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OLDSMAR, FL. – Betting favorites Dynamic Sky and Vitameta justified the faith of Tampa Bay Downs bettors Saturday, turning it on in deep stretch to win their respective $100,000-guaranteed races on Skyway Festival Day as the track kicked off its 3-year-old stakes program.
Dynamic Sky, an Ontario-bred colt owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, pulled away in deep stretch of the 14th annual Pasco Stakes for a ¾-length victory from stablemate Sky Commander under jockey Luis Contreras. Divine Ambition held on for third and O T B Bob was fourth.
Oxley, Casse and Contreras teamed to win last year’s Pasco Stakes with Prospective, who went on to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Dynamic Sky, a son of Sky Mesa-Murani, out of Distorted Humor, ran the seven furlongs in 1:22.79, .24 seconds off the stakes record. He paid $3.20 to win.
Vitameta was nearly as impressive in the 29th renewal of the Gasparilla, but she was all out to defeat 63-1 shot Cindys Casino by a neck, with Martha’s Moon another neck back. Vitameta’s time of 1:23.86 was .08 seconds off the Gasparilla stakes record.
Vitameta, bred in Kentucky by her owner, Alan and Karen Cohen’s Arindel Farm, is trained by David Fawkes and was ridden by Jose Luis Cruz. She paid $3.80 to win. Vitameta is a daughter of 2007 Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and out of Emery Board, a daughter of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone.  
Dynamic Sky, who ran second in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall and was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, didn’t get in the clear until the field hit the stretch of the Pasco, but he pulled away impressively from Sky Commander for a convincing victory.
He earned $30,000 for his second lifetime triumph, raising his career earnings to $248,115.
Dynamic Sky wore blinkers for the first time.
“I don’t know how much they helped,” Casse said. “He started his little thing turning for home where he wanted to lay in, but Luis was able to correct him. It was a big race. I was a little disappointed he got a little hot today, which he has to overcome if he is going to be a Derby horse. But it was hot today, so we’ll give him a pass.
“Sky Commander is a pretty decent horse, too. The time was definitely respectable, because Luis had nowhere to go and had to take him back and go around horses nearing the stretch. That cost him a little momentum, but he was able to overcome it,” Casse said.
The conditioner has no doubt Dynamic Sky can stretch out to two turns, making him a likely candidate for the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 2 and the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.
“I hope to see you guys a bunch,” Casse said, accompanied by wife Tina and 9-year-old son Colby.
Contreras rode the winner confidently from the No. 2 post and said he had few worries throughout.
“He broke well and I was able to wait behind the lead group getting to the turn,” he said. “When I swung out entering the stretch, he showed me a real run and he just kept on showing how good he is down the stretch. The blinkers helped, too; he has had a tendency to drift in, but not today.”
As the field turned for home in the Gasparilla, it appeared Vitameta might pull away. But Martha’s Moon dug in on the rail and Cindys Casino flew up on the outside, creating a three-filly blanket finish.
Vitameta and Cruz were a neck to the good of Cindys Casino, trained locally by William Downing, with the John Servis-trained Martha’s Moon another neck back. Carolinaonmymind finished fourth. The 10-3 exacta was a healthy $148.20.
“She (Vitameta) doesn’t get into it until she gets into a dogfight,” Fawkes said. “If you watch her last race (a second-place finish to Cor Cor, by a half-length, in the Dec. 1 Sandpiper Stakes), she didn’t really get into it until the last 70 yards, after she got bumped against the rail. That’s when she dug in.”
“She has always been that way, since she was a baby,” said Arindel Farm-Ocala farm manager Jolane Weeks. “She likes the competition. This filly had lots of little problems when she was a baby, so we chose to send her to David because he is masterful at taking care of problem horses and we knew he could get her to the races. It was extremely gratifying to have her win this race.” Vitameta has won three of five career starts.
