Field Set for the Grade III $200,000 Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston Race Park

(Houston, Texas - January 26, 2011) - A competitive field of nine has been drawn for the Grade III, $200,000 Connally Turf Cup to be contested Saturday, January 29at Sam Houston Race Park.

The mile-and-one-eighth turf contest was awarded Grade III status in 2006, the first Thoroughbred graded stakes since Sam Houston Race Park opened in 1994. Moved from April to the final weekend of January last year, the Connally  Turf Cup is the richest race of the 2011 Thoroughbred meet.

Several noted Thoroughbreds will ship in for the Connally including Stately Victor from the barn of Michael Maker.  He attracted national attention last April when he won the Grade 1, Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The four-year-old son of Ghostzapper will arrive in Houston on Friday. Regular rider Alan Garcia makes his first trip to Sam Houston Race Park and will carry the highweight of 120 pounds as he breaks from post position 5.

Another top horse is Southern Anthem, a five-year-old from the barn of Jeffrey Thornbury.  The son of Royal Anthem will be making his 17th turf start on Saturday and has hit the board in his last three starts including a second-place finish in the Grade III Sycamore on October 30 at Keeneland. Talented turf rider  James Graham will travel from Fair Grounds to ride the bay gelding.

"We are excited about the race," said Thornbury. "He ran second in his last effort at a mile and a sixteenth, so the added distance was the main reason we are running him in the Connally."

Graham is currently the fifth leading rider at Fair Grounds. His wife, Lisa is  assistant trainer to  Thornbury.

"I brought them both over from Ireland," said Thornbury. "There is a very deep connection;  we are like family."

Since its first running in 1995, the Connally Turf Cup has had its share of ship-in winners, but in 2008, it was the local "Horse for the Course" Scrappy Roo who emerged victorious over Grade 1 winner Student Council, Embossed, an Irish-bred turf specialist who ran second in the 2007 Connally and Going Ballistic, who won the Grade II, Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

This year local trainer Jerenesto Torrez is hoping for the same outcome. The native Texan will saddle the coupled entry of Fifteen Love and Barrier Reef  for owner Jose Luis Espinoza of South Elkorn Stable. 

Fifteen Love, is no stranger to Houston racing fans as he captured the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup last year. The six-year-old son of Point Given was bred by the venerable Juddmonte Farms and began his racing career in Europe. He was sent to the late Bobby Frankel in 2008 where he was stakes placed at Hollywood Park and Woodbine. Espinoza, who owns racetracks in Monterrey, Mexico purchased the dark bay and sent him to Texas where made his Texas debut in the Grade III Connally Turf on January 30, finishing 11th.

"I had just gotten the horse and he wasn't quite ready for the race," said Torrez. "He was just too fresh to last a mile and an eighth. But as he proved in his next two races, he is a very good horse."

Barrier Reef is a Kentucky-bred 6-year-old who won three in a row at Aqueduct  last year for conditioner Tom Albertrani, and then competed in tough company at Saratoga and Belmont Park. He was shipped to Retama Park on November 20 and has been training under the watchful eye of Torrez ever since.

"He's in good shape," said Torrez. "He just ran one time on the turf and it was wet. I think I am going to throw out that race. We worked him today (Wednesday) on the turf and Paul said he relaxed for him and handled the surface really well."

Paul Nolan, 2010 Sam Houston leading rider who guided Scrappy Roo to victory in 2008, has the mount aboard Barrier Reef and Junior Chacalatana will ride Fifteen Love.

"This is probably one of the best turf courses in the country; it has a little bounce to it; almost feels like you are on a mattress." said Nolan. "Most turf races are the same; you're all going to pile up at the half-mile pole. You hope you will have enough horse at the end."

The complete field for the Grade III, $200,000 Connally Turf  Cup is from the rail, with weight assignments: Southern Anthem, James Graham, 114; And Music Came, Carlos Lozada, 112; Schramsberg, Chris Landeros, 114; Deputiformer, Bobby Walker, Jr., 111; Stately Victor, Alan Garcia, 120; Stachys, Eddie Martin, Jr., 114; Fifteen Love, Junior Chacalatana,  114; Barrier Reef, Paul Nolan, 115 and Spinning Touch, Freddy Fong, Jr. 110.

Hal Wiggins, who trained three Connally Turf Cup winners, will be at Sam Houston on Saturday to present the trophy. He and his wife, Renee, make their home in the Champions area, just ten minutes from the track. He saddled the remarkable Chorwon to Connally wins in 1998 and 1999 and Rapid Proof in 2005.  Wiggins, who retired in 2009 after an accomplished 35-year career in which he won 840 races, was the first trainer of 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.

The Connally Turf Cup will run as the eighth race on the card, with a scheduled post time of 10:02 p.m.(CT).
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