Talk about a quick return on your investment.
Less than three weeks after purchasing 3-year-old Pennsylvania-bred colt Falling Sky for $425,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s winter mixed sale, the partnership of Maurice and Samantha Regan’s Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger were rewarded with a thrilling neck victory in the 33rd edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Festival Preview Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
The son of Lion Heart-Sea Dragoness, by Sea Hero, who was making his first start going two turns, set all the fractions under winning jockey Jose Espinoza and finished the mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track in 1:44.79. John P. Terranova, II trains the winner.
Dynamic Sky, who won the Pasco Stakes here last month, closed with a rush to be second, three lengths ahead of slight betting favorite My Name Is Michael. Speak Logistics was another length back in fourth in the nine-horse field.
Falling Sky paid $17.80 to win. Angel Serpa, the jockey on Speak Logistics, claimed foul against the winner for alleged interference at the quarter-mile pole, but the objection was quickly disallowed by the stewards.
The winner’s share of $120,000 raised Falling Sky’s career earnings to $164,800. He is 3-for-4 lifetime, his only defeat a fourth-place finish in the Dec. 1 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
The whirlwind Davis finish was the highlight of a banner day of racing at Tampa Bay Downs, in which a crowd of 5,862 – almost 10 percent higher than last year’s Festival Preview Day – wagered $545,504.80. All-sources handle was $7,811,458.33.
Saturday was the first time in track history Tampa Bay Downs has staged three graded stakes races on the same card, and the Florida Oaks and Endeavour, both on the turf, also produced memorable performances.
The William Mott-trained 3-year-old filly Tapicat set a stakes record in the Florida Oaks and Brazilian-bred 5-year-old mare Old Tune from the Todd Pletcher barn was equally immpressive at the one-mile and a sixteenth distance. Joel Rosario rode both distaff winners.
But the majority of spectators left the track talking about the exciting Davis finish, which may have produced as many as four candidates for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 and beyond. The top four finishers earned 10, four, two and one points, respectively, in Kentucky Derby qualifying.
“We’ll talk it over with our group and see how he comes out of the race, but after what he did today, on this kind of demanding track, I don’t think going longer will be a problem,” Terranova said. “Obviously, coming back here (for the Tampa Bay Derby) is an option. I love this place.”
Falling Sky was purchased by his current owners from the consignment of Carlos Morales and Joe Appelbaum’s Off The Hook LLC on Jan. 15. Bloodstock agent Nick Sallusto had followed Falling Sky since his debut victory Nov. 1 at Calder, and even though he had yet to race beyond six-and-a-half furlongs before Saturday, Sallusto clued in Terranova on his fondness for the colt.
In an ironic twist, the sales ticket was signed by Justin Casse – a friend of Sallusto’s and also the brother of Mark Casse, trainer of Davis runner-up Dynamic Sky.
“This is why we bought him,” Terranova said. “We thought he would be a natural route horse. Nick Sallusto suggested the purchase, and we put together a few of our big clients and went and got him for this reason.
“We cross-entered him in the Hutcheson (at Gulfstream) today because we weren’t sure if now was the time to stretch him to two turns or to continue the natural distance progression, but obviously it looks like we made the right call.”
The veteran Espinoza was delighted with the opportunity on Falling Sky after jockey Luis Saez opted to stay at Gulfstream to ride the Hallandale track’s card.
“Mr. Terranova is my main man, and I was glad to get this ride and to win the race for him,” Espinoza said. “It wasn’t a perfect trip. He hopped coming out, and we were chasing horses early on. But I didn’t have to use him to get the lead; he did it pretty much on his own and was relaxed for me getting to the stretch. I wasn’t worried about the objection. I was pretty sure we kept a straight line and he was running really well to the wire.”
Mark Casse, trainer of Dynamic Sky, had no complaints. “I’m happy with his performance. (Jockey) Luis (Contreras) said he was late switching leads, but when he did he came running. It was just too little, too late.”
The 14th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf might have unveiled another Zagora in 5-year-old Brazilian-bred Old Tune.