Owners Alan and Karen Cohen and their Arindel Farm campaigned 2006 Eclipse Award-champion 3-year-old filly Wait a While. “That was their first racehorse,” Weeks said.
“Jose fits her very well and he did everything right in the saddle today,” Fawkes said. “He didn’t push her until it was time to go and he stayed out on the crown. He got pushed out a little on the turn, but that didn’t affect her.”
Cruz was delighted with Vitameta’s effort. “She is a fighter and wants to run, but she is learning to relax,” he said. “She wasn’t tiring at the end; she was waiting on that filly (Cindys Casino) that was just behind us.”
In Saturday’s fifth race, Margano – a 4-year-old full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro – powered to the lead at the top of the stretch and rolled to a two-and-three-quarter length victory from Recharged in the $20,200, mile-and-an-eighth turf allowance.
Margano is owned by the late Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who bred the son of Dynaformer-La Ville Rouge in Kentucky under their Lael Stables banner. He is trained by Leigh Delacour and was ridden by Luis Garcia.
It was the second victory in 11 starts for Margano, who has finished second in a pair of stakes races.
For her part, Delacour trained two other now-retired full brothers to Barbaro: stakes-placed Nicanor, who won four races, and Lentenor, whose four career victories include the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs and a 2011 allowance/optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs in which he set a track record on the turf of 1:40.95 for the about mile-and-a-sixteenth distance.
Nicanor, now 7, has entered stud at Shamrock Farm near Woodbine, Md. Lentenor, now 6, is standing his first season as a stallion at Calumet Farm near Lexington.
Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr. extended his recent hot streak Saturday, riding three winners to give him seven over the four last racing days. In the second race, an allowance/optional claiming sprint, Allen scored on 4-year-old filly Cheechako for owner Marylou Whitney Stables LLC and trainer Ian Wilkes.
Allen came right back in the third race, a seven-furlong claiming event for fillies and mares, on 5-year-old Eye Can Roar for owner-trainer Maria Bowersock. He won the 10th for trainer Gerald Bennett on 5-year-old mare Leggy Laura in a mile-and-40-yard claiming race.
After a slow start to the meet, Allen has climbed to fourth place in the jockey standings with 12 victories.
Current leading jockey Daniel Centeno and Luis Garcia won two races apiece, with Centeno’s twin wins giving him 26 for the meet. In the first race, a maiden claiming sprint for fillies and mares, Centeno won on first-time starter Sweet Moscato – a 4-year-old – for owner Drake Smith and trainer Robert G. Smith.
Centeno was again victorious in the seventh, a mile-and-a-sixteenth claiming affair on the turf, on the William Jurgens owned-and-trained Fashion Bee, a 5-year-old mare.
In addition to Garcia’s aforementioned victory for Delacour, he won again on the turf in the ninth race, a maiden special weight at a mile. Garcia rallied aboard 3-year-old filly Cat’s Holiday, a first-time starter, for owner Augustin Stable and trainer H. Graham Motion.
Another veteran reinsman, 55-year-old Jorge L. Vargas, won his second race is as many days when he piloted 50-1 shot Kitten’s Caregiver to victory in the fourth race. The 5-year-old gelding runs for owner Sterling Racing Stables LLC and trainer Brenda McCarthy.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of about 12:30 p.m., then continues Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the following week. Thursdays will be added to the mix beginning Jan. 24.
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.
Saturday, Jan. 19 is Cap Giveaway Day, with each patron receiving a free cap with the track insignia with paid admission while supplies last.
The popular Tampa Bay Downs blog, which can be found on the front page of the track’s website (www.tampabaydowns.com), offers insights, observations and reflections on horse racing from trainers, jockeys, track officials and fans.
The current blogger is jockey Brittany Rhone, who runs her father Lonnie Arterburn’s stable at the track and shoes her own horses. Learn how Brittany and her sister, Jamie Rocco, auditioned recently for the CBS-TV reality show The Amazing Race and keep an eye out for future blogs from members of the Tampa Bay Downs community.

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