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Fernando De La Cruz continued his climb up the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings today, riding three winners in the first four races.
De La Cruz, who was sidelined five weeks after breaking a bone above his right wrist in a spill on Dec. 27, sits in fourth place for the meeting with 40 victories.
The 27-year-old native of Peru swept the early daily double, winning the first race on 4-year-old gelding Give Me Liberty for owner Royal Farms, LLC and trainer Carlos Garcia and adding the second on 3-year-old filly Broadway Rockette for owner Ups and Downs Racing and trainer Monte Thomas.
De La Cruz was also aboard fourth-race winner Chia Spice, a 6-year-old gelding owned by G. Ray Trisler and trained by Michael Passero.
Earlier this meeting, De La Cruz rode his 1,000th career winner, then-5-year-old mare Jungle Princess, for trainer Jamie Ness. On Feb. 21, De La Cruz and his brothers – Walter, 24, and Juan, a 29-year-old apprentice – each rode a winner on the card, believed to be a first in Thoroughbred racing annals.
Trainer Dale Bennett and jockey Antonio Gallardo teamed for two winners today. In the seventh race, Gallardo piloted 7-year-old gelding Gimmeadrink to victory for Bennett and owner Savoy Stable, LLC. It was the Florida-bred’s fifth consecutive victory, and his second since being claimed by Bennett for Savoy.
Bennett and Gallardo won the fifth race with 5-year-old gelding Magnificent Wreck, owned by Roamin B. Bar K Ranch and Gerald J. Marsh. Magnificent Wreck is another recent Bennett claim.
Trainer Anthony Granitz also saddled two winners, both on the turf. In the sixth race, Granitz sent out 4-year-old filly Laser Cat for a five-furlong score under jockey Victor Lebron. Calvin L. Johnston owns Laser Cat. Granitz won the eighth race at a mile-and-a-sixteenth with Barrel of Love, who was ridden by Willie Martinez. Tri County Stables is the breeder and owner.
Another multiple winner today was Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., who found the winner’s enclosure twice. Allen guided 4-year-old gelding Unabiding Citizen to a third-race triumph for owner Jonathan Stodghill and trainer William Sienkewicz. He added the ninth on 3-year-old colt Meadowood for owners George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables, LLC and trainer Derek Ryan.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 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.
Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month. Three years ago, H. Graham Motion brought a relatively untested colt to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May without benefit of a previous race on a dirt surface. Animal Kingdom showed the stuff of champions, winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at odds of 20-1 and elevating his trainer to the top rung of his profession.
There are all kinds of ways to get a 3-year-old to Louisville, and Motion appears set to try a somewhat more conventional route with Ring Weekend, the runaway winner of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. If he gets to wear the roses on May 3, the chestnut gelding will be the third horse since 2007 to use the Oldsmar showcase as a stepping stone to Kentucky Derby glory.
Earlier this week, Motion said he is likely to return Ring Weekend to action either in the Calder Derby on April 5 or the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12.
The Tampa Bay Derby victory under top jockey Daniel Centeno for St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds was one of two on a remarkable Festival Day 34 afternoon of racing for Cambridge, England native Motion, the Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month.
Motion also sent out 5-year-old mare Cloud Scapes to win the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf under jockey Erick Rodriguez for breeder-owner Pin Oak Stud, adding luster to her earlier Grade III Endeavour Stakes triumph. In addition, Motion saddled 3-year-old filly Interrupted, another Pin Oak Stud homebred, for a third-place finish in the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks.
While all hailed Motion for his training skills, the soft-spoken, 49-year-old conditioner praised both Tampa Bay Downs track surfaces, where he is a combined 11-for-46 this meeting with eight seconds.
“I think Tampa Bay Downs really goes well with our program,” said Motion, who currently stables about 15 horses here, 35 at Palm Meadows Training Center on Florida’s east coast in Boynton Beach and 80 at his Fair Hill Training Center base in Maryland.
“I love the Tampa grass course. It is much fairer than most and is always in good condition. You want your horses to come out of Florida in good shape, and you can let them run their race on the turf here, and that’s what appeals to me,” Motion said.
“The dirt course seems like it’s a good, safe surface, and I’ve been very happy with how my horses have trained on it. It handles water well when it rains and I think horses do well over it. And the atmosphere on the backside is quiet and relaxed. It’s a good environment, in general, for horses to winter in.”
Motion said all three stakes horses shipped back to Palm Meadows on Sunday and are doing excellent. Ring Weekend picked up 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands for Saturday’s victory, giving the conditioner the option to run in the Calder Derby, which is not a points race, before beginning final preparations for Churchill Downs.
“Calder is a 45-minute drive from Palm Meadows, and the rest of my horses go to Keeneland (site of the Blue Grass, which awards Derby points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four finishers),” Motion said. “Either way, I want to keep things simple.”
Jockeys and Jeans. Several of the biggest names in the sport will be at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, March 29 for the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans event to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
The PDJF is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial assistance to about 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. The fundraiser, which will be held under the tent in the track’s Backyard Picnic Area, is open to the public. Tickets are $35; retired jockey Dr. Eddie Donnally will be selling tickets for Jockeys and Jeans during Sunday’s racing.
Among the jockeys scheduled to attend are Hall of Fame members Pat Day, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum; Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello, a former leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs; recently retired jockey Ramon Dominguez; Patti Cooksey, who rode more than 2,100 winners; Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby; Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a race at a recognized track; William Klinke, a former Tampa Bay Downs jockey known as “The Colonel;” Michael Straight, who rode his first winner in 2009 at Tampa Bay Downs only a few months before becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a spill at Arlington; and Julia Brimo, who has made a remarkable recovery from a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury suffered in a spill at Keeneland.
Dominguez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct in January of 2013 that forced his retirement, will be the event’s featured speaker. The 37-year-old Dominguez is an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders.
Dominguez retired with 4,985 victories, winning Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His situation has raised awareness within the Thoroughbred industry of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries on jockeys years after they have stopped riding.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have an opportunity to have their picture taken with jockeys, enjoy a barbecue luncheon and beverages and bid on unique racing memorabilia. Attendees will receive an autographed commemorative poster. The gates will open at 11 a.m.
There will be a general autograph session at 2:30 p.m. on the first floor of the grandstand. For details, visit www.pdjf.org online or call Donnally at (818) 653-3711.

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