Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett could face a pleasant dilemma approaching the $75,000 Turf Dash Stakes on Feb. 18.
Three days after Bennett’s 6-year-old gelding Jr’s Exchange established a Tampa Bay Downs turf track record of 54.92 seconds for five furlongs, his 4-year-old gelding Gibson nearly lowered the standard Sunday, winning the third race by a nose in 55.35 seconds at five furlongs on the grass.
Gibson earned $15,900 from the $24,500 allowance purse.
Both are logical candidates for the Turf Dash Stakes, but Jr’s Exchange is owned by Patrick Scanlon and Gibson is owned by Sundance Thoroughbreds, the stable name of Kentucky resident Charlie White. Depending on the owners’ preference, Bennett might only enter one in the Turf Dash, but he has not ruled out entering both.
Gibson, the 13-10 favorite Sunday, won by the slimmest of margins, getting his nose on the wire first ahead of Midwest Thoroughbreds-owned Western Prospector, a Jamie Ness trainee who off his effort seems another logical candidate for the Turf Dash.
Gibson, a Florida-bred son of Gibson County-Megan’s Cracker, won the six-furlong Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap on the dirt at Calder Nov. 12, and Bennett toyed with the idea of sending him to Gulfstream for Saturday’s $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint Stakes, won by the Todd Pletcher-trained Soaring Stocks.
But “we’ve been participating here at Tampa Bay Downs for a long time and it seems they are running extremely fast times at Gulfstream, so the track there has been hard. I told the owner ‘Let’s work through his conditions here and he can grind out $50-$70,000 before the end of the meeting if everything goes well.’ ”
While Jr’s Exchange has recorded four of his nine lifetime victories on turf, Sunday was only Gibson’s second career turf start. Bennett said he should be well-suited for the Florida Cup Day Hilton Garden Inn Sprint on April 7, a $75,000 main-track race.
Jockey Willie Martinez returned to Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday to ride two races, finishing third in the eighth race on Home Field to the Ronald Allen, Sr.-trained winner Singingwithangels.
On Saturday, Martinez rode 4-year-old filly It’s Me Mom to a spectacular 6 ¾-length victory in the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream. It’s Me Mom, the winner of the Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in her final start as a 3-year-old on Dec. 31, sped the six furlongs in 1:08.85, more than a half-second faster than the winning time posted by Soaring Stocks.
It’s Me Mom is owned by Thomas and Jean Bosch of Holiday, Fla. and trained by Lynne Scace. Martinez knew she was sitting on go after a sterling four-furlong breeze in 47.1 seconds at Tampa Bay Downs 10 days before the race and a subsequent five-furlong breeze in 1:01.
“It gave me goosebumps,” he said of It’s Me Mom’s four-furlong move. “I knew what we were going into this race with, and we had a lot of confidence. There are two different types of speed – really fast and brilliant fast – and she is just a brilliant fast horse.”
It’s Me Mom has improved by leaps and bounds since her only previous start at Gulfstream, a fourth-place effort in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes in January of 2011. “She is a different horse now,” Martinez said. “It comes from maturity and the whole team working with her, from Lynne Scace and (assistant) Ray Stifano on down.”
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Wednesday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. There is a Super High-5 carryover of $6,017.39.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast racing, no-limits poker action in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction in the Downs Golf Practice Facility.