Trainer Dale Bennett had a strong belief his 2-year-old colt Cool Cowboy was the fastest horse in the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes.
By the time the field hit the top of the stretch, Cool Cowboy had made believers of everyone else.
After accelerating from the pack at the three-eighths pole, Cool Cowboy extended his lead under jockey Eduardo Perez, turning the final furlong into a battle for second place.
The victory was the third in five lifetime starts for the Kentucky-bred son of Kodiak Kowboy-Grand Breeze, by Grand Slam, who is owned by John Santina’s Savoy Stable, LLC. Brent Fernung of Ocala paid $110,000 for Cool Cowboy on behalf of Santina at the 2012 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and broke him at his Journeyman Stud.
“He (Cool Cowboy) is easy to train. He makes me look good,” said Bennett, who missed the 2012-13 Tampa Bay Downs meeting because of an Equine herpesvirus outbreak at Hawthorne in Illinois that affected his stable. “He’s just fast, and you have to let him run his race.
“I told Eduardo he was on the best horse and to take it right to them. There was no point in trying to be cute or outmaneuver anyone,” Bennett said. “Just let him run his race and go get them.”
Cool Cowboy paid $3 as the odds-on favorite in the field of eight. He completed the six furlongs in 1:11.13 on a fast track after fractions of 21.67 and 45.05 seconds for the half-mile, winning by three-and-a-half lengths. Early Entry from the barn of Kathleen O’Connell finished well to be second, followed by long shot Trisha’s Trove.
In the co-feature, the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Peter Lawson’s homebred My Sweet Dove staved off a challenge from heavy favorite Enquete from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher through the stretch for a half-length victory. Fernando De La Cruz rode My Sweet Dove – one of his three winners on the card – for Ocala-based trainer Monte R. Thomas.
My Sweet Dove paid $13 as the second-longest shot in the six-horse field while completing the six furlongs in 1:11.42. Secret Kitten finished third.
In the Inaugural, Cool Cowboy was fractious before entering the gate, but that did not affect his performance. “He got a bit restless waiting to get into the gate, but once he gets in it’s all business,” Perez said. “The post was good for us and the first jump, he was in the bridle. When we broke so well, I was able to let him settle and wait on the leaders.
“I asked him for run getting into the turn, and we just ran by them. He was tiring a bit late, so I had to keep after him to keep our lead.”
Bennett said Cool Cowboy was blowing hard afterward and he will wait to see how he recovers before selecting his next race. “The (seven-furlong, $100,000 Pasco on Jan. 4 at Tampa Bay Downs) is definitely on our radar, but I don’t want to circle any races until (Cool Cowboy) tells me how he’s doing,” Bennett said. “Everything is contingent on him – what point he is at and where he is physically.”
Apprentice jockey Octavio Vergara, Jr., was pleased with Early Entry’s runner-up effort. “This guy ran a terrific race,” Vergara said. “When I asked him for run, we were widest but moving really well. I know this guy will love seven furlongs.”
In the Sandpiper, the My Sweet Dove team was surprised to find themselves on the lead early, especially since Secret Kitten and Yes Mz Olga appeared on paper to be the likely pace-setters. “That’s really not where I wanted to be, but I told (De La Cruz) if she outbroke them and that’s what they were giving him, to take it,” Thomas said.
“She is extremely quick for a real big filly and she has some natural speed, and if we can learn to control it, I think we’re going to have some fun with her,” Thomas added.
My Sweet Dove has two wins and a second from three lifetime starts.
“When we got away from the other fillies early, I was able to get her to relax,” said De La Cruz, who has ridden eight winners over the past three cards. “We weren’t pressured through the turn, so I was able to save something for the stretch” – enough to hold off the hard-charging Enquete and jockey Willie Martinez.
“I am a very happy owner,” said Lawson, a resident of the Miami area who bred the daughter of Hello Broadway out of his mare Royal Dove, by Dove Hunt. “I thought she had what it took to beat this field, and I was actually surprised she was 5-1. It sounds a little cocky, but I knew she would keep going (in late stretch). The jockey really didn’t ask her for much, so when Todd’s horse was coming, I felt she had enough to hold her at bay.”
My Sweet Dove could return in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes on Jan. 4.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes 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.