Six Stakes Highlight Houston Racing Festival Card

Houston Racing Festival

The $200,000 John Connally is one of six stakes at Sam Houston Race Park on Sunday. (Photo credit: Sam Houston Race Park).

The $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) is one of six stakes on an outstanding Houston Racing Festival betting card at Sam Houston Race Park on Sunday.

A field of 12 will line up including a trio of runners sent out by trainer Mike Maker, who has won the John B. Connally in seven of the last eight years. Maker had a six race winning streak snapped in this race last year, running second and third to the Brad Cox trained Dot Matrix.

Maker sends out Marzo (10-1) a Grade 3 winner at 1 ½ miles, Conviction Trade (7-2), who ran second in the H. A, Jerkens at two miles in his last start and Ajourneytofreedom (10-1), who was fourth in the Gio Ponti at Aqueduct in his last outing.

Marzo ran third in last year’s edition and makes his second start off the bench for Maker.

“Marzo had been off since running in the Sword Dancer last August at Saratoga,” said Maker.  “He did not handle the synthetic surface at Turfway Park (on December 31). We just used that race as a workout.”

The Brian Lunch trained Spooky Channel is the 5-2 morning line favorite. The gelding ran fourth in the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream Park in his last start, which was his first outing off a five-month layoff.

Ft. Lauderdale Replay

“I thought the Connally was a very appealing fit,” said Lynch. “Spooky Channel is a marathon sort of horse and Julien (Leparoux) has won on him before He came off a long layoff for the Ft. Lauderdale and finished well. I believe he will enjoy the Houston turf course.”

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I included four of the stakes from Sam Houston in Sunday’s Best Plays Report.

Let’s head out to Sam Houston for Sunday’s featured race of the day:

Sam Houston

Sam Houston Race 9 The John B. Connally Turf Cup G3 (6:07 CT)

#10 Spooky Channel   5-2

#6 Marco   10-1

#12 Henley’s Joy   15-1

#5 Conviction Trade   7-2


Spooky Channel

The Lynch trainee is making his second start off a five-month layoff here for the Lynch barn. Last out off the bench he made a good late run to finish fourth in the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) at 1 1/8 miles over ground labeled as good. The winner Largent was beaten just a neck in his next start in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). Our top pick won the W.L. McKnight (G3) over the grass at Gulfstream Park last January at today’s 1 1/2-mile distance. The gelding knows how to win, taking 7 of his last 14 starts on turf and he should be fitter second off the layoff here. The extra ground suits him and he should be a bit closer to the front in this spot.


This guy is one of three in here sent out by the Maker barn that has won this race in seven of the last nine years and ran two-three last year. He did not care for the fake stuff last out in his return off a four-month break. Two back he did not care for the soft footing in the Sword Dancer (G1). He won the Sycamore (G3) at Keeneland at today’s distance back in ’19 which was his last win. The barn is 19% winners moving runners from synth to turf and he should move forward in his second start off the break. Decent value if he goes off near his 10-1 morning line.

Henley’s Joy

This five-year-old is making his second start off the bench for the Asmussen barn. He was not much of a threat last out off the break in an eighth place finished in the Dilberto Memorial at Fair Grounds, beaten 5 1/2 lengths. The winner Logical Myth came back to win the Colonel E.R. Bradley in his next outing on Jan.16 at Fair Grounds. This guy has not won since taking the ’19 Belmont Derby (G1) at 1 1/4 miles but in his nine starts since has faced mostly much tougher than this group.


WIN: Spooky Channel to win at 5-2 or better.

EXACTA: 10 / 4,5,6,12 and 6,10 / 6,10,12


NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll

No. Horse Points
1 Flightline 351
2 Life Is Good 306
3 Olympiad 292
4 Jackie's Warrior 282
5 Clairiere 142
5 Country Grammer 142
7 Epicenter 121
8 Regal Glory 89
9 Nest 87
10 Hot Rod Charlie 48
As of August 1, 2022

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