If trainer Dale Bennett is tempted to lavish praise on his 2-year-old colt Cool Cowboy, he is doing his best to keep his optimism reined in.
That task could become more difficult if the son of 2009 Eclipse Award champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy continues to perform like his daddy.
“I don’t know if he can run much faster than he’s been running,” said Bennett, who will saddle Cool Cowboy on Saturday in the $100,000, six-furlong Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings at Tampa Bay Downs. “He has a high cruising speed, so we just let him go out and do his thing.”
“Doing his thing” has resulted in two victories and a second in four career starts for the Savoy Stable LLC Thoroughbred, including a 10 ½-length victory going five-and-a-half furlongs at Arlington Park on Sept. 14 and an easy-as-you-please, gate-to-wire three-length triumph going six furlongs at Hawthorne in an optional claiming race on Nov. 13 in his first race on a dirt-track surface.
Cool Cowboy will be ridden by Eduardo Perez and face seven rivals in the Inaugural, which is the eighth race on the Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day card. The other co-feature is the sixth race – the $100,000, six-furlong Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies – with a seven-horse field that includes unbeaten Todd Pletcher trainee Enquete and trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s multiple stakes-winning Florida-bred, Secret Kitten.
Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day is Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of juvenile horses, with nine of the 10 races comprised entirely of 2-year-olds. Post time for the first race is 12:30 p.m.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 8 a.m. with the return of the always-popular “All-You-Can-Eat” Breakfast Buffet in the Backyard Picnic Area, adjacent to the paddock. The cost is $6.95, which entitles attendees to a Tampa Bay Downs-style breakfast; grandstand admission; a Tampa Bay Downs program; and a copy of author-handicapper Peter Mallett’s book “Betting Tampa Bay Downs 2013-2014: An Up-To-Date Guide For Bettors Handicapping The Oldsmar Oval.”
Fans will also have the opportunity to watch morning workouts and meet trainers and jockeys. Mallett will provide a handicapping seminar from 10-11 a.m. Tickets may be purchased under the tent Saturday morning.
Back to Cool Cowboy, who was purchased by Savoy Stable for $110,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. In his maiden victory at Arlington, he earned a superlative Beyer Speed Figure of 90, and the Hawthorne victory produced a highly respectable 80.
In between those races, Cool Cowboy was fourth in a six-horse field at Keeneland after breaking slowly, being bumped and finding himself pinned down inside in close quarters.
“(Being on the lead) is pretty much the way he wants to run,” Bennett said. “If he can learn to rate a little bit, that will be beneficial down the road, but if he wants to run on the lead, you have to leave it at that. He has natural speed, he’s a good-feeling horse and he is easy to train.”
Cool Cowboy turned in a three-furlong breeze of 35.40 seconds on Sunday that was the fastest of 25 workouts at that distance. “We just let him stretch his legs a little bit,” Bennett said. “Sometimes a horse will work good over a track and it doesn’t translate to the races, but hopefully that workout is an indication he will like the track. A runner will take his track with him.”
Among Cool Cowboy’s challengers is the gray colt Exquisite Monarch, a son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos trained by Dale’s father, Gerald Bennett. Exquisite Monarch broke his maiden going five-and-a-half furlongs at ThistleDown on Nov. 1 by eight-and-a-quarter lengths.
“That (racing against his father) doesn’t affect at all how I do my business,” Dale said with a smile. “If I can’t win it, I hope he does. We’re both pretty competitive and we always come out trying to win.”
On Friday’s card, jockey Fernando De La Cruz rode three winners, giving him five over two cards. De La Cruz, who earned career victory No. 1,000 Wednesday, won the second race on 3-year-old filly Concerted Effort for owners Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc., Tom Fitzgerald and Geoff Roy and trainer Jason DaCosta.
De La Cruz captured the eighth race on the turf aboard 3-year-old filly Lori’s Store for owner Glen Hill Farm and trainer Thomas Proctor and completed his late daily double sweep in the ninth on 3-year-old gelding Artie Ocean for DaCosta and owners Barbara Anderson, Benjamin Scherlis and Charles Hayden.
Dale Bennett earned his first victory of the young meet in the first race with his 3-year-old filly Reinvested, ridden by Luis Garcia.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.