Diane Howard claimed top honors as the 1st place winner of The Park's annual $500 Kentucky Derby Hat Contest

(L-R): Third place winner Delynn Abernathy, second place winner Patricia "Smiley" Ali & first place winner Diane Howard show off their unique hats at The Park's annual $500 Kentucky Derby Hat Contest

Successful Grand Re-Opening Weekend at Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park marked Grand Re-Opening Weekend with fantastic weather, more than 56,000 fans and exciting live racing events May 1 through May 3, 2009. The weekend featured the return of live racing with the 16th annual American Quarter Horse meet and fireworks on May 1st, the debut of Saturday Value Day, the 135th Running of the Kentucky Derby and the Verizon Wireless Summer Concert Series featuring 80s rocker Joan Jett & The Blackhearts with special guests The Smithereens.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend at The Park,” said Andrea Young, President and Chief Operating Officer, Sam Houston Race Park. “It was wonderful to have so many people back on property and the feedback regarding the facility improvements, the free Value day area, the extended race card and the new tote board were positive and indicate we have greatly enhanced the experience at The Park for patrons.”

More than 17,000 people were in attendance on Saturday for live racing and Kentucky Derby events. The Park ran its 12-race card opposite racing events at Churchill Downs, all of which were shown on the new 19 ft. by 38 ft. LED video tote board, so fans were able to catch non-stop horse racing action all day. With Mine That Bird, a 50-to-1 long shot and the second longest long shot in the 135 year history of the race, claiming top honors, it made for one unpredictable and emotionally charged day!

The second most-anticipated competition for the day was the $500 Derby Hat Contest, hosted by Ernie Manouse from Innerviews with Ernie on PBS. The contest featured nearly 40 entries and an array of stunning head pieces. A panel of celebrity judges, Farrah Akhtar from Yelp.com, Anna-Megan Raley from chron.com, Houston Press’ Craig Hlavaty and Karen Derr celebrity realtor, Jerry Jaggers, debated over the top presentation, style and originality before crowning Diane Howard and her themed headpiece “A salute to 15 years of racing at Sam Houston Race Park and 135 years of history at the Derby.” Second place went to Patricia “Smiley” Ali and Delynn Abernathy took third place.

In addition to the Derby racing action, The Park held its first Saturday Value Day featuring the Fun Zone with free activities and games for kids of all ages as well as live music between races, an extended 12-race card and a 1 p.m. post time. The first stakes event of the meet, the $20,000 Live Oak Stakes, featured Wowzer Won crossing the finish line in a time of :17.67 on the fast track. The 4-year-old mare was ridden by jockey Russel Hadley, who said “it was a perfect race.” Wowzer Won is trained by Jesse Yoakum and owned by Kathleen O. Matey.

The party continued with the Verizon Wireless Summer Concert Series on the Bud Light stage with legendary 80s rocker Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.

The Park also participated in the city-wide fundraiser, the Inaugural Prepared4Life Lemonade Day, on Sunday where several aspiring entrepreneurs and local youngsters set up lemonade stands at The Park and raised money for a variety of non-profit organizations. Sunday also marked the debut of Brunch at The Park featuring a delectable assortment of chilled salad options, fruit and cheese display, omelet station, meat carving stations, peel & eat shrimp, fresh desserts and assorted cocktails, Bellinis and Bloody Marys!

The Park also hosted Liberman Broadcasting Incorporated’s annual Cinco de Mayo festival in the West Lot where more than 30,000 people enjoyed a fun-filled day of music, Hispanic heritage and more.

Coming up at The Park this weekend: Guys Night Out this Friday presented by 94.5 The Buzz, 97.5 The Arrow and Houston Press; Saturday Value Day featuring the free Fun Zone presented by FSHouston and the Verizon Wireless Summer Concert Series on the Bud Light stage featuring Ghostland Observatory; and Mother’s Day Brunch and a $10,000 Diamond Dig. The $10,000 Diamond Dig will take place immediately following live racing and feature 7 pieces of jewelry from Benji Designs, Inc. Sunny 99.1 FM will qualify 10 contestants with The Park selecting the last two finalists the day of the event. In addition, 1-800-FLOWERS Houston will provide single-stemmed roses to the first 2,000 women through the gates for live racing! Make your reservation today by calling 281-807-8760.

For more information visit www.shrp.com.

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