Thoroughbred trainer John Servis knows Triple Crown contenders aren’t made in January.
But based on what he’s seen thus far from his 3-year-old colt Adirondack King, Servis wants to give him every opportunity to prove he belongs in Louisville, Ky. on the first Saturday in May.
The Kentucky-bred son of Lawyer Ron-Jostle, a winner of his previous three races at Parx Racing in Philadelphia, will be challenged by nine other sophomores in Saturday’s $100,000 Pasco Stakes, the co-feature on the 11-race Skyway Festival Day card.
The seven-furlong Pasco is the 10th race on the program. The other co-feature, the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, is the eighth race and will also be contested over seven furlongs.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with the Morning Glory Club on the first floor of the grandstand. Track announcer Richard Grunder’s guest is jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr.
Servis, who trains Adirondack King for MarchFore Thoroughbreds, is recognizable to racing fans as the trainer of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, who won eight of nine starts in his stellar career and also started his winning ways in Philadelphia. Coming to Tampa Bay Downs to ride Adirondack King is Stewart Elliott, jockey of Smarty Jones and Adirondack King’s pilot in each of his victories.
“Stewart wanted to come down and ride him because he has a lot of confidence in him,” Servis said.
Adirondack King has been prepping for his 3-year-old debut at Palm Meadows Training Center on Florida’s east coast. His most recent workout was a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 on Jan. 5. He last raced Nov. 13 at Parx, winning the $75,000, six-and-a-half furlong Christopher Elser Memorial.
“Knock on wood, he hasn’t missed a beat since we got him to Palm Meadows,” Servis said. “His last workout, he went nice and easy, finished up well and galloped out strong. He’s coming back after being freshened, and I liked the distance of the Pasco, so hopefully this will be the first step to get him on the (Kentucky) Derby trail.”
Servis was impressed by the quality of the Pasco field and emphasized Adirondack King does not have to win to justify his trip to Tampa. Nor, Servis said, would a defeat preclude him from returning to Tampa Bay Downs for the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 4 or the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10.
“I don’t have him geared up 110 percent for Saturday,” Servis said. “Hopefully, we can have a lot of horse by the time May rolls around. People say you need a race over the track at Tampa, but if he is a good horse he will take to it. I can tell you he has shown signs of being a really good horse, but he has to get a lot better to get on the Derby trail. But it looks like he is doing that. He is improving every day.”
There is no question Adirondack King is bred to get the Derby distance of a mile-and-a-quarter. His sire, Lawyer Ron, was a top 3-year-old of 2006, winning the Risen Star, the Southwest, the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby. As a 4-year-old, Lawyer Ron won the Grade I Whitney and Woodward Handicaps and the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap.
Servis trained Adirondack King’s dam Jostle for Fox Hill Farms, Inc., and she showed her affinity for two-turn racing as a 2-year-old, winning three stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth and beyond. As a 3-year-old, she climbed to new heights, won the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan, the 1 ½-mile Coaching Club American Oaks and the 1 1/14-mile Alabama.
“Physically, (Adirondack King) and Jostle don’t look anything alike, but training-wise he seems to have some quirks she possessed,” Servis said. “She was a true route horse, and one thing Stewart has said is he is very eager to see him stretch out to a distance.”
Adirondack King has drawn the No. 1 post for the Pasco. Other likely top challengers include John C. Oxley’s Prospective, winner of the Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine as a 2-year-old; For Oby, winner of the Jack Price Juvenile at Calder and a game second in last month’s Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream; Burning Time, who captured the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder in September; and the one-two finishers in last month’s Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, Angelofdistinction and Wildcat Creek.
The morning-line favorite for the Gasparilla is Oxley’s Delightful Magic, who broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in October before finishing fifth in the Delta Downs Princess Stakes on Nov. 19. Oxley campaigned Monarchos, winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby.
Others with serious credentials for the Gasparilla include Ode to Sami and Venetian Sonata, who finished fourth in the Arlington Washington Lassie on Sept. 10 while beaten only a length and a half.
Post time for the first race is 12:25 p.m. There is a carryover of $9,968.87 in the Pick-5, which will begin with Saturday’s seventh race.
Morning Glory Club attendees receive free coffee and donuts and passes to the races.