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Ontario-bred stakes winners Asserting Bear and Matador; Harpoon, from the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher; and the promising Kentucky-bred Cousin Stephen, trained by Chad Brown, headline a wide-open field of eight 3-year-olds for Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the first leg of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus.
The 34th edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis on the main dirt track is the centerpiece of a 12-race Festival Preview Day card offering $500,000 in stakes purses, including the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the dirt.
Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.; the Suncoast is carded as the eighth race, followed by the Sam F. Davis and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes.
The owner(s) of the Davis winner will be eligible for a $1-million bonus, payable if their horse goes on to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
Additionally, one fan who fills out an entry blank and deposits it in a box corresponding to the winner of the Davis will become eligible to win $100,000 through the Lambholm South Fan Bonus. The name of the fan will be drawn by the winning jockey from those who selected his mount immediately after the race. Boxes with the saddlecloth colors, numbers and names of each Davis entrant will be set up at both the main clubhouse and grandstand entrances; if the horse wins both Derbies, the fan collects.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. when Eclipse Award-winning journalist Marty McGee of the Daily Racing Form joins track announcer Richard Grunder for the Morning Glory Club show on the first floor of the grandstand.
Asserting Bear, who is owned by Bear Stables, Ltd., and trained by Reade Baker, is a finalist for a Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Two-Year-Old Male. The colt’s two victories include a stirring triumph in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity at a mile-and-an-eighth on Woodbine’s all-weather track on Nov. 17. Asserting Bear will break from the No. 6 post and be ridden by Joe Rocco, Jr.
Matador, owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse – both 2012 Sovereign Award winners in their respective categories and again finalists – won the $250,000 Cup and Saucer Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf at Woodbine on Oct. 20 before finishing off the board in the Coronation Futurity after encountering interference at the top of the stretch. Matador is by Malibu Moon, also the sire of Oxley and Casse’s 2012 Davis runner-up and Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective. He has the No. 8 post and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Harpoon, who is owned by the Let’s Go Stable of Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, broke his maiden going a mile at Gulfstream on Dec. 26 after finishing second in his first three races. Pletcher and Let’s Go Stable teamed to win last year’s Tampa Bay Derby with Verrazano. Harpoon has the inside No. 1 post and will be ridden by Luis Saez.
Cousin Stephen, who is owned by Klaravich Stables, Inc., and W.H. Lawrence, broke his maiden by seven-and-a-half lengths in a $75,000, mile-and-an-eighth special weight at Aqueduct in November before tiring in his last start Jan. 3 at Gulfstream against a quality allowance/optional claiming field. Daniel Centeno will ride Cousin Stephen, who has the No. 5 post.
The other Davis entrants include No. 2 Noble Cornerstone, owned by My Meadowview Farm and trained by Wesley Ward, Kent Desormeaux aboard; No. 3 Imaginethatmom, owned by Shadybrook Farm, Inc., and trained by Michael Yates, Abdiel Jaen in the irons; No. 4 Vinceremos, owned by WinStar Farm, LLC and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and trained by Pletcher, Edgar Prado riding; and No. 7 School On a Hill, owned by James Covello, Millennium Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Wayne Catalano, Ronnie Allen, Jr., aboard.
School On a Hill was supplemented to the race at a cost of $3,000.
A full field of 12 is entered in the 28th running of the Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes. Among those set to compete is 7-year-old gelding Riding the River, who won a 2012 Sovereign Award as Canada’s Champion Turf Male; Grade II winner Guys Reward, from the barn of Dale Romans; and Philly Ace., an accomplished graded-stakes winner from the barn of Christophe Clement.
A field of 10 sophomore fillies will compete in the 34th annual Suncoast Stakes, headed by Gasparilla Stakes winner Nesso, from the barn of Herman Wilensky, and supplemental nominee Dame Dorothy, trained by Pletcher and owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
On today’s card, trainer Kathleen O’Connell saddled three winners. A two-time leading trainer at Tampa Bay Downs, O’Connell won the opener with American Equistock’s 3-year-old colt Big City Guy, ridden by Antonio Gallardo.
