Cool Cowboy and My Sweet Dove, impressive winners of 2-year-old stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 7, headline the list of nominations for the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Jan. 4, Skyway Festival Day.
All Thoroughbreds in North America share a Jan. 1 birthday, and the Pasco and Gasparilla – both at distances of seven furlongs – enable trainers to gauge the potential of their newly-turned sophomores.
Both races also serve as preps for more lucrative Oldsmar stakes on Feb. 1 (Festival Preview Day): the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth Davis, a traditional Triple Crown stepping stone, is the first leg of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus. The owners of any horse that wins the Sam F. Davis; the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8; and the Kentucky Derby on May 3 will collect $1-million. Additionally, the name of a lucky fan will be drawn after the Sam F. Davis to become eligible to win $100,000.
Meanwhile, jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., who is second in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 14 victories after riding four consecutive winners today in races two-through-five, will be recognized during Saturday’s card as the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
And trainer Joan Scott has won with her past five starters locally after 7-1 shot Electro Peg’s victory in the sixth race.
Tampa Bay Downs is offering a full slate of weekend activity this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Friday’s nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Saturday’s 10-race card has drawn 107 entries and includes the first two legs of the track’s Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, with the fillies and mares division slated as the seventh race and the colts and geldings division as the ninth race.
But back to Skyway Festival Day and the Pasco and Gasparilla nominations. Savoy Stable, LLC’s chestnut colt Cool Cowboy is one of 16 nominees for the 15th running of the Pasco Stakes, which has been on the radar of serious racing fans across the country since Musket Man’s 2009 victory led to his subsequent 3-year-old victories in the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby and third-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Cool Cowboy, who is trained by Dale Bennett, improved to 3-for-5 with his front-running, three-and-a-half length score here in the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes in 1:11.13 for six furlongs. In his previous start, at Hawthorne, Cool Cowboy – a son of 2009 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter, Kodiak Kowboy – stopped the timer at 1:08.78 for six furlongs.
Joining Cool Cowboy among the Pasco nominees is Florida-bred colt Early Entry, the Inaugural runner-up. Early Entry, who broke his maiden at Calder on Nov. 17, is owned by Tommy Roberts Racing Stable, LLC and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.
Harry’s Holiday and Mighty Brown are two others to keep in mind. Harry’s Holiday is 2-for-3, including a starter/$50,000 optional claiming victory at Gulfstream on Dec. 20. He is owned by Terry Raymond and trained by Michael Maker.
Mighty Brown, who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 7 on the Inaugural/Sandpiper undercard in a swift 1:10.21, is a son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown. Owned by Tri-Star Racing, LLC and The Farm on 4, LLC and trained by Tim Ice, Mighty Brown finished second earlier this year in the Sunday Silence Stakes at Louisiana Downs and the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs.
The 30th edition of the Gasparilla Stakes closed Saturday with 29 nominations, including the top three finishers from the Sandpiper: My Sweet Dove, Enquete and Secret Kitten.
My Sweet Dove, a Florida homebred owned by Peter Lawson and trained by Monte R. Thomas, staged a spirited Sandpiper duel with the Todd Pletcher-trained Enquete through the stretch, holding on for a half-length victory in 1:11.42. But there are numerous other talented nominees that loom as factors, should they be entered next week.
They include multiple-stakes winner Needmore Flattery from the barn of trainer Timothy Hamm; Nesso, twice second in stakes company on the turf at Santa Anita, trained by Herman Wilensky; and Co Cola, another from the deep barn of Pletcher, who was second in the Smart Halo Stakes at Laurel on Nov. 16.
Allen, meanwhile, continues to prove age needn’t be an obstacle for a jockey who is in peak physical condition and utilizes his knowledge of the racetrack and his opponents to get the most out of his mounts.
On top of that, Allen exudes an inner peace that comes from experiencing many of the highs and a few of the lows the sport of Thoroughbred racing can deliver. He is a picture of contentment talking business with his agent, Paula Bacon, in the track kitchen in the morning, but his fierce determination to win races is evident on his still-youthful face when post time rolls around.
“I’m 49, but I feel like I’m in my 30s,” said Allen. “I don’t feel I’ve lost anything. I’m strong, I feel good and I’m making the right decisions in races. As long as I keep that up, I’m going to keep doing well.”
Outside doubts about his future arose last April at Tampa Bay Downs when his mount clipped heels with another horse, throwing Allen to the turf. He suffered fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a lacerated liver and head abrasions. Yet he returned in a matter of weeks for the Presque Isle Downs meeting in Erie, Pa., where he notched his 3,000th career victory Sept. 11 aboard 3-year-old filly Ghost Flower for Burkholder Stables and his fiancée, Maria Bowersock.
Allen, a four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion, has won more than 100 races for the sixth consecutive year. As he watches 27-year-old Fernando De La Cruz sprint to a clear lead in the current jockey standings with 22 victories, Allen smiles at the memories of his years as the undisputed Oldsmar monarch, when all the top trainers clamored for his services.
He set a then-track record with 102 victories in 1987-88 for his third title in four years and won the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis Breeders’ Cup Stakes on Marco Bay in 1993.
“He (De La Cruz) is riding for the right people, he’s making good decisions and you can’t take anything away from him,” Allen said. “I remember when I used to do the same thing. Right now I’m riding mainly for smaller outfits, good people with good horses, and if they run them in the right spots they’ll win races.
“When you’re on a lot more horse than everybody else, that builds your confidence because you can go pretty much wherever you want and still win. I’ve been riding with confidence, and hopefully that continues to where I get some better mounts and maybe I’ll catch De La Cruz,” Allen added.
Allen’s skills were on full display aboard 3-year-old gelding Philfig today in the third race, a six-furlong race for $16,000 claiming horses. After surrendering the lead to Dreamboat Charlie on the turn, he asked Philfig for his best effort at the three-sixteenths pole, then used abundant energy to preserve the nose margin for his second victory on the card. Philfig is owned by Donat Ferland and trained by James T. Wright.
Allen’s other victories came in the second race on 3-year-old gelding Joe Tess for owners George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables and trainer Derek Ryan; in the fourth on 6-year-old gelding Black Belt for owner Fast Break Racing Stable and trainer Gerald Bennett; and the fifth on the turf on 4-year-old gelding Marsden for owner Melnyk Racing Stables, Inc., and trainer Joseph Ambrosia.
His vast experience at Tampa Bay Downs offers Allen another edge.”It’s really important here, especially on the turf course where it is really tight racing and you need to know where you are at and what the horses in front of you are going to do,” he said.
Joan Scott has saddled six winners from 11 starters, tied for second in the track standings. She was 3-for-3 Sunday. Her winner today, Electro Peg, is a homebred 3-year-old filly racing for Dan Considine and Pine Lake Bloodstock and was ridden by Daniel Centeno.
Saturday marks the 2013-14 debut of track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” at 10 a.m. His special guest is Tim Ice, trainer of 2009 Belmont Stakes, Shadwell Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes winner Summer Bird.
Attendees receive free grandstand admission and can enjoy free coffee and donuts before the “Morning Glory Club” gets underway.