Sunday is the biggest day of the 2018 Sam Houston meet with the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) and $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) highlighting the action.
Bigger Picture will make a title defense in the 12-horse Connally. One of three runners in the 1 ½-mile turf affair for Mike Maker, who has captured five of the last six editions, Bigger Picture went on to add the United Nations (G1) to his ledger and the reformed claimer recorded a close third in the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga last season. The 7-year-old gelding was last seen finishing 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar.
Jose Ortiz, who earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey at Thursday evening’s ceremonies, will be in to guide the 8-5 morning line favorite. Maker is also represented by Grade 2 scorer Camelot Kitten, who has been transferred from Chad Brown following five consecutive unplaced efforts; and longshot Flashy Chelsey, who exits a pair of unplaced outings for a claiming tag. Julien Leparoux and Brian Hernandez Jr. have the assignments.
Tom Proctor has a duo entered including early 3-1 second choice Chicago Style. A late-blooming gelding by Kitten’s Joy, the 5-year-old exits a neck second in the November 24 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) in his second stakes attempt. Regular rider Drayden Van Dyke will be up. Proctor will also send out Grade 3 winner Big Bend, who will try to rebound from an eighth in the December 30 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds with new rider Florent Geroux.
Kenny McPeek will be represented by the pair of Some in Tieme and Harlan Strong. The former posted a convincing win in the Louisville (G3) three starts back while the latter is exiting an allowance victory at Fair Grounds. Manoel Cruz and Robby Albarado have the mounts.
Actress is the one to beat in the Ladies Classic following a smashing 8 ¼-length triumph in the November 24 Comely (G3) at Aqueduct. Listed as the 2-1 favorite, the 4-year-old Tapit filly will square off against seven rivals in the 1 1/16-mile event on the main track.
Out of the Canadian champion filly Milwaukee Appeal, Actress finished second in his first two outings and broke her maiden posting a 12-1 head upset in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico in mid-May. The gray lass dropped her next three outings before stylishly returning to the winner’s circle last time and registering a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating. Jose Ortiz retains the mount for Jason Servis.
Runner-up in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and third in the Rachel Alexandra (G3) last spring, Valadorna broke through with her first stakes tally when rolling to a 3 1/2-length decision in the December 26 Tiffany Lass at Fair Grounds. Hernandez has the call on the Mark Casse-trained daughter of Curlin.
Turf stakes heroine Martini Glass and stakes-winning Southern California invader Sandy’s Surprise are also part of the mix.