When Fernando De La Cruz returned to the jockeys’ room after winning the seventh race on a 15-1 shot, he approached Tampa Bay Downs Clerk of Scales Dennis Petrucelli for some congratulatory skin.
But Petrucelli, himself a former jockey, wanted none of it.
“Go away,” he told De La Cruz. “I don’t want to get burned.”
Some of his fellow jockeys, on the other hand, must be wishing the 27-year-old Peru native’s karma starts to rub off. De La Cruz rode four winners from seven mounts, giving him 20 winner’s-circle trips from 48 tries over his seven days of racing.
In addition to today’s four-bagger, De La Cruz has ridden three winners on four separate cards and two the other two days. “He can do no wrong,” Petrucelli said.
Veteran Ronnie Allen, Jr., was relegated to a footnote despite riding three winners, good for second place in the early standings with eight triumphs. De La Cruz knows he can’t keep up this pace forever, but he believes as long as he keeps working hard, stays focused and remains healthy, his first Tampa Bay Downs riding crown is achievable.
“It’s the same thing every day, just do my job in the mornings and try to stay relaxed,” he said. “I have a lot of appreciation for the trainers because they keep putting me on good horses.”
As it turns out, Jamie Ness isn’t the only Tampa Bay Downs trainer enjoying spectacular success using De La Cruz. Trainer Jason DaCosta improved his strike rate with De La Cruz to 60 percent by legging him up on two winners, giving the combination six victories to go with two seconds and a third from 10 starters.
The DaCosta double enabled him to pull into a tie with Ness at the top of the trainer standings with six victories each, one more than Dale Bennett. But De La Cruz wasn’t finished after capturing the second and third races for DaCosta.
Not by a long shot.
De La Cruz added a third victory in the sixth race aboard 6-year-old gelding Run Fat Boy Run, owned by Winning Stables, Inc., and trained by Gerald Bennett. And for good measure, De La Cruz gave 15-1 shot Going to Market a textbook ride in the seventh race going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf, winning by three-quarters of a length from Sharp Omar.
Going to Market is a 4-year-old gelding owned by his breeder, Sagamore Farm, and trained by Ignacio Correas, IV. The winner paid $32.60.
“The plan was to stay off the pace and make a move at the three-eighths pole,” De La Cruz said. “My horse responded when I asked him, and he took off the final sixteenth.”
De La Cruz, the runner-up to Daniel Centeno at last year’s meeting, has 199 victories in the calendar year, which ranks 16th in North America.
In the second race, the DaCosta-owned and trained 3-year-old filly Freebie’s Sister posted a gutsy neck victory from Callmewhatchuwant going seven furlongs on the main track. DaCosta endured less anxiety in the third race, as 3-year-old filly Concerted Effort – owned by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Tom Fitzgerald and Geoff Roy – rolled to a four-and-a-quarter length victory from Reynolds going a mile-and-40-yards for the filly’s second victory of the meeting.
Allen had a huge day as well, capturing the fourth race on 3-year-old gelding Plime Blank for owner Doug Terry Racing, LLC and trainer Wayne Minnock and the fifth on the turf on 4-year-old gelding Peppermint Prince for owner Robert Gerczak and trainer Carlos Garcia.
He completed his hat trick in the eighth race on 3-year-old gelding Zio Stephan for owner The Farm on 4, LLC and trainer Tim Ice.
Saturday’s 10-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. There will also be a full slate of Thoroughbred action Sunday. The racing schedule will have a slightly different look next week because of the Christmas holiday. Tampa Bay Downs presents a full card on Thursday, Dec. 26, with racing as well on the following three days.
The Saturday, Dec. 28 card will be highlighted by the first legs of the Tampa Turf Test, a pair of four-race starter handicap series for both colts and geldings and fillies and mares. Horses must have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2012-13 to compete. The first legs will be run at a distance of a mile.
The Dec. 28 program also includes the $34,000, six-furlong Pelican Prep for horses 3-and-upward on the dirt and the $34,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Endeavour Prep for fillies and mares 3-and-upward on the turf. Additionally, that day marks the return of track announcer Richard Grunder’s popular Morning Glory Club, featuring an interview with a special guest.
The Morning Glory Club will begin at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the grandstand. Admission is free and fans can watch morning workouts beforehand while enjoying free coffee and donuts.
Tampa Bay Downs will be closed on Christmas Day. The Silks Poker Room and The Downs Golf Practice Facility remain open Christmas Eve.
The winner of the first race Friday, 6-year-old Thunder Brew, has competed at six different tracks in 2013, including Belmont and Saratoga. But Tampa Bay Downs fans probably remember him as the winner of the 2010 Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophomore Turf Stakes on Florida Cup Day.
Anthony Pecoraro still trains the Florida-bred son of Milwaukee Brew-Cindy Woo Who, who is 7-for-25 lifetime. Thunder Brew’s other stakes victories, also as 3-year-olds, were the Lamplighter Stakes at Monmouth and the Capital City Stakes at Penn National.