O’Connell won the sixth and seventh races with horses she owns in partnerships. Her 5-year-old mare Master the Blues, co-owned by Holli Day and Dennis Holman and ridden by Mike Allen, won the sixth, followed by 4-year-old filly Bird in the Bush, also owned by WSB Investments, Inc. Apprentice jockey Octavio Vergara, Jr., was the rider.
Vergara also won the second race on 25-1 shot Im Kwik for owner Kwik Six Racing and trainer William Sienkewicz.
Trainer Bernell Rhone and jockey Dean Butler also combined for two victories. They won the fourth race with Jason Bullard’s 7-year-old gelding Saturday in May and the ninth with Irish Rose Racing, LLC’s 5-year-old mare Quinichette.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m.
Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month Lynne Scace doesn’t hesitate to describe Vineyard Haven as a once-in-a-lifetime horse. After breeding the gray son of Lido Palace-Princess Aloha and sending him out to win his debut at Calder in June of 2008, Scace sold him to late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel for $250,000.
Frankel – who would later sell Vineyard Haven to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation for $12 million – campaigned Vineyard Haven to 2-year-old victories in the Grade I Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga and the Grade I Champagne at Belmont (he also won the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash as a 3-year-old while trained by Saeed bin Suroor).
While Vineyard Haven’s photograph might be under “precocious” in some dictionaries, the Scace-bred, owned and trained 4-year-old colt Palace Barista was anything but. A big, gangly sort, Palace Barista didn’t start until December of his 3-year-old year to allow him to wrap his mind around the idea he was a racehorse.
“A lot of horses need more time to mature, and I don’t believe in rushing them,” said Scace, who posted seven victories from her first 21 Tampa Bay Downs starters, including Palace Barista’s scintillating victory in the $60,000 Pelican Stakes on Jan. 25 in 1:09.94 for six furlongs.
Scace also won the 2007 Pelican with Roman Candles.
“He is still young and he’s green, but he has always shown a lot of potential and I think he is going to be a really nice horse,” said Scace, who indicated Palace Barista is for sale – for the right price and to the right buyer. “He does everything right. He has never given us any hassle from the time he was a baby, but it is one of those things where you go day by day and week by week.”
Like Vineyard Haven a son of Lido Palace, Palace Barista is out of Scace’s dam Lady of Prestige – who is a half-sister to Vineyard Haven’s dam, Princess Aloha. Palace Barista is 2-for-3 with a second after paying $125.40 while winning his debut on Dec. 4. Harry Vega has ridden the colt in all three starts.
Scace, who bred and raised Palace Barista at her 60-acre Double S Farm in Ocala, has also won this meeting with her homebred 4-year-old gelding Gray Tailored Suit, owned in partnership with Elsie Medeiros. Scace still owns On the Vineyard, a 10-year-old half-brother to Vineyard Haven, and breeds him to several mares a year. On the Vineyard won five races at Tampa Bay Downs, including the 2009 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes.
Scace also trained the multiple-stakes winning distaffer It’s Me Mom, who holds the Tampa Bay Downs six-furlong track record of 1:08.67.
Scace has about a half-dozen broodmares and says she prefers looking for younger sires that have solid racetrack records and have displayed some durability. “I’m not too much into the nicking business, although I do look at it,” Scace said, referring to the system of breeding mares to stallions with an affinity between sire lines that have yielded a greater proportion of superior runners.
“I’ll take a mare who might need a little something more through the shoulder, or whatever the case may be, and match them up physically that way. I try to find a sire that has earned some money, stood the wear and tear of racing and retired pretty sound. A lot of first and second-year sires are priced fairly reasonably until they get a big horse, then their stud fee goes up and pushes you out of the playing field,” Scace added.
But as long as Scace takes her time with her potential stars, expect her to stay in the game and prosper – regardless of whether she sells them to another owner.
“I didn’t have any problem selling Vineyard Haven,” she said. “I went to all his races and there was no pressure – it was a great experience.”
The Race Track Chaplaincy of America-Tampa Bay Downs Division, in collaboration with Catholic Mobile Medical Services, is conducting a Health Fair under the big tent in the Backyard Picnic Area on the front side from 6-8 p.m. on Monday for anyone with a valid Tampa Bay Downs license.
The Health Fair will provide free screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, muscular and skeletal evaluations and flu shots, along with health education information. There will also be refreshments, gifts and prizes.
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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