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January 11, 2015


by Mike Henry
Through the first quarter of the 2014-2015 meeting, at least nine trainers appear to have a decent shot at the wins title, while Antonio Gallardo is running away with the jockeys' race.

In recent seasons, Jamie Ness has usually built an insurmountable early advantage in the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings, while the leading jockey competition has been up for grabs.

Through 23 days of the 2014-2015 meeting, the storylines have been reversed.

Nine trainers have saddled between 6-9 winners, with Gerald Bennett – who shared the 2010-2011 Oldsmar title with Ness at 61 victories apiece – atop the pack with nine victories. Two-time track champion Kathleen O’Connell has sent out eight winners, followed by Eoin Harty and Chad Stewart with seven apiece.

No fewer than five conditioners have won six races: Ness, David Hinsley, Joe Woodard, Sandino Hernandez, Jr., and Jason DaCosta.

Ness has captured a record eight consecutive Tampa Bay Downs titles. The only other trainer to win eight Oldsmar crowns, the late Don Rice, spread his between the 1994-1995 and 2004-2005 seasons.

In the jockeys’ race, defending champion Antonio Gallardo has amassed a substantial lead with 44 winners from 151 mounts. Next is five-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno, who has 21 victories.

Included in Centeno’s haul are three stakes victories: the Inaugural Stakes and Pasco Stakes aboard the sensational 3-year-old Catalina Red (the first in stakes-record time, the second a track record) and Saturday’s Turf Dash Stakes on Bold Thunder in course-record time.

Ronnie Allen, Jr., himself a four-time Oldsmar champ, is third with 15 victories, followed by Fernando De La Cruz, 14; Harry Vega, 11; Victor Lebron, 11; and Rosemary Homeister, Jr., 9.

DaCosta and De La Cruz teamed for two victories on today’s card. De La Cruz has ridden five winners over the last two days, including three for DaCosta.

They won today’s third race with 4-year-old gelding Magic Luck, owned by DaCosta in partnership with W. Mike Anderson and Benjamin Scherlis. Their next trip to the winner’s circle came after the fifth race with 7-year-old mare Blondecat for owners Arrowhead Stable and Daniel Hurtak.

Antonio Gallardo and Harry Vega each rode two winners today, as well. Gallardo was victorious in the seventh race on 8-year-old horse Framed for owner Adam Staple and trainer Wayne Minnock and captured the 10th and final race on the turf on 4-year-old filly Be Playful for breeder-owner Team Block and trainer Chad Stewart.

He scored in the first on 5-year-old mare The Business for owner Neal Allread and trainer Barbara McBride (The Business was claimed from the race by trainer Julia Carey for new owner Pine Branch Stable).

Vega later won the eighth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week on the turf, on 4-year-old gelding Racetrack Romance for owner Julian De Mora and trainer Marcial Navarro.

Stakes nominations. The 29th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf for horses 4-years-old-and-upward, to be contested Saturday, Jan. 24, closed Saturday with 34 nominations.

The mile-and-a-sixteenth event is the centerpiece of a lucrative card that will include the 11th edition of the $100,000, five-furlong Lightning City Stakes on the turf for fillies and mares 4-and-up and the 31st renewal of the $100,000, six-furlong Pelican Stakes on the main track for horses 4-and-up.

Among the nominees for the Tampa Bay Stakes is the 2014 winner, Guys Reward, from the barn of trainer Dale Romans. The 8-year-old also won the Grade III Metropolitan Jets Oceanport Stakes last summer at Monmouth Park.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has nominated four to the Tampa Bay Stakes, including Al Shaqab Racing’s 5-year-old Mshawish, who won Saturday’s Grade II Fort Lauderdale Stakes on the Gulfstream turf; Let’s Go Stable’s 4-year-old Divine Oath, a multiple-Grade III winner; and Robert S. Evans’ Grade II turf winner Unitarian.

Last season’s Lightning City and Pelican winners have also been nominated to their respective stakes. Owner-trainer Wesley Ward might try for a repeat in the Lightning City with 5-year-old mare Shrinking Violet, who appears in sharp form after her Jan. 4 victory in the Grade II Monrovia Stakes on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita.

For the Pelican, breeder-owner-trainer Lynne Scace has nominated her 5-year-old Palace Barista, who sprung an upset last year at odds of 12-1. Also nominated to the race are millionaire Bourbon Courage from the barn of trainer Kellyn Gorder and Bach Stables, LLC’s 4-year-old Yogi Berra, who has won both of his career starts at Tampa Bay Downs.

Thoroughbred racing returns to Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs will conduct racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through January before adding Thursdays to the mix in February. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

“Live It Up Challenge.” Registration has begun for the second annual free online “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, with players vying for the grand prize of a seat in the 2016 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Championship and $1,000 in cash.

Additional prizes of $1,000 for second place, $500 for third and $500 for most winners selected throughout the contest will also be at stake. The contest runs from Saturday, Jan. 31 – which is Festival Preview Day at Tampa Bay Downs – through Saturday, April 4, which is Florida Cup Day.

Players can register online and get the complete set of rules at on the Internet. All wagers are mythical. Players must make a selection every day; those skipping a day incur a strike, with three strikes ending their participation. Players also incur a strike when their selection in one of that day’s “Challenge Races” does not finish first, second or third.

All players begin the competition with two life lines. A new feature will give players the opportunity to purchase two additional life lines before the contest and extra life lines at two specified times during the competition. The deadline to register is 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, the first day of the contest.

Cap Giveaway Day. Tampa Bay Downs will hold its annual Cap Giveaway Day on Saturday. Fans will receive a high-quality cap with the new Tampa Bay Downs logo with each paid admission. Patrons will also have the opportunity to meet many of the track’s leading jockeys and get autographs.