Since retired, Zagora won both the 2012 Endeavour and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the lawn at Tampa Bay Downs, and in November captured the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf en route to her Eclipse Award.
Old Tune was simply smashing Saturday under jockey Joel Rosario, winning in the time of 1:41.48 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance.
Bred by Haras Internacional, owned by Goncalo Torrealba’s Stud T N T and trained by Todd Pletcher, Old Tune won by one-and-three-quarter lengths from 26-1 shot Appealing Cat. Last Full Measure was third and Hooh Why finished fourth.
The winner paid $8.20 as the second betting choice in the 12-horse field. The 19-10 favorite, Dealbata, never fired, dead-heating for ninth.
Old Tune, a daughter of Wild Event-Chanson Pour Julia, by Irish Fighter, who was making her first start since April 15 at Gavea in Brazil, has won five races in a row and is 7-for-13 lifetime. Her three previous wins in Brazil were all Group I events. First-place money of $90,000 pushed her career earnings to $388,180.
Former Pletcher assistant Jonathan Thomas handled the saddling duties and raved about Old Tune’s appearance and performance.
“It is one thing to take a look at her form and another to take a look at her from a physical standpoint,” Thomas said. “She is a very attractive horse that I think would match up physically to a lot of our Grade I horses, which isn’t always the case with South American horses.
“She is a beautiful individual and obviously Todd had her ready to roll out of the box. It’s a credit to her ability to run that fast after getting pressured on the front end and to finish up like she did. At no point was she able to get a breather. God willing, you will be hearing big things from her the rest of the year,” Thomas said.
Rosario admitted he was caught unawares Old Tune would be such a specimen of speed and desire. “I had never been on her before, not even her works. But they told me she had some speed and the distance would fit,” Rosario said.
“When she broke on top so easily, I knew I was riding something special. I didn’t know what she had left so I didn’t wrap her up and she really turned it on going to the wire with me just sitting there. She might be a very special mare!”
In the 30th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, Besilu Stables’ chestnut beauty Tapicat lived up to her 9-10 odds, taking the lead quickly after the start and winning virtually uncontested by two-and-three-quarter lengths from Kitten’s Dumplings. Wave Theory was third and supplemental entry Rusty Slipper fourth.
This was the third running of the Florida Oaks on the turf, and Tapicat’s time of 1:41.89 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was a stakes record. Joel Rosario rode the winner, who won her third consecutive race on the turf and first in stakes company.
Tapicat, a daughter of Tapit-Zealous Cat, by Storm Cat, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner William Mott, was bred in Kentucky by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Gainesway Thoroughbreds. Besilu Stables owner Benjamin Leon, best known as the owner of Royal Delta, purchased Tapicat as a 2011 Keeneland September yearling for $725,000.
First-place money of $60,000 raised her earnings to $118,100.
“We really love her. We look for excellent pedigree, conformation and racing ability, and she has all three,” Leon said. “We expected her to do well. She is an unbelievable filly.”
Mott said the race went mostly according to script. “On paper, it didn’t appear there was a tremendous amount of early speed in the race, so the way it unfolded was not a surprise,” Mott said. “It looked like she did it the same way as in her maiden race and allowance company (both at Gulfstream). It looked easy for her. She has a tremendous amount of early speed and a nice stride, and she seems to be able to carry her speed, so that’s a dangerous combination.
“She broke one step slow and took a little bump from a horse inside, but she was quickly able to regain her position and only needed three or four strides to get back in the race,” Mott said. “She’s had three races this winter and I kind of planned on not running her right back. I supposed we will have to consider if we want to take a chance on the synthetic in the (Grade I) Ashland at Keeneland (April 6).”
Rosario’s view was basically only of green grass ahead. “This is a very nice filly to be riding,” he said. “She broke well and took the lead comfortably, then she settled right down and I was able to get her to relax. I wanted to have enough for the stretch run and no one came after us.
“When we got into the stretch she was still going along well. She was looking around a little mid-stretch, just seeing where she was. We won with something left,” Rosario added.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:30. 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.