Last weekend, trainer Todd Pletcher arrived at Tampa Bay Downs with a 3-year-old colt that had won its previous race by 16 ¼ lengths.
So, what does North America’s leading trainer plan for an Oldsmar encore after saddling unbeaten Verrazano to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby? Pletcher’s lightly-raced 6-year-old mare, Authenticity, is among the favorites for Saturday’s 29th renewal of the $50,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes after capturing her most recent start by 17 ½ lengths on Feb. 14 at Gulfstream Park.
The Kentucky-bred daughter of Quiet American-Court of Appeal, by Deputy Minister, is owned by Padua Stables and will be ridden by Willie Martinez. Authenticity will break from the No. 3 post in the 11-horse field.
The race is the 10th on an 11-race card that begins at 12:40 p.m. and includes four turf races.
Trainer Rory M. Barron enjoyed a career day Friday, saddling three winners from three starters. Barron capped his memorable afternoon when he saddled 32-1 shot Moon Over Parador, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare making her first career start on the turf, for a come-from-behind victory in the 10th race. Antonio Gallardo rode Moon Over Parador, who is also owned by Barron.
Earlier on the card, Barron’s 8-year-old mare Nesfield looked sharp in the post parade, and she justified the faith of bettors who made her even-money by powering to a ¾-length victory from She’s Out to Lunch in the six-furlong first race. Daniel Centeno rode Nesfield for owners W. John Bourke, Jeff Barbee and James Kerins. The mare is 3-for-9 with four seconds in her career at Tampa Bay Downs.
Barron’s next winner was 5-year-old gelding Garcon, who went to the lead early under Augusto Marin and lasted to win the fifth race, a seven-furlong claiming contest, by two-and-a-half lengths from Stout Hope. Garcon, who paid $23 to win, is owned by Barron in partnership with James Georgeades and Gregge Dasher.
Back to the Wayward Lass, which is the only Tampa Bay Downs stakes named after a Thoroughbred. The 1981 Eclipse Award 3-Year-Old Filly Champion, who was bred in Florida by Hall of Fame trainer Horatio Luro, won the Busanda Stakes, the Searching Stakes, the Grade III Ruthless Stakes, the Grade I Mother Goose and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks in her championship campaign.
Authenticity, who was trained by Ian Wilkes before joining Pletcher’s barn last fall, will be bidding to deliver her trainer his fourth stakes victory at the current meet. In addition to Verrazano’s Tampa Bay Derby triumph, Pletcher won the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes with 5-year-old Brazilian-bred mare Old Tune.
Pletcher had nominated Authenticity to the Grade III Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 15, but he elected to avoid two-time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta – who won the Sabin by five lengths – and try the allowance/optional claiming route, where she won by a city block. Run at the Wayward Lass distance, it looks like a solid prep as Authenticity tries for her first stakes victory in her sixth lifetime start.
One Wayward Lass participant who challenged Royal Delta in the Sabin is 5-year-old mare My Pal Chrisy, owned by Tonys Investments LLC and trained by Padarath Lutchman. The Florida-bred daughter of Alex’s Pal-Strike South, by Strike the Anvil, was a non-threatening fifth in the Sabin, but her 3-for-9 record with two seconds at the Wayward Lass distance stamps her as a strong contender.
My Pal Chrisy’s most recent victory came in the $150,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap at Calder on Nov. 10, her second consecutive victory in that race. Subsequently, she finished third at Gulfstream in both the Ocala Stakes and the Sunshine Millions Distaff Stakes. Luca Panici has the riding assignment aboard My Pal Chrisy, who will break from the No. 1 post.
The official morning-line favorite for the Wayward Lass at 3-1 is 4-year-old filly Awesome Belle, who is owned by Jacks or Better Farm Inc. and trained by Stanley Gold. Fernando Jara is scheduled to ride.
Awesome Belle has been in excellent form since July, when the homebred daughter of Awesome of Course-Bayou Plans, by Bayou Hebert, won the Three Ring Stakes at Calder. Her next three races at the Miami track also resulted in stakes victories: the Crystal Rail and the Judy’s Red Shoes on the turf and the Frances A. Genter in a race taken off the turf.
After a three-month-plus layoff, Awesome Belle tried the Endeavour Stakes on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs and dueled on or near the lead until the stretch before fading.
Others likely to attract attention from serious bettors are 4-year-old filly Clarinda, from the barn of Christophe Clement, Jose Espinoza in the irons; 4-year-old Magic Hour, trained by Ian Wilkes, Ronnie Allen, Jr., riding; and 4-year-old Baffle Me, a Belmont Park stakes winner on turf last fall, trained by Mark Hennig and ridden by Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno.
Plans are underway for the 11th annual Florida Cup Day, Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of the state’s excellence in breeding and raising Thoroughbreds. Featuring six stakes worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds, this year’s event is Saturday, April 6.
The action-packed card includes the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs; the Journeyman Stud Distaff at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf; the Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Besilu Stables Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs; and the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint at six furlongs.
The 2012 Florida Cup was a virtual non-stop highlight reel. In the Sprint, then-4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom, owned by Thomas and Jean Bosch and trained by Lynne Scace, set a track record of 1:08.67 under jockey Jorge Vargas while defeating males. Dale Romans, who went on to win the 2012 Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer, sent out two Florida Cup Day winners: Xunlei in the Sophomore Fillies and Tarpy’s Goal in the Sophomore.
Jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., rode popular then-6-year-old mare Hooh Why to a narrow Distaff victory on the turf; Hooh Why’s victory the following month in a Tampa Bay Downs overnight handicap elevated her to career millionaire status. The Todd Pletcher-trained Star Channel won the Sophomore Turf, and Roman Tiger repeated his Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes success by winning the Turf Classic, again under Angel Serpa.
Jockeys Scott Spieth and Fernando De La Cruz each rode two winners. Spieth’s victories came in the second race on 6-year-old gelding Caught Me Looking for owner John R. Cummins and trainer Don Swick, and in the eighth on 3-year-old filly Street Gem for owner Just For Fun Stable LLC and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
De La Cruz won the fourth race on 3-year-old filly Big Struttin Broad for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness, and the ninth on 5-year-old gelding Professorplumdidit for owner Cindy Patrick and trainer R. Gary Patrick.
Sunday is Family Fiesta Day Presented by Univision, with free admission for families and children in the Backyard Picnic Area north of the grandstand. Events include free pony rides, arcade games and inflatables, as well as an appearance by Mouse, the Miniature Horse and Tampa Bay Downs track mascot. There will be a full card of 10 races beginning at 12:40 p.m.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.