The 6-year-old Include mare was transferred from Dale Romans after running fourth in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs in May. Given a freshening, she returned with a powerful six-length win in the Nov. 23 Treasure Chest Stakes going a mile at Delta Downs, and followed up with a solid 1 3/4-length score Dec. 21 in the Blushing K.D. Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on the lawn.
"We had the Houston Ladies Classic as our target after her win at Delta," Faucheux said. "The Fair Grounds race on turf was a good prep for this. She came out of it fine and worked an easy five-eighths of a mile on Saturday."
A nine-time stakes winner including the grade III Ballerina Stakes at Hastings Racecourse, Class Included often rates from just off the pace before swinging into action to get the win. A field with plenty of speed should set the 1 1/16-mile event up well for her. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan gets the mount from post 6.
Zia Park Oaks winner Unusual Way is one with frontrunning tactics; she captured that Nov. 27 event at 1 1/16 miles by six gate-to-wire lengths.
The California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat is closing in on the $600,000 career earnings mark for trainer Jeff Bonde and owners Edward J. Brown Jr. and Phil Lebherz, with five wins from 14 starts. Edwin Maldonado, formerly an apprentice at Sam Houston and now a member of the Southern California jockey colony, will ride Unusual Way from the 2 hole.
"This filly comes to run every time," Bonde said. "Maybe she's part gypsy; she's always been a good shipper and we are looking forward to coming to Houston."
The winner of the inaugural Houston Ladies Classic was Joyful Victory, who set a new track record for the 1 1/16-mile distance under jockey Rosie Napravnik last year.
Napravnik, currently based at Fair Grounds, will return aboard Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Awesome Flower, a 5-year-old Flower Alley mare who ran third in the Chilukki Stakes (gr. III) Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs. She must rebound from a ninth-place finish for trainer Mike Maker in the Dec. 7 My Charmer Handicap (gr. III) at Calder Casino & Race Course.
Helen Groves' And Why Not will ship from Florida for trainer Michael Matz. The 5-year-old Street Cry mare ran fourth to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) last September at Belmont Park. She was sixth in her first start since then, the Nov. 2 Maple Leaf Stakes (Can-III) going 1 1/4 miles on the all weather track at Woodbine.
"She's had a rest and runs well fresh," said Matz of And Why Not, who will be ridden by Luis Saez from post 3. "This race was important to Mrs. Groves. She's been running against some top quality mares and we hope this will be her night to break through."
Rose to Gold also seeks a rebound from a less-than-stellar start to 2014; she was ninth Jan. 4 in the Marsha's River Stakes (gr. IIIT) on turf at Gulfstream Park.
Trainer Sal Santoro attempts to get the 4-year-old Friends Lake filly back on track after a long layup following her eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She was fifth in Calder's Dec. 7 My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT), also on the lawn, when coming back for her first start since the Oaks in May. She will also take her first trip back on dirt since the Oaks in this start. Regular rider Jesus Rios has the mount from the rail aboard the five-time stakes winner who early last season took both the Honeybee (gr. III) and the Fantasy (gr. III) stakes on the main track at Oaklawn Park.
The Houston Ladies Classic will be the first stakes of the inaugural Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, a national program that will incorporate more than 20 stakes races in 2014 worth over $5.5 million. The stakes will take place at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Sam Houston Race Park, and Zia Park. The Challenge includes tie-ins between groups of races in the series, as well as bonuses and prizes that include free nominations, refund of entry and starter fees, and trips to the PNGI-owned M Resort in Las Vegas.