photos by Coady Photography
Luis Vivanco, Toby Keeton, Pete Scarmardo, and Eleazar Martinez, Sr. Earn Titles at the 2024 Sam Houston Race Park Quarter Horse Meet

(Houston, Texas - Wednesday, May 22, 2024) - The 2024 Sam Houston Quarter Horse racing season concluded on Saturday, June 15 with a blockbuster 11-race card, including nine stakes and the presentation of the end-of-the-meet awards for leading jockey, trainer, and owner. A great crowd was on hand on a breezy, pleasant evening as Sam Houston Race Park closed out its 30thanniversary season.

Resurgent Luis Vivanco Wins His Fifth Leading Jockey Title

Veteran rider Luis Vivanco had already wrapped up leading rider honors weeks ago, but the 41-year-old kept the wins coming through the closing night with two stakes wins, two seconds and a fourth-place finish. He rode 149 horses this season, with 45 wins and earnings of $833,530.

The native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, began riding professionally in 2007. Texas has always been his preferred circuit and he has ridden 7,153 horses, with 1,179 victories and purses in excess of $15.4 million.

“I owe this to God,” explained Vivanco. “I have changed my life and put my family and career first. I thank Toby Keeton for his faith in me as well as Jose Sanchez, Isidro Hinojosa, and all the trainers who trusted me to ride their horses.”

Vivanco, 41, won his first title here in 2011 and added a third in 2014 when he guided Kiss My Hocks to victory in the Sam Houston Futurity for owners Conda Maze and Tyler Graham and trainer Toby Keeton. In his debut, the son of Tempting Dash set a new 330-yard track record of: 16.433 seconds in his trial for the prestigious championship. That record, set on March 29, 2014, still stands.

The accomplished rider set another track record at Sam Houston Race Park on June 9 aboard Cowgurl Up for breeder and owner P and D Racing. Ltd. Sired by Flying Cowboy 123, she competed in last year’s trials for the Sam Houston Futurity, broke her maiden this year on May 9 and unleashed a powerful closing kick here on June 1 in the ninth race, setting a new 350-yard track record of:17.193 seconds.

“Kiss My Hocks was unbelievable and riding him in the early part of his career was something I will never forget,” said Vivanco. “We knew Cowgirl Up was talented, but she surprised the heck out of me! What happened in a few seconds was beyond imagination!”

Vivanco was joined for the presentation by his wife, Elizabeth, 12-year-old daughter, Lorena and 10-year-old son, Jesus.

Vivanco and his family reside in Poteet, Texas. He will ride next at Retama Park in Selma, Texas.

Victor Urieta, Jr. finished second with 27 wins. Nestor Duran had a solid meet, winning 17 races and Noe Villatororode 15 winners to finish fourth in the standings.

Toby Keeton Earns His First Trainer of the Meet Title

To the surprise of pretty much everyone, Texas horseman Toby Keeton, who has been prominent at Sam Houston Race Park since it opened in 1994, topped the standings here for the first time this meet! He finished the season with 32 wins from 79 starters and a lofty 74.68% in the money statistic.

“When Sam Houston first opened, I lost to (the late) Steve VanBebber seven years in a row, explained Keeton. “I tried so hard and had the lead many times, but he would kick it in at the end! I sure miss that guy!”

Keeton, who is the top Quarter Horse conditioner in the country, expressed his thanks to his wife Cindi.

“Really, this award belongs to Cindi who ran the Houston string when I was at Remington and most recently, Ruidoso,” he added. “She works so hard and always keeps the horses happy and well-cared for. I am very lucky!”

He also credited his owners for their loyalty and support in sales in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

“My owners step up and buy quality horses,” added Keeton. “It all starts with good breeding. I have trained great horses in my career but can honestly say that this year is the best I have ever had with both the babies and older runners.”

Juan Diaz, Jr. who was the meet’s leading trainer from 2021 – 2023, finished second in the trainer standings with 26 wins and top purses of $973,071. For the fourth year in a row, Diaz won the richest race of the season, the Sam Houston Futurity (G2), with DK Marney Jess. Diaz also captured the 2024 Sam Houston Derby(G3) with Fire Cowboy, who won his seventh race in a row with his victory on closing night.

Diaz will set up shop at Retama Park, where he will seek his third training title.

Raul Galvan and Arnold “Bubba” Lewis each saddled 11 winners to finish in a tie for third.

Pete Scarmardo and Eleazar Martinez, Sr. Tied for Leading Owner Honors

The leading owner title was closely contested throughout the 25-day Quarter Horse meet and finally decided in a tie on the final night of the season! It was the sixth time Texas owner and breeder Pete Scarmardo landed on top and the first for Eleazar Martinez, Sr.

Both men won six races, including stakes on the closing night card. Jess Star Struck won the Sam Houston 250 and Scarmardo’s homebred First Time for Wine was victorious in the Miss Sam Houston Stakes.

Scarmardo is no stranger to tying with his fellow owners beginning with a three-way tie in 2014 and a four-way settlement in 2019! This marked the fifth leading owner title for Scarmardo.

“We love to support Texas racing and appreciate the great job by John Stinebaugh and his son Zack,” said Scarmardo. “I was hoping for a third win in the Willie Hickman Memorial but I am happy for Donna (Mushinski). We are looking forward to running at Retama.”

Martinez runs his horses in Louisiana and Texas, with his top earner Jess Sea Louisiana, qualifying for the 2022 Sam Houston Futurity(G2). He was proud that Jess Star Struck, trained by Raul Galvan, won her first career stakes on closing night.

“I knew it was close heading into the final weekend,” said Martinez. “This is my first title, so I was very happy!”

It was a tie for second in the owner race between Sunset Well Services, Inc. and Guerras Racing Stables with five wins each. Owners Donna Mushinski, Javier Lujan, Jaime Cardenas and Emmanuel Villarreal each won four races.

Bryan Pettigrew, Vice President and General Manager of Texas Racing Operations for PENN Entertainment was pleased with the 2024 Quarter Horse meet.

“First of all, we thank our horsemen for their support and for running such quality horses this season at Sam Houston Race Park,” said Pettigrew. “It was our goal to increase attendance by creating several new promotions and events so that fans could enjoy entertainment in conjunction with live racing. The feedback was very positive, and we will build on that in 2025.”

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