Three stakes records and a track record excite a massive crowd; ball in trainer Todd Pletcher's court as Tapwrit proves he's ready to take the next step toward a possible date with destiny.
A barely perceptible smile on the face of jockey Jose Ortiz signals that Tapwrit is home free in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (courtesy SV Photography)
When you put more money up for grabs than ever before in track history, it’s logical to expect top-quality racing.
Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit and the other four stakes winners more than delivered.
The Festival Day card produced a track record and three stakes records (four if you count the Columbia Stakes, which was being run at a distance of a mile on the turf for the first time).
A crowd of 10,079 more than did its part to make the day memorable, contributing to total wagering handle of $12,123,021.60, the second-largest figure in Tampa Bay Downs annals.
“We’re extremely pleased and proud to see our biggest day receive such tremendous support from the Tampa Bay community,” said track Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube. “We wish all the participants the best of fortune going forward, and naturally we’re hopeful Tapwrit will move on to compete in the Kentucky Derby (Presented by Yum! Brands).”
The striking gray colt Tapwrit was the unquestioned standout of the afternoon, launching a powerful move approaching the far turn and going on to a four-and-a-half length victory from State of Honor in the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. His time of 1:42.36 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth is a new stakes record, and would have been a track record had not his stablemate, 5-year-old Stanford, won the $100,000 Challenger at the same distance three races earlier.
Both horses are trained by Todd Pletcher, who won his third consecutive Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, fourth in five years and fifth overall. Tapwrit earned 50 points toward qualifying for a berth in the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Also setting a course record was the 3-year-old filly Fifty Five, who won the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf in 1:41.60 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth.
Here are a few other highlights from Festival Day:
GRADE II, $350,000 LAMBHOLM SOUTH TAMPA BAY DERBY
Tapwrit's connections are joined by Lambholm South owner Roy Lerman, second from right, and Tampa Bay Downs President-Treasurer Stella F. Thayer (courtesy Elizabeth Swarzman)
If the winner of today’s 37th Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Tapwrit, goes on to greater glory, the 10,079 fans in attendance at Tampa Bay Downs may remember his decisive surge entering the far turn as “the move.”
“He just exploded,” said Aron Wellman, President of co-owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “That was what we were hoping for, and he delivered.”
“When I asked him between the half-mile and 3/8 poles, he let me know he was going to win the race right away,” said jockey Jose Ortiz. “He’s really scary, and I think he is going to keep improving.”
“We were looking for a big effort from him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said from south Florida via telephone, “and this was everything we could hope for. He won pretty convincingly, and we’re very pleased.”
Tapwrit paid $4.20 to win as the heavy betting favorite.
Tapwrit, who finished second to unbeaten McCraken here four weeks ago in the Grade III Sam F. Davis, earned his second stakes victory in the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, defeating a game State of Honor by four-and-a-half lengths. Wild Shot was third, followed by No Dozing and Beasley.
Tapwrit’s time of 1:42.36 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth is a new stakes record, bettering the mark of 1:42.82 set last year by Destin. Earlier on the card, the Pletcher-trained 5-year-old Stanford bettered McCraken’s short-lived Sam F. Davis track mark for the distance by winning the Challenger Stakes in 1:41.75.
Pletcher’s Sonic Mule finished eighth.
“He (Tapwrit) had kind of a rough trip around the first turn and got shuffled around a little, but he handled it professionally and steadied himself and got in good stride up the backstretch,” Pletcher said. “After he made the lead, Jose kept him occupied down the lane because he has a tendency to idle when he gets ahead. This was everything we could have hoped for.”
Tapwrit improved to 3-for-5 in his career and the winner’s share of $210,000 raised his career earnings to $313,902.
Tapwrit is owned in partnership by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, John and Leslie Malone’s Bridlewood Farm and Robert V. LaPenta. He was bred by My Meadowview LLC. The partners purchased him for $1.2-million two years ago at the August Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale. Tapwrit is by Tapit, out of the Successful Appeal mare Appealing Zophie.
