Victor Carrasco, Jr., earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Inter American University of Puerto Rico in 1999 – which was about 15 years after he decided what he wanted to do for a living.
Carrasco was smitten with Thoroughbreds from the time he began hanging around his father’s barn at Hipodromo Camarero in the early 1980s, when he was 5 or 6 years old. The youngster had a mind as wide as his eyes for what it took to produce winners, and the elder Carrasco was happy to feed his curiosity.
Discipline and consistency were important lessons, to be sure, but the need to cater to each horse’s individualized needs and desires made a lasting impression. “Every horse is different, so you treat them all differently. They don’t eat the same amount and they don’t all need the same training,” the younger Carrasco said.
“You have to keep your eyes open, because horses tell you a lot by how they behave and how they look.”
While his father is retired and lives in Puerto Rico after 45 years as a trainer, Carrasco, Jr., is making an impact at Tampa Bay Downs with his 15-horse stable (about 6-to-7 of his charges are owned by Matt Kehoe’s M J M Stable). A recent 7-for-18 stretch enabled the conditioner to earn the Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Award in another spirited competition for the top spot.
Without delving too deeply into details, since there is an element of subjectivity in the selection process and 10 different people might draw 10 different conclusions, suffice to say Carrasco edged Gerald Bennett, Jamie Ness, Juan Arriagada and William E. Morey for the honor.
Carrasco, who began training on his own in 2000, has a relatively small stable, but is always looking for ways to enhance his operation. On Dec. 8, he paid $25,000 to claim owner-trainer Bennett’s Sheza Nasty Girl from a fourth-place finish in a 6-furlong sprint on the main track.
Four weeks later, Carrasco entered the 3-year-old Florida-bred in a maiden claiming race going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf. She dominated eight rivals under jockey Antonio Gallardo, with the winner’s purse of $14,380 nice but probably less meaningful than the possibility Sheza Nasty Girl has found a new outlet (turf going long) for her ability.
Carrasco, who has a 6-year-old daughter Mya with his partner, Jenn Moore, relishes the quiet early-morning time spent with his horses. As hard a sport as racing is, there is no substitute on the backside for love and affection and doing the right thing by the animals.
“I think I communicate well with them. It doesn’t always work, but you try,” said Carrasco, whose nephews Victor R. Carrasco and Carlos Carrasco are mid-Atlantic jockeys. “I just like being around horses. It’s like having another life, and it gives you a lot of freedom.
“We spend a lot of time with them, but it’s not like an 8-to-4 job.”
Maybe more like a college campus, where you never really stop learning even with degree in hand.
Around the oval. Gerald Bennett, who has won eight consecutive Oldsmar training championships, sent out three consecutive winners today. He won the fourth race with Sa Sa Sa, a 3-year-old gelding campaigned by his own Winning Stables enterprise and ridden by Ademar Santos.
In the fifth race, Bennett triumphed with E M’s Treasuregirl, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Averill Racing and ridden by Samy Camacho. Bennett and Camacho scored in the sixth with Athena’s Wisdom, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by J. P. G. 2, Majestic Racing and Winning Stables.
A streak of six consecutive winning favorites was halted in the seventh race – just barely – when 12-1 shot Smile Bryan edged Seiche by a nose, then withstood a claim of foul to make it official. Smile Bryan, an 8-year-old gelding ridden by Melissa Iorio, is owned by Louis Zito and trained by Derek Ryan.
Tampa Turf Test races are Saturday. The second legs of the Tampa Turf Test, a starter handicap series of four progressively longer races for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2023-24, will be contested Saturday. Both races are at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
The Fillies and Mares Division is the third race. Ten are entered, with the winner of the first leg at a mile on Dec. 30, 5-year-old mare Paper Mansion, the 7-5 morning-line favorite. She has won three races in a row and four of her last five. Paper Mansion, who will break from the No. 4 post under jockey Kevin Gomez, is owned by Jagger Inc. and Long Ball Stables and trained by Jamie Ness.
Second choice at 7-2 is 7-year-old mare Princess Javoncia, who will break from the No. 5 post with Charlie Marquez in the saddle. She is owned by Greyledge Thoroughbreds and trained by Tim Hamm.
The Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test is the seventh race. The 3-1 morning-line favorite in the 10-horse field is 6-year-old gelding American Unity, who finished third in the first leg on Dec. 30. Mychel Sanchez will ride from the No. 10 post for owners Morris E. Kernan, Jr., and Jagger Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness.
The first and second-place finishers from the Dec. 30 race, Cannon’s Roar and The Peninsula, are also entered, with 10-year-old gelding Cannon’s Roar the 4-1 second choice. He will break from the No. 5 post under jockey Charlie Marquez. Cannon’s Roar, who has finished first or second in 23 of 52 career starts, is owned by Taking Risks Stable and trained by Michael Wright.
Saturday’s nine-race card begins at 12:46 p.m.
“Live It Up Challenge” starts Saturday. The free “Live It Up Challenge” online handicapping contest begins Saturday and runs through March 9, which is Festival Day 44 at the Oldsmar oval. The deadline to register is 9:30 a.m. First prize is two seats in the 2025 High Rollers Contest (a $2,000 value), to be held next February at Tampa Bay Downs. Second, third and fourth prizes are one seat in next year’s High Rollers Contest.
There is also a $500 bonus prize for the entrant picking the most winners.
There is no cost to enter, and players may register at www.liveitupchallenge.com
All wagers are mythical. Once registered, players are required to pick one horse in two of each day’s three randomly selected “Challenge Races.” Results are determined from a $2 mythical win-place-show wager on their picks. The deadline for selections each day is 2 minutes before a race’s scheduled post time.
Players begin the contest with one free lifeline. Lifelines become necessary when a player does not enter selections for a particular day or when the player’s selection in a “Challenge Race” does not finish first, second or third.
Lifelines can be purchased as follows: eight upon signup, at $5 each; eight on Friday, Feb. 2 for $10 each; and four on Friday, Feb. 16 for $25 each.
In the event all players are eliminated before the end of the contest, the four with the highest bankrolls will be declared the winners.
For a full set of rules, visit www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet.