Falcon Points

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

Horses leave the gate at Sam Houston Race Park
Courtesy photo

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 Astros host the Orioles on Friday night. Composite Getty Image.

Say it with me: The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet! The odds favor them missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, but they definitely aren’t dead yet. Too much season left.

The Astros sure hope they hit their season standings rock bottom in falling 10 games back of Seattle in the American League West Tuesday. Two wins over the hapless White Sox later, coupled with two Mariner losses in Cleveland, and the deficit is eight going into the weekend. The Astros’ real race may be for a Wild Card. On that front they sit six games behind Minnesota, six and a half back of Kansas City. The Twins and Royals currently hold the second and third Wild Card slots. The Astros also trail Boston by five games.

The Astros’ season needs some positive jolts if it is not to slip away. A shot at one comes Friday night with pitcher Jake Bloss called up from Double-A Corpus Christi for his Major League debut. He is merely tasked with facing the best offense in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles visit Minute Maid Park this weekend. Bloss was the Astros’ third round draft pick last summer. He turns 23 on Sunday. He started well this season at High-A Asheville earning the move up to AA. As a Hook, Bloss was spectacular in posting a 1.61 earned run average over eight starts with a scant 19 hits allowed over 44 2/3 innings. Bloss gets the fast big league call out of necessity (with Justin Verlander on the injured list), because he excelled, and because the Astros have no significant pitching prospect knocking at the door from Triple-A Sugar Land. Not one guy in the Space Cowboys’ rotation has given up fewer hits than he has thrown innings. The Pacific Coast League is a hitters’ league, but that is a damning stat.

Blame game

With the Astros’ season a big fail to this point, it is the nature of the beast for some to call for the head(s) of Manager Joe Espada and/or General Manager Dana Brown. Espada has certainly not distinguished himself as some brilliant rookie skipper, but blaming numerous lackluster player performances on him is classic scapegoating. Brown is in his second season and does have a couple of stains on his early record, but the foremost task Brown was charged with at hire was rejuvenating the Astros’ weak farm system. It takes two or three draft classes to infuse some depth of young talent. If the Astros are sellers as the trade deadline approaches, selling is another avenue through which Brown tries to add good prospects.

Brown picked Bloss. Brown’s first first round pick was shortstop Brice Matthews who also recently earned promotion to Corpus Christi. If Jeremy Pena doesn’t show improvement, and if Matthews is fulfilling his potential, he could be challenging for the shortstop job by the end of next season. 2023 second round pick, pitcher Alonzo Tredwell, has been bad so far with the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

Midsummer Classic

The first phase of All-Star balloting ends Thursday at 11AM Central Time. The Astros’ representation on the American League team is simple: three definites and one maybe. Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez all rightfully are poised to be elected starters. Altuve has to hold off the Rangers’ Marcus Semien, but at minimum will be added as a reserve. For Altuve it will be his ninth All-Star team, adding on to his franchise record after not making the team last year because he missed the first month and a half of the season with a broken thumb.

Tucker and Alvarez will both become three-time All-Stars. Neither has been voted a starter before. Even with the time he’s missing on the injured list, Tucker belongs in the outfield with the Yankees’ superstar combo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. Alvarez’s opportunity to win the vote at designated hitter opened up when Shohei Ohtani switched leagues in signing with the Dodgers.

Last year the Texas Rangers dominated the AL lineup with five starters. It was not an omen that they would go on to win the World Series. This year Arlington hosts the game at Globe Life Field, but Semien is the only Ranger anywhere close to the lead in the fan voting.

As for the one Astro All-Star maybe, that is Ronel Blanco. The 30-year-old has come out of nowhere to be the Astros’ ace, but he is not a lock. I don’t think his foreign substance suspension hurts much other than it factors into Blanco having pitched fewer innings than almost all other candidates. It’s a matter of math. A maximum of nine starting pitchers make the squad, there may only be eight taken. It’s not hard to name nine guys who could get the nod over Blanco, especially when you factor in that every team must be represented. Tyler Anderson is the most deserving Angel. Erick Fedde or Garret Crochet is the most deserving White Sox (Sock?). The Seattle Mariners have no deserving everyday player, though some might argue Cal Raleigh if three catchers are taken. The M’s are dominating the AL West on the back of stellar starting pitching. It’s hard to see no Mariner starter getting picked, although only Logan Gilbert at 2.93 has an earned run average within 0.50 of Blanco’s 2.43. Blanco has three more starts to strengthen his case before the staff is named July 7.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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