When Action Andy was 2, owner Robert Gerczak and trainer Carlos Garcia worried they might lose him because of Wobbler’s Syndrome.
“We almost put him down, he was so bad off,” said Gerczak after Action Andy’s dominant 3 ½-length victory in Saturday’s $60,000-guaranteed Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. “Dr. (Allison) Faber did a bunch of chiropractic work and acupuncture treatments on him.”
“She brought him along,” Garcia said. “She is the one who saved him.”
The older he gets, the more he rewards his handlers’ love. The six-furlong Pelican was the second stakes victory for the now-5-year-old gelding, who won the one-mile Kitten’s Joy Stakes on the Colonial Downs turf in July.
The Pelican triumph was the fifth in 20 career starts for Action Andy, a Maryland-bred son of Gators N Bears-Love Me Twice, by Not For Love. Action Andy has finished second seven times. His winning rider in the Pelican, 52-year-old Jesse Garcia, was aboard Action Andy for two allowance victories last season at Tampa Bay Downs.
Action Andy’s victory was the 2,009th in Garcia’s career and the 1,304th for trainer Carlos Garcia (no relation), who has 135 stakes victories.
Action Andy paid $14 to win, streaking home in 1:09.58. Good Lord rallied along the rail for second, a half-length ahead of Why Pretend, who had a half-length on Gold Strike Begins in the nine-horse field.
It’s Never to Late, the 8-5 favorite, finished fifth, while early pace setters Tommy’s Memory and Gibson faded to seventh and eighth.
Jesse Garcia, who thought Action Andy could have won the Pelican Prep on Dec. 14 – he finished a neck behind Quiz Whiz, who was last in the Pelican – kept Action Andy within striking distance early Saturday and rode confidently throughout. Tommy’s Memory’s early fractions of 21.96 and 44.28 set things up perfectly for Action Andy’s stalking trip.
“I know this horse really well and Mr. Garcia has got him back in top form,” the jockey said. “In his last start, maybe he was too sharp. We got bumped early in the race and he still made a big run. Today he broke just right and I was able to settle him behind the leaders. I didn’t ask him until the middle of the turn and he just took off.”
Carlos Garcia – formerly an assistant to Laz Barrera, the trainer of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed – said Action Andy was coming up to the race superbly, but still expressed surprise at the final time, which was less than a second off the track and stakes records.
“He came out of the previous race very well, and I only worked him one time since then, (five furlongs) in 1:02 nice and easy,” Garcia said. “Like (Hall of Fame trainer) Horatio Luro, my mentor, told me one day, ‘Don’t squeeze the lemon dry.’ We were planning on this race from the beginning of the meet; now, we have some recalculating to do.”
Runner-up Good Lord unseated jockey Willie Martinez before entering the gate, but the pair reunited to claim second, although never threatening the winner.
“He ran a good race,” said Forrest Kaelin, Good Lord’s trainer. “They weren’t walking out there. I was glad to see Carlos win if I didn’t.”
Gerczak, who owns an insurance agency in White Stone, Va., bought out his former partner in Action Andy in late 2010 at auction for $15,000. “Nobody else bid on him,” Gerczak said. “He has really paid some dividends. I come from a real little town, and I know all my friends saw this on TV. It’s a really good feeling.”
Likely no better than Action Andy, who keeps improving with age thanks to his connections’ diligence in fixing his early problems.
In other action Saturday, Pyrite Personal held off favorite Allie’s Event through the stretch to win the $30,000 Lambholm South Race of the Week at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf. An 8-year-old Ohio-bred gelding owned by Pyrite Stables and trained by Miguel Feliciano, Pyrite Personal paid $22.20. He was ridden by Ricardo Feliciano.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. The first live Sunday card of the 2011-12 meeting features a brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Skye Terrace. The cost is $28.95.
Tampa Bay Downs is open each day for simulcast racing, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.