Houston Ladies Classic (G3) — Race 8 (6:32 p.m. ET)
Letruska has been admirably consistent with 11 wins in 15 starts, but has blown hot and cold since settling permanently in the U.S. to race. After a recent 6 3/4-length win in the Rampart (G3), the Super Saver mare will seek to avoid halt the pattern of next-out regression when she faces six others in the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at Sam Houston on Sunday.
The Rampart, a one-turn mile contested on Dec. 12, proved the most decisive domestic victory for the former Mexico mainstay. Letruska raced without blinkers for the first time, and the result pleased trainer Fausto Gutierrez.
“She’s a filly with a great deal of speed,” Gutierrez said. “We removed the blinkers and felt that she finished much better.”
Lady Apple is back to defend her title in the Ladies Classic, 12 months after springing an 8-1 upset over Serengeti Empress. However, the Steve Asmussen trainee is winless in six subsequent outings, placing only twice at Listed level.
Asmussen might have a stronger prospect in Motion Emotion, who joined the stable after being sold for $800,000 last fall at the Fasig-Tipton November sale. The speedy filly has placed multiple times at graded level, though she enters on a cold streak herself having last reached the winner’s circle following the Zia Park Oaks in December 2019.
“She’s been training like a steam engine,” Asmussen said.
The field also includes Jeweled Princess, recent winner of the She’s All In S. at Remington Park for Kenny McPeek, and the Mike Maker-trained Ujjayi, who wheels back on short rest following a third in the Ladies H. at Aqueduct on Jan. 17.
The 1 1/16-mile Ladies Classic is the highlight of a stakes-laden card that includes several six-figure grass stakes.
John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) — Race 9 (7:07 p.m. ET)
Mike Maker has saddled the winner of the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) seven times, including six in a row from 2014-19. His entries in this year’s 1 1/2-mile test include Marzo, who finished third as the favorite in the 2020 edition.
“Marzo had been off since running in the Sword Dancer (G1) last August at Saratoga,” Maker said. “He did not handle the synthetic surface at Turfway Park (in the Prairie Bayou S. on Dec. 31). We just used that race as a workout.”
Another from the stable, Conviction Trade, is a horse on the improve having narrowly missed after leading most of the way in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream in his second start after being claimed for $50,000.
“He had a good trip and showed his liking for the distance,” Maker said. “He was a little unlucky to lose, but that should set him up well for the Connally.”
Maker’s third entry, Ajourneytofreedom, has earned minor checks in prior stakes attempts, but Maker reportedly feels he will adapt well to the Sam Houston turf.
Also lining up are the 2020 Mac Diarmida (G2) winner Spooky Channel, Grade 1 veteran Henley’s Joy, and the front-running Tut’s Revenge. Making his second start on turf after a troubled trip at Fair Grounds last month is the Grade 2 dirt performer Tenfold.
$200,000 Texas Turf Mile — Race 7 (6:00 p.m. ET)
The second edition of the $200,000 Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds has attracted a full field. The Todd Pletcher-trained duo of maiden winner Winfromwithin and the stakes-placed Fighting Force bring imposing credentials from Gulfstream, while recent Fair Grounds scorers Excess Magic and Palazzi also figure.
The Mike Maker contingent includes Catman, who captured the Laurel Futurity at Pimlico last fall and adds Lasix after going unplaced in two subsequent outings.
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