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December 10, 2014


by Mike Henry
Two horses that earned their first victories at Tampa Bay Downs could reward their connections with a place in the Breeders' Cup record books.

OLDSMAR, FL. – Tampa Bay Downs trainers Arnaud Delacour and Chad Stewart find themselves on the outside looking in approaching the 31st Breeders’ Cup on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

But when the field enters the gate for the Grade I, $1-million Turf Sprint on Saturday, both could be in line to add their names to the exclusive list of Breeders’ Cup race winners: Delacour as the trainer of 5-year-old mare Ageless and Stewart, with his wife Laurie, as the breeder of 5-year-old gelding Tightend Touchdown, last year’s Turf Sprint runner-up.

With 13 Breeders’ Cup races scheduled, culminating in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday, the story lines keep multiplying. Area fans can watch all the action at Tampa Bay Downs both days, as well as full-card simulcasts from Santa Anita and other tracks around the country. Gates open at 11 a.m.

There are four Breeders’ Cup races Friday, with the Juvenile Turf at 5:25 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time kicking off the action, followed by the Dirt Mile, Juvenile Fillies Turf and Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup slate begins at 3:05 p.m. EDT with the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, followed by the Filly and Mare Turf; DraftKings Filly and Mare Sprint; Turf Sprint; Sentient Jet Juvenile; Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf; Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint; Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf; and the Classic.

Delacour’s Ageless is a 5-year-old mare owned by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson. She is first on the also-eligible list for the six-and-a-half furlong Turf Sprint, which is limited to 14 runners; if there is a scratch, Ageless will move into the race. She flew out to southern California on Saturday, two weeks after a whirlwind runner-up finish in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland.

Ironically, Ageless was bumped to No. 15 among Turf Sprint entrants in qualifying by 5-year-old mare Free as a Bird, her conqueror at Keeneland. That is ironic because Free as a Bird, owned by Elizabeth J. Valando, is trained by another of Delacour’s backstretch rivals at Tampa Bay Downs, Ian Wilkes.

It was Wilkes who won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita with Fort Larned. Free as a Bird enters the Turf Sprint with five consecutive victories, all in stakes races. The Turf Sprint is the seventh race on Saturday’s Santa Anita card.

“She (Ageless) came from 15 lengths behind over a very yielding turf course at Keeneland and got beat by a very nice mare” (going five-and-a-half furlongs), Delacour said Tuesday morning from his Fair Hill, Md., training base. “She was probably a little too far back early, but that is the type of race you want as a prep.

“She hasn’t finished out of the money since we moved her to the turf (last November at Laurel), and she won a Grade III stakes at Woodbine and was third in a Grade II (on a synthetic surface) at Presque Isle Downs. It’s ambitious, but she has been very consistent and I think she is a legitimate contender.”

That’s if she gets in. Otherwise, Ageless will run four races earlier in the Grade III, $100,000 Senator Ken Maddy Stakes, also at six-and-a-half furlongs on the downhill turf but restricted to fillies and mares.

“I’m just happy she’s out there and we get to test her on the unique downhill turf course at Santa Anita,” said Delacour, who flies to southern California on Wednesday. “Either way, this will give us an indication of what our options for her will be in the future. There really aren’t many graded races on the East Coast for fillies sprinting on the turf, and I won’t have any mixed emotions if she doesn’t draw into the Breeders’ Cup.”

Ageless began her career in March of 2012 at Tampa Bay Downs, winning a $17,000 maiden special weight contest while trained by Leigh Delacour, Arnaud’s wife. Ageless also ran twice at Tampa Bay Downs last season, capturing a five-furlong off-the-turf optional claiming race and rallying for third in the Grade III Lightning City Stakes.

Julien Leparoux has been named to ride Ageless in both races.

While Delacour and Wilkes get to saddle their horses on an international stage, Stewart will be watching the Turf Sprint with his family from the comfort of home in Ocala, or at least in the immediate vicinity.

The Turf Sprint is scheduled to go off at 5:05, and Chad and Laurie Stewart’s 13-year-old son Zackary is set to quarterback the Junior Division Wolfpack in a Marion County Youth Football League playoff game that begins at 2:30. “The game should be over before the race, but I’ll have my phone with me just in case,” Chad Stewart said.

Tightend Touchdown, who is owned by Mr. Amore Stable and trained by Jason Servis, has raced four times since last year’s Turf Sprint, winning the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup in May and finishing second and third in subsequent Grade III turf sprints at Parx in Philadelphia. Javier Castellano, the 2013 Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Jockey, is set to again ride Tightend Touchdown, who dead-heated for second with Reneesgotzip in the 2013 Turf Sprint, a half-length behind Mizdirection. Tightend Touchdown drew the No. 4 post position.

“Hopefully, he moves up one spot Saturday,” Stewart said. “We’d heard that the plan all along was to get him back to this race. He seems to keep getting better as he gets older; he just goes along doing what he does and never gives up.”

Six years ago, Chad and Laurie Stewart – a practicing veterinarian – sent their broodmare Starry Mark, a daughter of Grade I winner Marquetry, to Lou-Roe Farm near Morriston to be bred to Pure Precision, a Grade III winner as a 2-year-old. They named the foal after their oldest son Christian, who was scoring touchdowns in bunches as a tight end on his youth football team.

The Stewarts sold Tightend Touchdown privately shortly after he broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in late 2011 at odds of 39-1. “I felt he had a lot of ability, but we got offered a lot of money and we had a lot of horses at the time,” Stewart said. “It’s a bittersweet thing; I wouldn’t be sorry if we hadn’t sold him.” Tightend Touchdown is 10-for-26 with lifetime earnings of $727,045.

The Stewarts also bred a half-brother and half-sister to Tightend Touchdown, Lift Off and Sweetasnails. Neither accomplished much as race horses, although Sweetasnails managed six victories and 17 seconds from 62 starts.

“They showed a lot of ability in the morning, but rarely put it out there in the afternoon,” Stewart said. “You never know who has the heart to step forward and apply themselves. Tightend Touchdown has a lot of heart.”

The morning-line favorite for the Turf Sprint at 9-2 is No Nay Never, a Wesley Ward-trained 3-year-old colt whose 4-for-5 career record includes a Group I at Deauville in France, a Group II at Ascot in England and a Grade III at Keeneland on the turf on Oct. 4.

Second choice at 5-1 is Reneesgotzip. Tightend Touchdown is 8-1, while Free as a Bird is 15-1 and Ageless is 20-1. Still another Turf Sprint entrant with Tampa Bay Downs experience is 3-year-old colt Bobby’s Kitten, who turned in an impressive turf score here in a $36,000 1-mile turf allowance.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic, scheduled for 8:35 EDT on Saturday night, is expected to settle the Horse of the Year competition. Shared Belief, the unbeaten 3-year-old, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite.

Golden Ticket, a 5-year-old who finished second in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in 2012, competes in Friday’s Dirt Mile for owner Magic City Thoroughbred Partners and trainer Ken McPeek. The Midwest Thoroughbreds operation of Rich and Karen Papiese – leading owner at Tampa Bay Downs the last five meetings – has entered 5-year-old gelding Work All Week in Saturday’s Xpressbet Sprint.

Rusty Slipper, who won her first two starts at Tampa Bay Downs during the 2012-13 meeting, competes in the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday for trainer H. Graham Motion. Also in the Filly and Mare Turf is 5-year-old Parranda, bred by the George Steinbrenner family’s Kinsman Farm in Ocala.