Bigger Picture makes his season debut a winning one with a title defense in the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park

Bigger Picture makes his season debut a winning one with a title defense in the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park

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Bigger Picture, Hogy Take Texas Turf Stakes for Maker

Maker, Ortiz teamed to sweep two of three turf stakes Jan. 28 at Sam Houston.

Long or short, Mike Maker's runners had it covered Jan. 28 at Sam Houston Race Park.

Hogy and Bigger Picture teamed up to give Maker and jockey Jose Ortiz a stakes double on the Sunday card—Hogy won the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint going five furlongs, a race in which he finished second last year, while grade 1 winner Bigger Picture took the 1 1/2-mile John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes (G3T) for the second season in a row.

The $200,000 John B. Connally marked the 7-year-old debut of Bigger Picture for Three Diamonds Farm, and the first start for the Badge of Silver gelding since he ran 12th in the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) at Del Mar. That was an uncharacteristically subdued effort from Bigger Picture, who finished third in the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T) and second in the Bowling Green Stakes (G2T) before his trip to California, and after he set a course record winning the United Nations Stakes (G1T) at Monmouth Park in July of 2017.

"He was doing so well, and I don't know what happened out there," Maker said of the Breeders' Cup fizzle. "He had a reaction to something a couple days before the race and we felt it took its toll on race day."

Of selecting Sam Houston for the gelding's season debut, Maker added, "We figured he liked it here, so why not?"

It was the seventh Connally win for Maker in the past eight years.

While longshot Roman Approval set the pace in Saturday's test, Ortiz rated 4-5 choice Bigger Picture fourth behind an opening quarter in :24.21 and fifth as the half went in :49.94. Although Roman Approval held the advantage through a 1:41.50 mile, he faltered as Bigger Picture geared up with a three-wide rally coming out of the far turn.

Some in Tieme forged briefly to the lead but could not last in the end, as Bigger Picture closed with a strong drive to prevail by a length in a final time of 2:31.13 on a course rated good. 

Chicago Style also closed willingly, but ran out of ground and missed second by a head. The order of finish was completed by Camelot Kitten, Net Gain, Harlan Strong, Highly Prized, Flashy Chelsey, Paternal Pride, Big Bend, Roman Approval, and West Road.

Bigger Picture returned $3.80, $2.80, and $2.20, Some in Tieme brought $9.60 and $5, and Chicago Style was worth $2.80.

The Connally brought Bigger Picture's earnings over the million-dollar mark to $1,101,135. He now has an 11-5-3 record from 29 starts. Bred in Kentucky by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey out of the Honour and Glory mare Glory Dancer, he raced for his breeders and Maker through four starts before he was claimed in the summer of 2014, and had nine outings for various connections before Maker claimed him back again for $32,000 in November of 2015.

Hogy, another former claimer who stepped up through the ranks for Maker and owner Michael Hui, lost Sam Houston's $75,000 Turf Sprint last year by just a head, and this year secured the victory by a far superior margin.

Also flat at the World Championships, where he ran 11th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1T), the 9-year-old Offlee Wild gelding came back Jan. 1 with a second in the Janus Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Primed for a top performance Sunday, he was sent off the 3-5 choice in a field of 11.

Tenth early on, Hogy saved ground on the inside while Wings Locked Up and American Sailor vied for the early lead through a half-mile in :46.06. Ortiz swung his mount out two wide for the stretch drive, and Hogy powered home to a 2 1/4-length win over American Sailor. Medal of Courage was two lengths back in third. The final time was :58.20.

Hogy, who has made 49 starts, improved his record to 18-13-6 with earnings of $1,231,627. Bred in Kentucky by Dr. John E. Little out of the Petionville mare Floy, he was an $80,000 claim by Hui at Saratoga Race Course in August, and Hui paid $130,000 to supplement and enter him in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

"That's one horse that really enjoys what he does," Hui told Robert Yates Jan. 26 for BloodHorse Daily. "You can tell by his eyes and his demeanor when he sees the track. Obviously, he's on a race-by-race scenario, but the ultimate goal is to get him back where he's got another shot at a Breeders' Cup."