Revamped Connally attracts dozen quality turf runners
Sam Houston lengthened the distance of the Grade 3, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup to 1 1/2 miles for Saturday night’s running, and the reward has been a full field of 12 older horses, including Breeders’ Cup Turf starter Da Big Hoss, multiple Grade 2 winner Kaigun, and Southern California shippers Big John B and Going Somewhere.
The Connally is one of four stakes on the card. The program is anchored by the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, the richest Thoroughbred race in Texas. The stakes will be linked by a pick four that runs on races 6 through 9 and has a minimum guaranteed pool of $100,000. The 50-centminimum wager will feature a reduced takeout of 12 percent.
The Connally, which had previously been run at 1 1/8 miles, also drew an accomplished pair of 4-year-olds in
Mobile Bay, the winner of last year’s Grade 2 Super Derby, and Bullards Alley, who in his last start captured the Woodchopper at Fair Grounds.
Elsewhere on the undercard, Marchman will make his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in the $75,000 Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint at five furlongs.
Marchman was a Grade 3 winner at the trip in the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs in 2014. Marchman finished ninth in the Breeders’ Cup, which marked his first start since August. Florent Geroux has the mount for trainer Bret Calhoun.
Geroux also has a top contender in the $50,000 Space City, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds. He will be aboard Twirling Cinnamon, who was edged by a nose in the $51,000 Sugar Bowl on Dec. 19 at Fair Grounds. Twirling Cinnamon will add blinkers Saturday.
CONNALLY TURF CUP, RACE 8
Big John B, by Hard Spun (Last 3 Beyers: 80-99-83)
◗ He is a multiple Grade 2 winner who finished an uncharacteristic eighth last out in the Grade 2 San Gabriel on Jan. 2 at Santa Anita. The course was a bog that he did not handle.
“When he gets a surface he likes, he can run with the best of them,” said trainer Phil D’Amato. “The faster, the firmer it is, the better he runs. That turf course [at Sam Houston] looks like a putting-green course, and I think he’ll like it.”
◗ Joel Rosario has the mount on Big John B.
Da Big Hoss, by Lemon Drop Kid (Last 3 Beyers: 96-99-98)
◗ He closed from last for sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Oct. 31 at Keeneland. Since that race, he has made one start, finishing third in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight on Dec. 26 at Gulfstream Park.
“He had a bit of a wide trip in his last but ran well,” said Mike Maker, who trains Da Big Hoss. “On paper, there looks to be some speed in the race, which should set him up nicely.”
◗ Maker has won three runnings of the Connally, with Coalport (2015), Admiral Kitten (2014), and Papaw Bodie (2012).
Kaigun, by Northern Afleet (Last 3 Beyers: 102, 98, 101)
◗ He was second by a neck in the W.L. McKnight last out.
◗ Kaigun, an earner of $1.1 million, will break from post 8 under Joe Bravo.
“What’s amazing about Kaigun is how versatile he is,” said trainer Mark Casse.