In his six-plus seasons training at Tampa Bay Downs, Juan Arriagada has learned what many local trainers already knew – you can beat one of Gerald Bennett’s horses in a race, but good luck beating him over the course of a season.
As Bennett extended his streak of consecutive training titles to eight at the 2022-2023 meet, Arriagada added to his reputation for achieving more while training fewer horses than all but a handful of his rivals. He is tied for third in the trainer standings with 26 winners, with a 25.7-percent victory rate.
And after finishing fourth at last year’s meet with 23 winners and challenging for a Leading Owner title (he finished second with 21 winners, three behind Endsley Oaks Farm), Arriagada toppled Bennett and everyone else to win this season’s Leading Owner trophy. He finished the meet with 25 winners as an owner, two more than Bennett’s Winning Stables enterprise.
In addition to winners that raced solely under his own name, Arriagada raced two winners in partnership with M. Robert Bosso and two with Barbara Anderson. Bennett won nine solely as Winning Stables and 14 in various partnerships.
Arriagada will be honored with the Leading Owner trophy here on Saturday between races. He and his wife, former trainer and current exercise rider Alison (Hassig) Arriagada, have already moved their base of operations to Delaware Park for the meet beginning May 24, and his in-laws Steve and Marsha Hassig will accept the award on his behalf.
After coming close last season, Arriagada set a goal of becoming Leading Owner. He and Winning Stables were virtually inseparable throughout the final two months, with a maiden claiming victory by 4-year-old filly Irish Kitten on April 15 and an allowance/optional claiming triumph by 4-year-old filly Style (who was claimed out of the race) on April 21 giving Arriagada the edge.
“I want to thank everyone involved in my barn – my grooms, my wife, my father-in-law (who works at the barn as a hotwalker), and my son (Nicolas). And my (late) dad Raul, who taught me whatever I know.
“Tampa is a hard place to win races,” the 45-year-old Peru product said. “There is a lot of competition. Mr. Bennett is a very hard-working guy, and I have a lot of respect for him. The way he runs his business is unbelievable. There are a lot of little things you have to do to make everything go so well.”
Arriagada mostly competes at the claiming level, and he recently claimed 2021 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Helium for $32,000, hoping to turn around his recent puzzling form. He is also high on 4-year-old filly Practicality, who has been working sharply for a return to action after breaking her maiden in December.
Arriagada has shown he knows what to do with a good horse. A former jockey who won about 300 races in Peru and Chile before coming to the United States in 2004, Arriagada emerged on the national scene as a trainer in 2021 with 4-year-old filly Estilo Talentoso, whom he had purchased as a 2-year-old for $15,000.
After making her debut that year with a third-place finish in the Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, Estilo Talentoso competed in seven consecutive graded stakes.
Racing under the combined ownership of Medallion Racing, Barry Fowler, Parkland Thoroughbreds, Little Red Feather Racing and BlackRidge Stables while still trained by Arriagada, Estilo Talentoso won the Grade III Bed o’ Roses at Belmont Park.
She also finished second in the Grade I Madison, the Grade II Princess Rooney and the Grade III Runhappy Barbara Fritchie and third in the Grade I Derby City Distaff presented by Kendall-Jackson Winery and Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, concluding her career with earnings of $532,538.
Those kind don’t come along too often, and Arriagada works diligently to replenish his stable with astute claims based on his ability to evaluate a horse’s form and potential before submitting a claims slip.
“Form is very important to me,” said Arriagada, who utilizes Equibase speed figures to determine which direction a horse might be headed. “I also like to watch them walk to the paddock and look at their body to see if they appear sound. You have to look at everything – their legs, eyes, conformation, face, their shoulders – and I’ll have Alison stay by the (claims) box so we don’t miss one I like.”
In this case, the wait is over – Juan Arriagada is getting a Tampa Bay Downs trophy.
Alizee is top race-winner. Jon Arnett won’t get a trophy for finishing second to Bennett in the trainer standings, but he leaves with the leader in races won. The 7-year-old mare Alizee, owned by Rodney M. Miller, posted five victories here from eight starts to claim the honor. Alizee had a second and two thirds in her other efforts.
The daughter of Mark Valeski out of Ron’s Girl, by Lawyer Ron, was claimed by Arnett for $6,250 from her first start of the meet, a 2 ¾-length victory on Nov. 26. She returned 11 days later to win a 7-furlong race in 1:22.81 and remained consistent, rewarding her connections with a splendid campaign.
Around the oval. Trainer John Rigattieri and jockey Raul Mena combined for two winners today. They won the third race with Ritabook, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Monarch Stables. Rigattieri and Mena scored again in the seventh with Winter’s Ghost, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Patrick Mogauro, Jr.
Saturday’s 10-race card begins at 12:10 p.m. The gates will open at 10 a.m. to permit fans to wager on the full card from Churchill Downs, which begins at 10:30. Post time for the 149th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is 6:57 p.m. General admission tickets are $10.
Following Saturday’s card, Tampa Bay Downs will remain open each day 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.
Thoroughbred racing then returns June 30 and July 1 for the 11th annual Summer Festival of Racing, providing local fans with a chance to enjoy the Sport of Kings once more until its return to these parts in November.
In addition to high-spirited Thoroughbred action, this year’s Summer Festival will feature the Paddock Pitmasters BBQ Competition, a mouth-savoring way to kick off the July 4 holiday weekend. Teams of barbecue masters will compete to be judged best-tasting in various divisions – Brisket, Chicken, Pulled Pork and St. Louis/Spare Ribs – with experts from the Florida BBQ Association on hand to rate each creation.
A full set of rules is available on the Tampa Bay Downs Facebook page for anyone desiring to enter. The cost per cooking site is $150. Cooking will be done June 30, with tasting July 1. Fans can purchase a $25 ticket in advance at www.eventbrite.com good for samples at each cooking site or one for $30 at the door the day of the event.