Florida invader Stately Victor returns to the lawn for the first time since last summer when he takes on eight rivals in the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston Race Park the night of Jan. 29.
Winner of the the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) over Keeneland's Polytrack at odds of 40-1 last spring, Stately Victor makes his first try on grass since running fifth in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) at Colonial Downs July 17. Owned by Jack and Thomas Conway and trained by Mike Maker, the 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper has one victory in four starts on the turf in his 15-race career.
Alan Garcia, who was aboard Stately Victor in the Bluegrass, comes to Houston to ride the bay colt for the first time since they teamed for a seventh-place showing in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in June. Stately Victor also ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with Garcia in the irons.
Stately Victor, who does his best running from off the pace, last raced Dec. 18 on the Polytrack at Turfway Park where he was nosed as the 4-5 pick by Timeless Fashion in the Prairie Bayou Stakes. His last victory came in the Ontario Derby by 3 1/4 lengths at Woodbine Sept. 25. Though he has just three wins in his career, Stately Victor leads the field in earnings with $628,652.
Stately Victor drilled a solid 1:00 1/5 at Gulfstream Park Jan. 23, second-fastest of 38 at the five-furlong distance that day.
In the 1 1/8-mile Connally, Stately Victor was assigned a light top impost of 120 pounds while spotting his rivals between five and eight pounds. The favorite will break from post 5.
The race is the eighth on the Sam Houston program with a 10:02 p.m. CST starting time.
The major rival to Stately Victor is likely to be Stachys, who makes a quick turnaround from his neck loss to Win Willy when second best in Oaklawn Park's Fifth Season Stakes on dirt Jan. 16. Al and Bill Ulwelling's 4-year-old Candy Ride gelding won the Zia Park Derby by a half-length for trainer Michael Biehler prior to the Fifth Season. The bay captured the Dean Kutz Memorial Stakes at Canterbury Park last July in his only previous grass try.
Eddie Martin Jr., who won with Stachys in the Zia Park race in December, regains the mount. Stachys is a five-time winner in 11 races and gets eight pounds off his Fifth Season impost of 122.
Bobby Joe Hammer's Schramsberg, who captured the Remington Green on the Remington Park lawn last fall, figures to be on or near the lead. Trainer Chris Hartman removes the blinkers on the 5-year-old son of Storm Cat. The chestnut horse is out of champion Serena's Song. Chris Landeros takes the reins.
Barrier Reef, previously owned by Darley Stable, runs as part of a coupled entry with Fifteen Love for owner Jose Luis Espinoza ands trainer Jerenesto Torrez.
A three-time stakes winner on the inner dirt track at Aqueduct, Barrier Reef returned from a 13-month absence last September. But in two starts last fall at Belmont Park for trainer Tom Albertrani, the 6-year-old son of Mizzen Mast failed to defeat a horse. This will be his first start for his new connections.
His stablemate, Fifteen Love, finished 11th, nearly 10 lengths behind the victorious Acting Zippy, in last year's Connally. He went on to take the Maxxam Gold Cup over Sam Houston's main track and finished third in the Texas Mile (gr. III) at Lone Star Park. The 6-year-old son of Point Given , a four-time victor on turf, has won six of 22 starts overall while banking $497,752.
Deputiformer, a stakes winner at Evangeline Downs last April after being claimed for $15,000 at Fair Grounds, seeks to end a seven-race slide since then for trainer Dallas Keen. The 6-year-old Ontario-bred Silver Deputy gelding has earned $492,233 in a 37-race career.
$200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 10:02 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Southern Anthem (KY), J Graham, 114, J D Thornbury
2. And Music Came (KY), C Lozada, 112, B Chatters
3. Schramsberg (KY), C Landeros, 114, C A Hartman
4. Deputiformer (ON), B J Walker Jr., 111, D E Keen
5. Stately Victor (KY), A Garcia, 120, M J Maker
6. Stachys (KY), E Martin Jr., 114, M E Biehler
7. a-Fifteen Love (KY), J Chacaltana, 114, J Torrez
8. a-Barrier Reef (KY), P M Nolan, 115, J Torrez
9. Spinning Touch (NM), F Fong Jr., 110, A Chavez
a- Coupled Entry
Blinkers Off: Schramsberg