Houston Ladies Classic (G3) — Race 7 (5:53 p.m. ET)
In comparison to recent years, when it was won by the like of Letruska (2021) and Midnight Bisou (2019), Sunday’s $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) has come up light attracting graded-quality fillies and mares.
Topping the field of seven in the 1 1/16-mile feature at Sam Houston is Pauline’s Pearl, victorious last season in the Fantasy (G3) and Zia Park Oaks. The daughter of Tapit placed at Grade 3 level three other times, and on Sunday takes rivals outside her age group for the first time.
From a class perspective, the most serious threat might come from Audrey’s Time, winner last out of the Spanky Broussard Memorial at Fair Grounds. Two back, the five-year-old finished a distant third behind Envoutante and Bonny South in the Falls City (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Other potential contenders include Velvet Crush, third to Audrey’s Time in the Broussard Memorial, and the Arkansas-bred The Mary Rose, who dusted open allowance foes at Oaklawn on New Year’s Eve.
John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) — Race 8 (6:23 p.m. ET)
The $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3), over 1 1/2 miles, has attracted a full field. Three hail from the barn of Mike Maker, who seeks his eighth Turf Cup win in the last 11 runnings.
Leading the Maker brigade is Ajourneytofreedom, second by a neck to Spooky Channel in the 2021 Connally Turf Cup and most recently third in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens S. at Gulfstream. Grade 3 winner Tide of the Sea looks to bounce back from a dull showing in the Red Smith (G3) at Aqueduct in November, while ex-claimer Malthael has been unplaced twice since winning an allowance over the distance at Keeneland.
In a seemingly wide open affair, others to watch out for include Another Mystery, Logical Myth, Fantasioso, and Strong Tide. Dyn O Mite and Conviction Trade both have strong form over the local sod.
Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile — Race 6 (5:23 p.m. ET)
Maker also has a leading contender in Stolen Base for the $200,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile for three-year-olds. A close second to Tiz the Bomb in the Bourbon (G2) last fall, Stolen Base was last seen finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
Others likely to attract play include the Todd Pletcher-trained Chanceux, second by a head in the Dania Beach S. at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day, and the Brad Cox-trained Bloodline, victorious in an off-the-turf allowance at Fair Grounds last time.
Among the three other stakes on Sunday’s card at Sam Houston is the $75,000 Stonerside Sprint over six furlongs. Greeley and Ben, who finished in a tie for second for most wins by a Thoroughbred in North America last season with 11, exits a win in the Sam’s Town S. at Delta Downs in his 2022 opener. It was the 17th career score in 28 starts for the eight-year-old gelding.