After Ancil posted a blazing time of 43.46 seconds for the opening half-mile of the $100,000 Turf Dash Stakes, the table appeared to be set for one or more closers to benefit.
But Ancil’s co-owner, Kathy Thompson of Brooksville, Fla., wasn’t worried about the 5-year-old gelding giving up the fight.
“Once he gets the lead around the turn, he just sort of motors off,” Thompson said. “When he made that turn and started accelerating – I’ve seen him do that before – it was exciting to see that happen.”
The Kentucky-bred son of City Zip-Le Grand Belle, by With Approval, extended his lead to the wire, posting a length-and-a-quarter victory from Pyrite Green in stakes and track-record time of 54.88 seconds for the five furlongs on the grass. Tell All You Know was another neck back in third, with 2-1 favorite Spring to the Sky flattening out late to finish fourth in the nine-horse field.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Bridgetown set the previous stakes mark of 55.28 seconds in 2011 and Jr’s Exchange set the former track mark of 54.92 in 2012.
Ancil is trained by Joan Scott and was ridden by Daniel Centeno. Also in attendance was Ancil’s breeder, Lexington, Ky., resident George Pruette. The victory was the fifth in 19 starts and first stakes triumph for Ancil, and the $60,000 winner’s share of the purse raised his career earnings to $237,059 for Thompson and co-owner Scott Farmer of Lexington. They purchased Ancil privately last spring and have campaigned him in his last seven starts, three of which are victories.
Scott had indicated a couple weeks ago Ancil was training superbly for his first start since an off-the-board finish Oct. 5 in the Grade III Woodford Stakes at Keeneland, and his performance justified her confidence entering the race.
“He’s a lovely horse who does everything right, and I was excited about running him. I was a little concerned about running him this short, but all in all I was looking forward to seeing him run because he’s been doing great,” Scott said.
“At Keeneland, he got caught in a speed duel, but those kinds of things happen. In this kind of race, you have to have a little luck go your way, too,” Scott added. “He’s a very game horse with a lot of heart, and Daniel rode him perfect.”
Ancil, who broke from the No. 1 post position, paid $11.20 to win as the second wagering choice.
The victory was one of four on the card for Centeno, who was surprised to learn Ancil had set a track mark.
“I had no idea we were going in record time, he was running so easily,” Centeno said. “(Scott) told me he would break well, but he surprised me. He broke really well. That’s what they do sometimes coming off a layoff.
“We were clear and on the inside and he was relaxed getting to the turn,” Centeno added. “Being the speed in a sprint like this sometimes helps you and sometimes works against you, but when I asked for more coming into the stretch, he put in another run.”
The 4-year-old gelding Pyrite Green put in a strong finishing run for owner Pyrite Stables and trainer Miguel Feliciano. “He ran his usual big race,” said jockey Ricardo Feliciano, the nephew of the trainer. “The winner got away from the field turning for home, but we put in a big stretch run.”
Pruette, the breeder, said Le Grand Belle, who he also bred, died from complications of colic surgery two months after delivering Ancil. “This horse was an orphan who was raised by another mare I have, but it hasn’t seemed to affect his running,” Pruette said.
Pruette still owns Ancil’s second dam, 24-year-old Java Drums, who was bred by the late legendary horseman and philanthropist Paul Mellon.
Centeno’s big afternoon started in the fifth race on the turf with 5-year-old horse Smart and True for owner Neal Allread and trainer Barbara McBride. The five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey added the sixth on 8-year-old gelding Whiskey Tap for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Herman Wilensky and the 10th, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf, on Wild Billum for owner Robert V. LaPenta and trainer Chad Brown.
Leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners. He captured the fourth race on 6-year-old gelding Winco for owner Francine Pecoraro and trainer Anthony Pecoraro and the ninth on 6-year-old mare Eye Can Roar for owner-trainer Maria Bowersock.
Sunday’s 10-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. A Kids & Family Day celebration will be held in the Backyard Picnic Area.
Beginning next week, Tampa Bay Downs returns to a four-days-a-week racing schedule on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The track is open every day with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 20 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
Jack Van Berg to appear. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg will appear on the first floor of the grandstand during Sunday’s races to sign copies of JACK: From Grit to Glory, A Lifetime of Mentoring, Dedication and Perseverance, by Chris Kotulak.
The 77-year-old Van Berg was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1985, a year after he won an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer. Among his 6,417 victories are Alysheba’s 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic triumphs, and Gate Dancer’s 1984 Preakness.
Van Berg has saddled 6,417 winners and still trains a small string at Oaklawn Park.
Van Berg will also be the guest auctioneer Monday night during the “Hearts Reaching Out” charity auction of sports memorabilia and other items. The event benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division.
Tickets for the 5:30 p.m. dinner and auction, which will be held under the big tent in the track’s Backyard Picnic Area, are $20; call Kathy at (813) 854-1313 or Sharyn at (813) 494-1870 for details.
There are a few spots still available for Monday’s “Hearts Reaching Out” four-person scramble golf tournament at 11 a.m. at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. The cost is $100, which includes admission to the dinner and auction.
Track chaplain Eli Hernandez conducts weekly non-denominational church services and offers counseling, English classes and computer training inside the double-wide trailer that serves as an office, chapel and classroom on the track’s backstretch. Bible studies are held weekly and the chaplaincy provides a free on-site health care program.