Falcon Points

Sam Houston Race Park is primed for one of its best years yet when live racing returns on Friday

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Live racing will return to Sam Houston Race Park this Friday night, and the 26th season of racing could be one of the best yet. The thoroughbred meet kicks off with a 10-race card filled with more purse money, solid sized fields and better quality racing than we have seen in past years.

Thanks to the state Legislature actually helping the industry by earmarking $25 million annually for purse money throughout the state this year, 2020 has a chance to be the best quality of racing since the track's dynamic opening season in 1994.

Trying to compete

Purse money is simply the dollars paid out to the jockeys, owners and trainers. The more money, the better quality of racing. The better racing, the more people will bet. The more people bet, the more money goes into purses. It's the circle of horse racing life.

Sam Houston and the other Texas tracks have had trouble competing for horses with neighboring states. Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas are supplement their tracks with additional forms of gaming, mostly casinos, where most of the money is being bet by Texans. So the purse boost will help level the playing field.

Big races

Sam Houston has done a terrific job of staying relevant by going to shorter race meets, and building up purses through simulcasting the rest of the year. The thoroughbred meet will have 39 days and run through March 28. The quarter horses start shortly thereafter and run through May. The higher purses should bring better horses in both breeds, and bring more national attention to the track.

The biggest race day will be a special Sunday card on Jan. 26, with over a million dollars paid out in purse money, headed up by the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic, which has become an early season national staple for fillies and mares.

That same day, the track will host a qualifier for the NTRA Handicapping Championship. The event will award two spots to the championship in Las Vegas, with an option for 2020 or 2021. It will be a $1,000 live bankroll tournament.

Most weeks races will be held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Post times are noon Wednesday, 6:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. In March, the track will add three Tuesday cards as well. When the quarter horses start on April 13, they will run on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays

The most important thing...

Let's face it, as much fun as the races are to watch, gambling on them is what makes the world go round.

Betting on the ponies is one of the most fun ways to gamble. As in the past, the track will provide free tip sheets, and SportsMap will also provide free picks.

Sam Houston's racing surfaces are two of the safest and most fair in the country. Thoroughbred races are held on both dirt and turf, although weather sometimes forces races off the turf course. The track will run rain or shine, unless the weather is deemed dangerous. In the past, when the main track is listed as sloppy, horses on or near the early lead tend to fare very well.

Also, the Blitz will be broadcasting live several times throughout the meet, including opening night.

Fun ways to gamble

If you have never bet on the ponies, there are multiple wagers available in each race. Most are designed to bet a little to win a lot. If you want to learn how to gamble on the horses, the audio book Acing Racing 2016 is the perfect place to start. If you are a poker or sports gambler, the book explains things in ways you will easily understand.

In addition to live racing, Sam Houston has simulcasting from tracks so you can bet places from all over the world. However, there is nothing like live racing. It is a good family night out, and if you go, make sure you watch at least one race from the rail outside to get a feel for the power and majesty of the animals. There will be also some of the regular attractions if you aren't into the racing - .50 beer nights on Fridays, camel and ostrich racing, and more entertainment.

If you have never been, make it a point to check it out at least once this meet. You will be entertained.

Sam Houston Race Park is located at 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West. For more information, check out shrp.com.


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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