Fernando De La Cruz seems determined to add some excitement to the jockeys race at Tampa Bay Downs during the next seven weeks.
The 26-year-old De La Cruz rode three winners on Wednesday’s card, moving him into solo second place with 57 victories. He trails four-time track champion Daniel Centeno by eight. Angel Serpa, who rode one winner Wednesday, is third with 55.
De La Cruz had 22 winners through the conclusion of Festival Preview Weekend on Feb. 3. The following day, his wife Rosa gave birth to the couple’s second child, Norma, and De La Cruz has ridden like a man on a mission ever since.
With 35 victories over the past 28 racing days, De La Cruz has emerged as a threat for another title to add to the one he captured in 2012 at Hoosier Park in Indiana. Included in his recent haul was a Feb. 23 victory in the $75,000 Super Stakes aboard 6-year-old gelding Good Lord for trainer Forrest Kaelin in track-record time of 1:22.03 for seven furlongs.
The previous Saturday, Feb. 16, De La Cruz rode four winners on the card, including two for Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness.
De La Cruz, who attended the Jorge Bernardini Yori Jockey School in Peru – as did his younger brother, jockey Walter De La Cruz – commenced his winning ways Wednesday in the first race, piloting 6-year-old mare Miss Gigi to victory for owner Walter T. Bates and trainer Mike Norris in a seven-furlong, $5,000 claiming event.
In the fourth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth, $5,000 claiming affair, De La Cruz scored with 5-year-old gelding Clever King for owner Steve Organ and trainer John Simms. Ness and owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., were the recipients of De La Cruz’s skill in the sixth race, a $12,500, two-turn affair, with 9-year-old mare Wyatt’s Women.
Speaking of brothers in the saddle, jockeys Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Mike Allen combined for the exacta in the eighth race. Older brother Ronnie brought 4-year-old filly Saintly Bound from off the pace to beat Mike and Barksdale by a head in the seven-furlong claiming contest. Saintly Bound is owned by Millard Winterrowd and trained by Ida Paquette.
Oriana Rossi rode two winners Wednesday, capturing the third race, a six-and-a-half furlong claiming affair, on 4-year-old gelding Sit Down Pidgeon for owner Ascendant Farm LLC and trainer Kenneth Wirth.
Rossi lit up the board in the ninth, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden claiming race on the turf, when she brought 3-year-old filly Light the North from out of the clouds late for a shocking victory. Owned by Mighty White Stallion LLC and trained by John Lakin Wells, Light the North paid $127 to win.
Her victory also created carryovers to Friday in both the Pick-5 ($15,728.67) and Super High-5 ($4,463.10) pools.
Thomas Proctor has been selected as the Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month after winning seven races from 16 starts since March 1, with a second and five thirds.
Six of Proctor’s victories have come on the turf. His only main-track winner was Claiborne Farm’s 4-year-old colt Just for Today, who won an allowance/optional claiming race on March 2. Five of Proctor’s winners were ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno.
Proctor’s month might be even better were it not for narrow losses by a pair of stakes winners in his barn, 3-year-old colt Pataky Kid and 5-year-old gelding Lil Bit O’Fun. Pataky Kid, who won last summer’s Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity, finished third in a high-level turf allowance on March 9.
A native of Gilmer, Texas, Proctor engineered one of the biggest upsets in Breeders’ Cup history when Glen Hill Farm’s 6-year-old One Dreamer won the 1994 Distaff at Churchill Downs at odds of 47-1. Another Glen Hill runner, now-5-year-old Marketing Mix, was second to Zagora in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita after winning three graded stakes, including the Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes, in 2012.
Proctor made Tampa Bay Downs history two years ago when he saddled both winners in a race that ended in a dead heat, Keertana and You Go West Girl. Keertana, who was ridden that day by Leandro Goncalves, was a multiple-graded stakes winner who finished third in the 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill. You Go West Girl, ridden in the dead heat by Rosemary Homeister, Jr., was a multiple-stakes winner.
Proctor’s father was the late Willard Proctor, who trained the likes of Convenience, Gallant Romeo and Major Impact. Proctor’s brother Hap manages 325-acre Glen Hill Farm in Ocala.
Plans are underway for the 11th annual Florida Cup Day, Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of the state’s excellence in breeding and raising Thoroughbreds. Featuring six stakes worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds, this year’s event is Saturday, April 6.
The action-packed card includes the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs; the Journeyman Stud Distaff at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf; the Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Besilu Stables Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs; and the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint at six furlongs.
Nominations for Florida Cup Day close Saturday at midnight.
The Downs Golf Practice Facility will celebrate its 10th anniversary Saturday. Special events include clinics, free club-fittings, specials on food and range balls and pro shop discounts.
Since its 2003 opening, the 22-acre facility has become a year-round destination for golfers of all ages and ability levels, as well as anyone who enjoys playing a few races between sessions on the driving range, short-game area and 8,000-square foot putting green. The fully-lighted complex attracts more than 35,000 visitors a year.
Under the direction of PGA Class A professional Jon Johnson, last month’s third annual Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship drew more than 3,000 attendees, up 40 percent from 2012. The event was highlighted by an appearance by LPGA Tour star Brittany Lincicome. Previous headliners were Annika Sorenstam in 2011 and instructor David Leadbetter in 2012.
The Downs Golf Practice Facility has been ranked among the top-100 ranges in the United States since its debut on Golf Range Magazine’s list in 2004.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.