“This was a breakout race for him,” LaPenta said. “I really felt he stepped up today. This is such a tough sport, and a win like this brings you to the moon.”
For now, Ortiz is prepared to keep both feet firmly in the irons.
“I really like him a lot, and I think he can go a mile-and-an-eighth and a mile-and-a-quarter,” he said. “If he has competition beside him, I think he is going to get much and much better.”
GRADE II, $200,000 HILLSBOROUGH STAKES
Dickinson is poetry in motion in an impressive Hillsborough score (courtesy SV Photography)
Paco Lopez knew he was sitting on a powder keg. And when he lit the fuse, 5-year-old mare Dickinson responded with a powerhouse performance.
The Godolphin Racing-owned daughter of Medaglia d’Oro gobbled up pace-setter Isabella Sings through the stretch, posting a half-length victory in the 19th edition of the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.
Dickinson’s time of 1:46.75 for the mile-and-an-eighth was only .49 seconds off the course record set in last year’s Hillsborough by Tepin.
Elysea’s World rallied nicely to finish second, while never really threatening the winner. Isabella Sings finished third and Evidently was fourth.
Dickinson and Elysea’s World had finished 1-2 four weeks earlier in the Grade III Suwanee River on the turf at Gulfstream.
Dickinson, who is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, improved to 6-for-13 with her second consecutive stakes victory. She is 4-for-5 since being moved to the turf last September.
“I was very lucky to have the best horse in the race, and she turned in a very good performance,” Lopez said.
“We’ve been patient with her, and we’re starting to be rewarded,” said Jimmy Bell, President and Racing Manager in the United States for Godolphin. “Paco fits her very well and he gave her a great ride today. We love her versatility, but the turf is where she has really started to flourish.”
Dickinson paid $8 to win.
GRADE III, $200,000 FLORIDA OAKS
Jockey Jose Ortiz times Fifty Five's rally perfectly to win Oaks (courtesy SV Photography)
Observers expecting the 34th edition of the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks to be one of the best in race history weren’t disappointed.
After favorite La Coronel wrested the lead from Compelled in deep stretch, New York-bred 3-year-old filly Fifty Five flew by both of them in the final strides to post a neck victory from La Coronel. Compelled was another half-length back, followed by Dynatail.
Fifty Fiver’s time of 1:41.60 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf was a stakes record, bettering the mark of 1:41.89 set in 2013 by Tapicat.
“She’s a heartthrob, because she always comes from behind like that,” said John Crowe, who bred and owns Fifty Five with his wife Sandy under their Empire Equines banner.
“When (jockey Jose Ortiz) took her back early, I thought ‘She’s done this before,’ ” said Sandy Crowe. “But when they turned for home, I said ‘Get her moving, get her moving.’ ”
Ortiz, as he so often does, responded with skill and cool, rallying Fifty Five for her third victory in five starts and first stakes triumph.
“The trainer (Thomas M. Bush) just told me to keep patient and when you ask her, she is going to give you a big run,” Ortiz said. “I just tried to follow (La Coronel) because I knew she was going to be tough, and as soon as we passed the eighth pole, I knew we had a decent chance to win.”
Fifty Five is by Get Stormy out of the Crowes’ mare Soave, who died earlier this year.
“The fractions (22.83 for the quarter-mile and 46.90 for the half, set by runaway leader Like a Hurricane) helped us quite a bit, but she did move up on the backside with the rest of the field and was in pretty good shape,” Bush said. “It’s a terrific feeling. She just won a graded stakes and has improved every time we’ve run her, and you can’t ask more from a horse than that.”
Stanford, under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, schools his rivals in record-setting Challenger (courtesy SV Photography)
Two other stakes were run today, and each produced impressive winners. In the 26th running of the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, the addition of blinkers seemed to make a big difference for 5-year-old horse Stanford, who broke on top and led his six rivals on a futile pursuit throughout. Stanford and jockey John Velazquez passed the wire three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of Ami’s Flatter, completing the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance in stakes and track-record time of 1:41.75.
