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Given her apparent class edge against her seven rivals in today’s $50,000, seven-furlong Manatee Stakes, the biggest question surrounding 7-year-old Risky Rachel was if she might bounce off her Jan.11 victory here in the six-furlong Minaret.
But breeder-owner Sanford Bacon of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the members of the Risky Rachel team had no such worries.
“She is like red wine – she gets better with age,” assistant trainer Freddy Buscail said after the New York-bred mare’s three-and-three-quarter length victory from runner-up Cookie in stakes-record time of 1:23.48. “She is very classy, and it’s easy with good horses.”
“After the last race, when she came off a 15-month layoff, she’s been thriving and training very forward,” said Steve Venosa, whose wife Dr. Jean White and her veterinarian team nursed Risky Rachel back from an injured tendon incurred in training in December of 2012. The rehabilitation took place at Venosa’s SGV Thoroughbreds in Ocala. “She has just really been enjoying her work, and it was borne out by her performance today,” Venosa added.
When all was said and done, Bacon didn’t have much else to add besides praise for his team – including head trainer Juan “Manny” Coronel, who remained in south Florida – and the revelation that Risky Rachel comes to him when he whistles.
Other than some plans for the not-so-distant future, that is. “We are going to win two stakes at Saratoga (with Risky Rachel) just for fun,” Bacon said, smiling.
“A man and his wife (Venosa and Dr. White) took care of her when everybody said, ‘Who knows if it (the tendon) will ever heal,’ ” Bacon said. “When (White) and her team said go for it, we went for it, and guess what – all Manny had to do was put a bridle on her.”
The Risky Rachel team will spend the next several days deciding if the mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on March 15 is in her future, or if they will keep her at the six and seven-furlong trip that has been her specialty and resulted in a 9-for-19 lifetime mark, including six stakes victories.
Jockey Daniel Centeno, who won his second consecutive Manatee Stakes (last year’s winner, Spectacular Sky, set the previous race mark of 1:23.51) and his fourth in the last six years, rode Risky Rachel with confidence galore. He benefited when Four Aria and Wild About Irene set speedy fractions of 22.88 for the first quarter-mile and 45.82 for the half, while Risky Rachel lurked in an ideal striking position.
Risky Rachel took the lead with about a quarter-mile left, and there really was no question about the outcome. Ambusher rallied from far back to take third, while Wild About Irene held on for fourth.
“Looking at the race (beforehand), I thought we might have been on the lead,” Centeno said. “She broke well but when the other two were ridden hard to get to the front, I let them go. She relaxed for me, but I knew she wanted to run and get after them.
“I let her go getting into the turn and she was moving so comfortably, I just let her run. We took the lead and I didn’t have to ask her at all. She did the stretch on her own.”
A heavy betting favorite, Risky Rachel – by 2004 Tampa Bay Derby winner Limehouse, out of Bacon’s champion New York-homebred mare Dancin Renee – paid $2.80 to win. Cookie completed a $14.60 exacta.  
The winner’s share of $30,000 raised Risky Rachel’s career earnings to $442,250.
Jockey Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today, giving him 46 for the meeting, six behind leader Ronnie Allen, Jr. Allen and Jose Angel Garcia rode two winners each.
Gallardo won the fourth race on 7-year-old gelding King Rock for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness; the ninth on 4-year-old gelding Son of Pearl for owners Nicholson Thoroughbreds, Inc., Big Bang Racing, Equiforce, Inc., and Jay Leppanen and trainer Dale Bennett; and the 11th on 4-year-old gelding floor Money for owner Carlos Alarcon and trainer Manuel Troche.
Thoroughbred racing resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Racing is conducted five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, in February. 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.
Sunday is also Family Fiesta Day in the Backyard Picnic Area, with numerous games and activities for kids and their families, face-painting, pony rides and music. The event is sponsored by Univision Tampa Bay.
Day 2 of the fourth annual Golfest Presented by Valspar is Sunday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, with children 14-and-under free.
In today’s Golfest action, the Channel 10 team of Reginald Roundtree and Dave Wirth won the Celebrity Golf Skills Challenge, defeating six other teams including representatives from the Tampa Bay Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning.
Qualifying for the TROT (Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc.) $1,000,000 Hole-in-One Challenge is from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., with the semifinals and finals at 2 p.m.
A $10 entry fee allows golfers to hit five shots from a distance of 167 yards, with anyone landing a shot within a 20-foot diameter circle advancing to the semifinals. Anyone making a hole-in-one in qualifying – as participant Tom Bremer did today – receives $250 in range balls.
Only the closest-to-the-hole golfer in the semifinals will advance to the finals and one shot for the chance to win $1,000,000 by making a hole-in-one, with $500,000 going to the golfer in an annuity and $500,000 going to TROT.
TROT IS A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe retirement, rehabilitation and adoption of Tampa’s racing Thoroughbreds.
 Golfest Presented by Valspar is the Tampa Bay area’s largest demo day and golf expo. Golfers will be able to test new clubs from such leading manufacturers as Nike, Wilson, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Ping, Adams, Cobra and Callaway.
There are also numerous activities for children, including the Future Champions Junior Golf Tour putting contests from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and the U.S. Kids Golf Junior Experience, where youngsters can sample the latest in U.S. Kids golf clubs.
Sunday’s stage lineup begins at 10 a.m. with North Florida PGA Teacher of the Year Steve Whidden, followed by long-drive champion and trick-shot artist Mike Ziegler and, at 1 p.m., trick-shot artist Chuck “The Hit Man” Hiter.
For more details on Golfest Presented by Valspar, call (813) 854-4946.

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