Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and Eclipse Award recipient as Champion 3-Year-Old Male, headlines a group of 39 horses nominated to the 26th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 25 for horses 4-and-up at a distance of about a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the Tampa Bay Downs turf.
Owned by Team Valor International and trained by H. Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom has not raced since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes on a sloppy track on June 11. In that race, he suffered a hairline fracture to his left hock (the joint between the gaskin and the cannon bone in a horse’s rear leg).
Animal Kingdom underwent successful surgery to repair the fracture June 30 at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. The connections of the son of Leroidesanimaux-Dalicia plan to use the Tampa Bay Stakes as a prep for the $10-million Dubai World Cup on March 31.
Animal Kingdom has been training at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach since coming to Florida from Motion’s Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. On Feb. 1, Animal Kingdom worked out five furlongs in 59.61 seconds on the Palm Meadows turf course, galloping out six furlongs in 1:11.61 and pulling up in 1:24.05 for seven furlongs.
The 4-year-old would be the first Kentucky Derby winner to subsequently race at Tampa Bay Downs.
Should he enter the Tampa Bay Stakes starting gate, Animal Kingdom is likely to face a wealth of serious challengers. The nominees include 2011 Tampa Bay Stakes winner Doubles Partner, a 5-year-old Florida-bred owned by WinStar Farm LLC and trained by Todd Pletcher, who also won the Grade II American Turf takes at Churchill Downs in 2010.
For his part, Motion has nominated three additional runners besides Animal Kingdom. They include Toby’s Corner, a Florida-bred owned by Dianne D. Cotter who has not raced since winning last year’s Wood Memorial, upsetting Uncle Mo.
Other Motion nominees are Augustin Stable’s Smart Bid, a 6-year-old who won last year’s Grade II Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap at Fair Grounds, and Hoofit, a 5-year-old owned by Mrs. S.K. Johnston, Jr. who won the Grade III Phoenix on the synthetic surface at Keeneland.
Motion won three stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course last season, capturing the Grade III Endeavour Stakes with Silver Reunion, the Florida Oaks with Dynamic Holiday and the Florida Cup Turf Classic with Slews Answer.
Pletcher, who recently achieved career victory No. 3,000, has nominated two more for the Tampa Bay Stakes in addition to Doubles Partner. His 4-year-old Silver Medallion, owned by Black Rock Stables, LLC, won the Tropical Turf Handicap on Dec. 2 at Calder and the Fort Lauderdale Stakes on Jan. 14 at Gulfstream.
Other top-class nominees include 4-year-old Big Blue Kitten, who won the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga last summer for Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Chad Brown; 2010 Grade II Oaklawn Handicap winner Duke of Mischief, from the barn of David Fawkes; the 2011 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Soldat, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; and such Grade III winners as Duke of Mischief, Successful Mission, Yankee Fourtune, Yummy With Butter and Humble and Hungry.
Other nominees of high interest include Lentenor, a full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who captured an allowance/optional claiming race on the Tampa Bay Downs turf Dec. 23; Uptowncharlybrown, winner of the 2010 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; and Allie’s Event, a 6-year-old gelding who won a turf allowance Jan. 28 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Nominations have also been taken for Saturday’s $75,000 Turf Dash at five furlongs on the turf. There are 28 horses nominated, including the Gerald Bennett-trained Jr’s Exchange, who set the track record of 54.92 seconds for the distance on Jan. 26.
Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs, trainer Brenda McCarthy earned career victory No. 500 when 4-year-old filly Sofi Ana – who McCarthy claimed from her previous start for $6,250 – rallied through the stretch to win the eighth race at six furlongs.
Sofi Ana is owned by Sterling Racing Stables LLC and was ridden by Rosemary Homeister Jr.
The owner-trainer-jockey combination of Midwest Thoroughbreds, Jamie Ness and Leandro Goncalves combined for two victories to extend their respective leads in the standings. Goncalves rode the 4-year-old colt Escort to a stunning 15 ½-length victory for non-winners of three races in the fifth race at six-and-a-half furlongs.
In the ninth race, Goncalves piloted 9-year-old gelding Stumbling Block to a come-from-behind victory at a mile on the turf. It was the first grass victory of the meeting for Stumbling Block, who is 4-for-4 locally this season and 19-for-70 in his career.
Midwest and Ness have sent out 42 winners from 88 starters at the meeting. Goncalves has ridden 50 winners, 21 ahead of 2010-11 riding champion Ronnie Allen, Jr., who also rode two winners Sunday.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Wednesday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. 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.
The Downs Golf Practice Facility is the site for Golfweek’s Golfest Presented by Transitions Championship on Saturday and Sunday. Golfers of all ages and ability levels can sample and buy new equipment, get free lessons, enjoy clinics and demonstrations and enter the $25,000 Putting Challenge both days.
Tickets are $10 daily for adults, with children 16 and under admitted free. Golfest hours are from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at the Downs Golf Practice Facility or online at www.golfest.com
A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Future Champions Golf Tour and The First Tee. Golfweek’s Golfest is the nation’s largest outdoor golf lifestyle event and the only such show in the Tampa Bay area.
The list of instructors and celebrities set to attend is a veritable “Who’s Who” of golf teaching. It includes David Leadbetter, considered by many the world’s No. 1 instructor and coach of the winners of more than a dozen major championships and 100 worldwide tournaments; Mike Shannon, a top-50 instructor and putting guru to many PGA Tour players; and Dennis Walters, whose “Golf Lessons and Life Lessons” show with his co-host, “Super Dog Bucky,” has inspired millions of golfers and non-golfers.