting this season one week later than the traditional opening. Bitter cold and heavy rain last January hurt 2018 attendance and might have been responsible for SHRP’s 1 percent drop in full-year dollars wagered.
“We looked at weather patterns and decided to get permission to shift this year’s meet back from the third Friday in January,” Berube said. “That’s also part of trying to make our product better.”