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December 12, 2014


by Mike Henry
Catalina Red (Stephanie Valenti photo, above) sets Inaugural Stakes record; Antonio Gallardo rides R Sassy Lass to Sandpiper score, one of five victories for the red-hot Spaniard.

Although Catalina Red had yet to win entering today’s $100,000 Inaugural Stakes, he had done nothing to disappoint Ocala-based trainer Chad Stewart.

But the 2-year-old colt took his game to another level, defeating eight rivals by a widening margin of seven-and-a-quarter lengths in the 30th annual, six-furlong event in stakes-record time of 1:09.32 on a memorable Cotillion Festival Day Presented by Lambholm South card featuring nine races for 2-year-olds.

In the other co-feature, the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, R Sassy Lass wore down Coco’s Wildcat in deep stretch to post a half-length victory in 1:10.48 for the six furlongs. R Sassy Lass was one of five winners on the day for red-hot jockey Antonio Gallardo, the defending track riding champion who has 11 victories over the last four days of racing.

Both winners were ultra-impressive, but Catalina Red’s triumph as a maiden earned the chestnut colt top billing, at least when it came to the equines.

“We liked his first two races on turf (a pair of thirds at Gulfstream and Gulfstream Park West), but we always wanted to try him on dirt,” Stewart said. “I thought he should have won his last race (a five-and-a-half furlong dirt race at Gulfstream Park West on Nov. 8, in which Catalina Red finished second). He had a rough trip and wasn’t leveled out really good.”

Under jockey Daniel Centeno, Catalina Red was virtual poetry in motion, tracking a moderate early pace before moving to the lead around the turn with authority. Charlie’s Brother, a 16-1 shot, held on well for second, but there was little doubt about the outcome once the winner hit the eighth pole.

Duke of Luke was third and Lord Tyrion finished fourth in the nine-horse field.

“It feels really good,” said Stewart, who purchased Catalina Red for owner Anthony A. Lenci for $71,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Spring 2-Year-Old Sale. “I really liked the way he looked and worked at the sale, and he ought to be able to get a little farther. I wasn’t too worried about running a maiden (non-winner) here. A lot of these 2-year-olds make drastic improvements from race to race.”

Stewart plans to talk to Lenci about Catalina Red’s next start, which could come in the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes here on Dec. 27.

The winner is a son of Munnings-Lovely Dream, by Freud, bred in Florida by France and Irwin J. Weiner. He paid $7.40 to win as the second wagering choice. He broke the track record of 1:09.93 set two years ago by Purple Egg.

Five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno rode Catalina Red with abundant confidence, getting good position on the rail early before moving out to launch his winning bid.

“Mr. Stewart told me this guy was ready to run a big one,” Centeno said. “I watched a video of his last start and the colt put in a sharp move as soon as he was asked, so I thought waiting with him early would work out.

“We were in a bit tight leaving the gate and I dropped him in behind the leaders, and after that we had a perfect trip. We went around the leaders easily and we were on our own through the stretch,” Centeno said.

In the 36th annual Sandpiper, Coco’s Wildcat and jockey Luis Garcia took over from pace-setter Cheers for Sidney at the eighth pole, but R Sassy Lass had launched a bid and continued on with abundant energy to wrest the victory for owners Averill Racing, LLC, Silver Oak Stable (Jim Tipps and Tim Erensen) and Gregory Kaufman. R Sassy Lass, who broke her maiden by nine-and-a-half lengths Sept. 27 at Gulfstream, is now 2-for-4.

Kirk Ziadie trains R Sassy Lass, a Florida-bred daughter of Exclusive Quality-Sassy Bear, by Cherokee Run. Bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung, she was purchased for $40,000 at the OBS Spring 2-Year-Old Sale.

Coco’s Wildcat was more than five lengths ahead of third-place finisher Innovative Idea, the 2-1 favorite.

“Up until about a week ago, we were debating whether to run (R Sassy Lass) in the Sandpiper or an allowance, but after her last race she deserved this shot,” said principal owner Rich Averill, a Bradenton, Fla., resident perhaps best known for winning the 2005 Florida Oaks with R Lady Joy, who added the Grade II Delaware Oaks that season and finished third in the Grade I Alabama.

“He (Gallardo) was definitely asking her on the turn, and at that point I thought she probably would just hit the board,” Averill said. “But she kept grinding away. I’m not sure if the outside was where you wanted to be, and she showed a lot of heart.”

R Sassy Lass could surface next in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes on Dec. 27.

Gallardo made a well-timed move to rally his filly, who paid $8.60 to win. “I had a couple of options in this race but after I worked this filly last month (at Gulfstream Park West), I knew she was more than just fast,” Gallardo said. “I told Mr. Ziadie then I wanted to ride her in the Sandpiper. It worked out just right. I was able to get her to relax behind the leaders and then asked her to run at them in the turn.

“I was impressed with her today. I am sure she will be able to go on.”

And Gallardo won even more fans by winning the 10th race on the turf on 3-year-old colt Carson’s Ten for breeder-owner Joseph LaCombe Stables and trainer Kathleen O’Connell, his fifth on the card. His parents, Antonio and Paqui, are visiting Gallardo and his family from Spain, and are now even more secure with his career path, one would think.

Gallardo is one of a handful of jockeys to win five races on a single Tampa Bay Downs card, the most recent Hall of Famer John Velazquez two seasons ago. Richard DePass set the track record of seven in 1980.

“It feels good,” said Gallardo, who was almost at a loss for words after his first career five-bagger. “I thank God I had good luck, good horses and today everything was so perfect. It was a very exciting day.”

O’Connell and fellow trainer Eoin Harty each sent out a pair of winners. O’Connell’s other victory came in the third race on the turf with 2-year-old filly Cardinal Cove and Gallardo aboard.

Harty won a pair for breeder-owner Darley Stable, first in the fifth on the turf with 2-year-old filly Macchiato with Ronnie Allen, Jr., riding and in the seventh on the grass with juvenile gelding Crittenden, Gallardo again doing the honors.

5,700 and counting. Only a handful of Tampa Bay Downs bettors knew of jockey Jacinto R. Herrera Gomez before Saturday, but the 43-year-old has achieved something close to living-legend status in Argentina. The native of Lima, Peru had ridden more than 5,700 winners before retiring six years ago, but his stirring ride aboard 50-1 shot Forty Straight in the second race today showed his skills remain intact.

Forty Straight and Herrera Gomez rallied from mid-pack to win the six-furlong, $25,000 maiden claiming event for 2-year-old fillies by a length and a quarter from favorite Tiz Tigress. Owned by Ramiro Rosas-Medina and trained by Horacio Barbaran, Forty Straight paid $102.20 as the longest shot in the race.

A first-time starter, Forty Straight had been working under Herrera Gomez at the Eclipse Training Center in Ocala for her debut.

Herrera Gomez kept himself sharp working horses in Ocala and was rewarded with his first victory in the United States in his fourth Tampa Bay Downs race. He is one of three current Tampa Bay Downs jockeys from Peru, along with Pablo Morales and Fernando De La Cruz (another Peruvian jockey, Huber Villa-Gomez, is sidelined with a non-racing related injury).

“I love the horses. That’s why I decided to ride again,” he said.

Please visit the Tampa Bay Downs Facebook page for additional coverage.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track will add Sundays to the mix on Dec. 21.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25. Simulcast wagering will not be offered December 24. Additionally, on Christmas Eve, The Silks Poker Room will be open from 10 a.m.-1 a.m., and The Downs Golf Practice Facility will close at 4:30 p.m.