During the course of an entire Thoroughbred racing meeting, it becomes easy to lose sight of all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that enables the show to go on.
But in an event such as the two-day Summer Festival of Racing – where seasoned track employees are asked to wear several hats – horsemanship, professionalism and personal pride come to the forefront.
Trainer William E. Deaton of Morriston, Fla., near Ocala, appreciated the caring touch prevalent throughout Tampa Bay Downs the past two days. He brought only one horse to compete – his 3-year-old colt I’llleaveitwithyou, who won today’s third race on the turf for maidens at odds of 36-1 – but felt he was treated as well as any trainer named Pletcher, Baffert or McGaughey during his short but profitable stay.
“I think this track has done an unbelievably good job running this event,” said Deaton, who trains the Ontario-bred I’llleaveitwithyou for his wife Kim Deaton at their Longstride Training Center, which is part of the Oak Ridge Equine Training Center in Morriston.
“The Racing Secretary, Allison De Luca, is top class and comes down from Churchill Downs (where she works as a racing official) to make this go. And the people at the barn are here all winter and know most of us and know how to put everything together.
“I think the (Summer Festival) is a great idea,” added Deaton who, living less than a couple of hours away from the Oldsmar oval, wouldn’t mind seeing it expand. “There are 15 training centers going in Ocala and a whole lot of horses up there.”
Today’s eight-race card –which marked the official start to the 2014-15 Thoroughbred season, scheduled to resume Nov. 29 – saw jockey Ademar Santos ride two winners, giving him five over the two days and first prize of $2,500 in the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge with 76 points.
Santos – who returns to action Wednesday at Indiana Grand Race Course – rode three winners Monday, elevating him to eighth place in the final 2013-14 standings with 27 victories. He sits atop the 2014-15 standings for the next five months with two victories, one more than six other riders.
“I put a lot of work into this, so it feels real good,” said Santos, who is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “It gives me a little more of a name, and I hope some new opportunities will open up because of it.”
Santos said he has become a more patient rider over the past couple of years, enabling him to get more run late from his horses. “I talked with a lot of older jockeys, including Leandro Goncalves (a past Tampa Bay Downs riding champion who is also from Brazil) and watched a lot of video of him to help me improve,” he said.
The 38-year-old Santos plans to use the bonus money to take his wife and three young sons on a Brazilian vacation before the resumption of the current season in late November. He also hopes his Jockeys’ Challenge victory is a good omen for the Brazilian men’s soccer team, which faces Colombia on Friday in a World Cup quarterfinal match.
Santos was followed by Kevin Krigger, who rode four winners over two days and finished with 64 points, and Quincy Hamilton with 52 points. Krigger earned a $1,500 bonus and Hamilton added $1,000 to his purse total. Jose L. Alvarez was fourth with 44 points.
Tampa Bay Downs guaranteed $500 per starter during the two-day event, which originated last year to enable the track to be classified as a year-round live racing facility and retain its simulcast income on a full-time basis.
Deaton’s winner, I’llleaveitwithyou, was ridden by relative unknown Juan M. Oyola, who bided his time in the middle of the pack in the 1-mile event until a furlong out, then withstood a late charge by 50-1 shot J.M.’s Parade and apprentice jockey Jose Osorio, Jr., for a half-length victory.
“This is a great event for the jockeys, too, because it gives them a chance to show what they can do,” Deaton said. “Juan is from Puerto Rico and barely speaks English, but he came up to our training center to work our horse and saw that he had some talent, so he was enthused about this opportunity.”
That enthusiasm kept spreading throughout Tampa Bay Downs for horsemen, jockeys, track officials and fans the past two days, which went by quickly but saw the Summer Festival of Racing accomplish its purpose on every front.
Tampa Bay Downs 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.