The clocking eclipsed the former track record of 1:42.45 set four weeks earlier by McCraken in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Stanford, a multiple graded-stakes winner who is now 6-for-15 lifetime, is owned by Stonestreet Stables, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith and trained by Todd Pletcher. First-place money of $60,000 raised his career earnings to $1,334,360.
“His first jump out of the gate was good, then the second jump he kind of stumbled a little bit and I had to kind of grab him by the reins,” Velazquez said. “He got a little aggressive going through the first turn, but once he got to the backstretch he relaxed pretty good and the ears went up.
“Down the lane, I wanted to see how he would do because it was his first time with blinkers and he tends to wait on horses. He actually responded pretty well,” Velazquez added.
Stanford paid $3 to win as the overwhelming wagering favorite. “When he hit the quarter-mile pole, it looked like he kind of took off,” said Pletcher’s assistant, Ginny DePasquale. “His last race (the Poseidon Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 28), he kind of looked at something on the rail and ducked a little bit, and he lost by a hair.
“Todd wanted to try blinkers and make him focus a little more, and it seemed to do the job quite well,” DePasquale said. “John wanted to see what he had in the tank so he hit him once or twice down the lane, and that was all he really needed.”
Sonic Boom withstands multiple challenges to win Columbia (courtesy SV Photography)
The Festival Day stakes card kicked off with the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, last run in 2009 as the Chris Thomas Turf Classic and now a 1-mile turf contest for 3-year-olds. After pressing the pace in the early going, Sonic Boom, a Kentucky-bred colt owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Ian Wilkes, took the lead in the stretch and held off late charges from Profiteer and Holiday Stone for the victory in a four-horse blanket finish.
Julien Leparoux rode Sonic Boom, who improved to 2-for-5 with his first stakes triumph. He paid $8 to win after racing the distance in 1:34.73. His winning margin was a neck from Profiteer, with Holiday Stone another neck back and South Sea fading slightly to fourth in a four-horse blanket finish.
“Ian told me (Friday) he had been doing very well, and he showed up today,” Leparoux said. “I think he is the kind of horse that is going to keep getting better. He just needs to relax a little bit. On the backstretch, he grabbed the bit with me, but it’s good because he still finished.
“We didn’t have the perfect trip – we were three or four wide on the backside and two-wide on the far turn – but he showed a big heart and tried all the way to the wire.”
Wilkes, who watched the race from Gulfstream Park, said he plans to keep the son of More Than Ready-Silent Circle, by Indian Charlie, on the turf for the foreseeable future.
“They were coming at him from different angles and he could have easily folded, but he wasn’t going to let them get by,” Wilkes said. “Julien gave him a very good ride and I’m very happy with the result.”
In the $38,500 Manatee Overnight Handicap, contested as the second race, 7-year-old mare Spanish Concert led from gate to wire and turned away a stretch challenge from Royal Jewely to win by one length.
The Florida-bred Spanish Concert had won the Minaret Stakes here on Feb. 18 and is now 7-for-14 on the main Tampa Bay Downs surface, with six seconds. Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode Spanish Concert, sweeping the early daily double after winning the first race on owner-trainer Maria Bowersock’s 6-year-old gelding Financial Freedom, who was claimed from that victory by trainer Darien Rodriguez for new owner Sabal Racing Stable
Spanish Concert is owned by James M. Chicklo and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Her time for the six-and-a-half furlongs was 1:17.02.
Egyptian Hero, a $1-million sales 2-year-old-in-training a year ago, rallied from off the pace to win the Lambholm South Race of the Week, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event that was run as the fourth race.
The victory was the second in a row at Tampa Bay Downs for Egyptian Hero, a son of Pioneerof the Nile who is owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and John Magnier and trained by Todd Pletcher. John Velazquez rode the 3-year-old Triple Crown nominee, who raced the seven-furlong distance in 1:23.67. The Cookie Man finished second, three-quarters of a length back.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 16 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.