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Almost three years ago, trainer Gerald Bennett claimed an unheralded 3-year-old named Crimson Knight for $16,000 from a winning effort in a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf race at Tampa Bay Downs.
As a son of the Brazilian-bred sire Leroidesanimaux, Crimson Knight had the look of a dyed-in-the-wool turf horse. But Bennett stepped outside the box by entering him 16 days later in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, and the 86-1 shot Crimson Knight rewarded him with a second-place finish (and a $70,000 paycheck), a neck behind Watch Me Go.
Successful trainers race horses where they belong, and Bennett dropped him in for a $10,000 claiming tag on the dirt at ThistleDown in Ohio on June 9. But when Crimson Knight was claimed out of that fourth-place effort, the Bennett barn felt a little emptier. “All of our horses are like our kids to us, but he is one of our pets. He’s a good ‘people horse,’ ” Bennett said.
Bennett wasted no time claiming him back for $10,000 for owner Ray Rech from his next start on June 28, a half-length victory sprinting six furlongs on the dirt. ThistleDown does not have a turf course, but once Bennett got him back to Oldsmar, Crimson Knight returned to top form on the lawn.
The 6-year-old gelding won his second consecutive Tampa Bay Downs turf event in today’s seventh race in virtual gate-to-wire fashion, pulling away through the stretch under jockey Daniel Centeno for a two-and-a-half length victory from Paige Me, who caught Ultimate X. by a nose for the place spot. Crimson Knight paid $6.60 as a slight favorite while running the mile in 1:36.54 on a good turf course. It was his seventh victory in 33 starts.
All eight entrants were eligible to be claimed for $16,000, but Bennett is hopeful Crimson Knight can continue to prosper at that level for him and Rech.
“This is the level he’s comfortable at,” Bennett said. “I’m not too worried about losing him again, because he’s not one of those real good movers, at least on dirt. I’m just happy he’s doing well and is back on track again. He gave us a big thrill here three years ago, and when we are finished racing him we’ll find a nice home for him.
“It took a while for me to learn him as a 3-year-old,” Bennett added. “For a while I over-trained him, but now I know he doesn’t have to be trained as hard and he will still run hard for you.”
Despite his close call in the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby, Crimson Knight has not won a stakes (he was stakes-placed as a 3-year-old at Indiana Downs and Penn National, as well), but it might be unwise to rule him out. “They say they don’t reach their peak until they’re 7,” Bennett said with a grin.
Jockey Angel Serpa rode two winners on today’s card. In the fifth race, Serpa was aboard 5-year-old horse Half Wed for owners George Ditola and John N. Erickson and trainer Anthony Granitz. Serpa won the ninth race on 3-year-old colt Ride Away for owner Pin Oak Stud and trainer H. Graham Motion.
Saturday’s co-feature races on the Skyway Festival Day card are the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, both at seven furlongs. Post time for the first race is 12:30 p.m. Track announcer Richard Grunder’s Morning Glory Club begins at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the grandstand, with jockey Antonio Gallardo the guest speaker.
Registration is underway for the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, an online competition beginning on Festival Preview Day, Saturday, Feb. 1. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined). Second place receives $1,000, third place receives $500 and a $500 prize will be awarded to the handicapper selecting the most overall winners.
There is no fee for entering the contest. Complete rules are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
The registration deadline is 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, which is the first day of the contest and also Festival Preview Day, highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a traditional Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands stepping stone.
The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and their bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs, with strikes being assessed for an out-of-the-money finish (three strikes is goodbye).
The Feb. 1 card promises to be one of the most memorable in the track’s 88-year history. In addition to the Sam F. Davis, the blockbuster stakes schedule includes the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Additionally, the mile-and-a-sixteenth Davis is the first leg of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus. The owners of any horse that wins the Davis; the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8; and the Kentucky Derby on May 3, will collect $1-million.
Prior to the running of the Davis, fans will have the opportunity to fill in an entry blank and deposit it in a bin corresponding to their selection for the race. The winning jockey will draw one name from the appropriate bin immediately after the race is official, and that individual will become eligible for a $100,000 prize, payable if the horse fulfills the requirements of the bonus.
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.

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