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Racing News

Published Mar 16, 2024
by Mike Henry
Mariangelys Almedina

If Mariangelys Almedina had been driving a car instead of piloting a Thoroughbred racehorse at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, she would have likely been pulled over and asked to show her license.

But the youthful-looking apprentice steered a steady and winning course in the sixth race, triumphing in virtual gate-to-wire fashion on 4-year-old filly Whatchamacall for owner Beverly Sierra and trained Xavier A. Rivera.

Even though it was her second career victory – she’d won with her first career mount, Big Rinne, on Jan. 1 at Camarero in Canovanas near her hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico – a few of the 22-year-old’s Oldsmar rivals initiated her in traditional racetrack style with buckets of water, shaving cream and other tokens of esteem.

All that came after she posed along the rail for pictures with numerous fans eager to join in her celebration.

Almedina spread around the credit after her (second) milestone victory, thanking trainers Rivera, Kevin Rice and Teresa Connelly for helping her launch her business at Tampa Bay Downs. Her elation was evident, but even though she kept smiling it was easy to sense an athlete’s heart pumping beneath her fresh-faced appearance.

Almedina wasn’t the only competitor to win for the first time Saturday. In the fourth race, Abraham Gardea earned his first training victory with Ain’t Noncents, a 5-year-old mare owned by his father, Francisco Gardea. Jorge Urdaneta was the jockey.

Even when you don’t cash a bet, they’re the kind of feel-good stories that keep you coming back.

Around the oval. Pablo Morales rode back-to-back winners today. He captured the seventh race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf, aboard 4-year-old gelding Camino de Santiago for owner Miguel Olguin and trainer Gary Marino. Morales added the eighth race on Sea Art, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Ricardo R. Vallejo and trained by Victor Carrasco, Jr.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:50 p.m.

The 21st annual Florida Cup, a collection of six $110,000 stakes races for registered Florida-breds, will be held the following Sunday, March 24.

The Florida Cup celebrates the state’s rich tradition of breeding, raising and racing champion Thoroughbreds. The race lineup remains unchanged from last year, although the order of the races will not be determined until after entries are made final.

Races include the ESMARK Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth on the Tampa Bay Downs grass course, for Florida-breds 4-years-old-and-upward; the NYRABETS Sprint, a 6-furlong race on the main dirt track for horses 4-and-upward; and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, a 7-furlong race for 3-year-olds on the main track.

Also scheduled are the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old females going 7 furlongs on the dirt; the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf for fillies and mares 3-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass; and the Equistaff Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds traveling a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass.

As part of the festivities, all licensed owners, breeders and trainers are invited to a luncheon free of charge on Florida Cup Day from noon-3 p.m., upon display of their license, under the big tent adjacent to the paddock.

Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.



Mariangelys Almedina

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