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LUSK KEEPS FAITH IN COMMANDER KEITH; MENESES WINS JOCKEYS’ CHALLENGE
Published Jul 1, 2023
by Mike Henry

History has a funny way of repeating itself on the racetrack. Just ask trainer Brian Lusk.

Two years ago on the second day of the Summer Festival of Racing at Tampa Bay Downs, Lusk sent out two winners. Since the July 1 card is officially the first day of the subsequent meet, Lusk was the Oldsmar oval’s leading trainer (tied with Earl Robinson, for super-serious historians) until late November of 2021.

Lusk saddled two winners today, taking the top spot in the standings by himself until at least Nov. 22, when the 2023-2024 meet is expected to resume. And while his 4-year-old Florida-bred colt Sociallongdistance was 2-5 to win today’s fourth race, a 1-mile turf allowance, few among a festive July 4 weekend gathering foresaw Commander Keith’s victory in the seventh race at odds of 45-1 – except, perhaps, Lusk, who risked a $5 across-the-board wager on his horse.

“He always runs good off a layoff. When he won here in January (at odds of 67-1) it was his first race in almost seven months,” Lusk said. “And his last race before today was May 5, so he seems to run better when he doesn’t race that frequently.”

The 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding’s win payoff of $137.80 last winter was the largest of the 2022-2023 meet, and who knows how long it will take for a horse to surpass today’s $92.80 bonanza when the Thoroughbreds return. Commander Keith is owned by Lusk’s mother Colleen Lusk, who took possession from his previous owner after a deal to sell him as a show horse fell through.

Jockey Mario Fuentes took Commander Keith back off a blistering pace set by Luis Two Guns and Fly Fly Away, and while those two faded, Commander Keith grabbed the lead in the stretch and held off a determined charge by Chess’s Dream by a nose. “(Fuentes) did a great job. He realized the pace was way too fast, and that was the difference,” Lusk said.

Commander Keith’s time for the 1-mile on the turf was 1:34.62, only .38 seconds off Sociallongdistance’s winning time. That winner was ridden by Jose L. Alonso and is owned by his breeder, Ricardo De Anda.

While Alonso rode two winners to take the top spot in the track jockey standings until Thanksgiving time, Marcos Meneses scored a victory and a second today to nail down the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge title. Meneses rode three winners Friday, posting a lead too large for any of his rivals to mount a major threat.

Meneses accumulated 75 points over the two-day competition, 14 more than the runner-up, apprentice Laureano Sosa. Alonso, who won on 4-year-old filly Double Cosmo Girl in the eighth and final race on the turf, finished third with 58 points.

Meneses took home top prize of $2,500, with Sosa earning $1,500 and Alonso $1,000.

“I’m very happy. That’s what I was looking for,” said Meneses, who had tied for second in last year’s Jockeys’ Challenge, a point behind Ademar Santos. “I’m grateful to Tampa Bay Downs for these two days and to the owners, trainers and people from Ocala who gave me all the opportunities.”

A victory in the third race on Luscious Dancer – the 3-year-old Florida-bred colt’s first in 15 career starts – gave Meneses the impetus to keep his closest pursuers resigned to a futile chase throughout the day.

The 11th annual Summer Festival of Racing also featured “all-you-can-eat” barbecue prepared by six of the top barbecue chefs in the Tampa Bay area. Patrons enjoyed brisket, chicken, pulled pork and ribs and a variety of side items during the Paddock Pitmasters competition throughout the afternoon while viewing the races.

As mentioned, today’s card was the first of the 2023-2024 meet, which is scheduled to resume on Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving. The Summer Festival of Racing was begun in 2013 to enable Tampa Bay Downs to gain control of its summer simulcasting revenue.

Brian Lusk is leading trainer from now until Turkey Time, thanks to Commander Keith; Marcos Meneses wins Jockeys' Challenge, $2,500 top prize.
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