Have graded stakes horse, will travel.
That has been the game plan the past two weekends for jockey Jose Espinoza and trainer John P. Terranova, II, who teamed to win the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs by a neck with Falling Sky.
The previous Saturday, Espinoza rode Terranova’s 5-year-old Swift Warrior to victory at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston in the Grade III, $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes.
Both times, the 43-year-old Espinoza celebrated in subdued fashion, taking his wife Rufina to dinner after the Davis and showing up at the Tampa Bay Downs barn area at 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning. And Sunday afternoon he was back to work, riding 3-year-old gelding Sidekick to a maiden victory in the second race for breeder-owner Jim Tafel LLC and trainer Carl Nafzger. Sidekick is a son of 2007 Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, also raced by Tafel and Nafzger.
But make no mistake: Espinoza is flying high inside after Falling Sky, owned by Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger, aced his first two-turn examination while earning 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
“Whenever I ride that kind of horse in a big race like that, I’m up in the clouds for the next few days,” said Espinoza, a native of Mexico City. “It’s something you never forget.”
Terranova originally named Luis Saez to ride Falling Sky in the Davis, but the trainer told Espinoza’s agent, Nick Solis, to be prepared because Saez might decide to remain at Gulfstream. Terranova is well-acquainted with Espinoza’s ability, having used him for a victory on now-3-year-old West Hills Giant in last fall’s $247,338 New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes.
Saez stayed put in Hallandale and rode four winners, but Espinoza may have earned a permanent assignment on Falling Sky with his effort. He took him to the lead right after the break, got him to relax through a half-mile in 47.68 seconds and six furlongs in 1:12.61 and had enough in reserve to stave off Dynamic Sky by a neck. My Name Is Michael was third and Speak Logistics finished fourth.
“He was very, very sharp. He was ready in the gate, a little nervous and he wanted to go,” Espinoza said. “He broke so fast that he stumbled a little out of the gate and went sideways the first two steps, but when he got going he took me to the lead right away.”
Falling Sky led the field on a merry chase until the far turn, when Speak Logistics under jockey Angel Serpa attempted to move between Falling Sky and the rail. Speak Logistics was repulsed and fell back, leaving Falling Sky and Dynamic Sky to duel to the wire.
Serpa claimed foul after the race, but his objection was disallowed by the stewards.
“I really didn’t have a chance to watch the replay closely,” Espinoza said, “but I know (Serpa) didn’t have enough room to go through. My horse was very strong and he was switching leads and leaning in slightly, and there was not much room to go through.
“When he tried to make it, he bumped my horse from behind and lost momentum. I didn’t know what was going on, but I heard yelling and took a hold of my horse. My horse kept very straight and I had a ton of horse at the top of the stretch. He’s smart, and when he saw (Dynamic Sky) next to him, he gave it another gear,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza started as a jockey riding Quarter Horses in match races in Mexico when he was 13. His Quarter Horse experience steeled him for his first move north of the border to California and Arizona, where he continued to ride Quarter Horses, before switching to Thoroughbreds at the old Stampede Park Race Track in Calgary, Alberta.
For most of his Thoroughbred career, Espinoza has been a fixture in New York. Two years ago at Belmont, Espinoza won the Grade I, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap on the turf on Belmont Stakes Day aboard 21-1 shot Mission Approved for owner-trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul.
Espinoza came to Tampa Bay Downs this year at the urging of trainer Christophe Clement and has ridden seven winners from only 26 starters.
Espinoza says the jockey colony at Tampa Bay Downs is highly competitive but that the riders like and respect each other. “I really like it here,” he said. “Everybody tries to get along, and every horse you ride you learn a little something different.”
And, in his case, you learn that you might have a horse pointed toward Louisville in May.
Tampa Bay Downs trainer Joan Scott traveled west Saturday to saddle her 3-year-old filly Cor Cor for the $75,000 Battle of New Orleans Stakes at Fair Grounds at five-and-a-half furlongs on the turf.
Cor Cor, who won the Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on the dirt at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1, turned in a powerful performance at Fair Grounds, going gate-to-wire and winning by four-and-a-quarter lengths from Gator Zone in 1:04.86 under jockey Rosie Napravnik.
Owned by Steve Ballou and Harriet Waldron, Cor Cor – a Florida-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken-Babe’s Flair, by Capote – is 3-for-4 in her career. Her sole defeat was a runner-up effort to Kauai Katie on Jan. 1 in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream.
Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr. rode two winners Sunday, both on the turf. Allen was aboard 6-year-old Royal Hill in the seventh – the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week – for owner Seven Gables and trainer Cathy Rountree. Allen scored again in the ninth on 5-year-old Gibson County Line for owners Drake Smith and Rick George and trainer Robert G. Smith.
Appearances by LPGA star Brittany Lincicome and Win McMurry from Golf Channel; a $1-million Hole-in-One Shootout to benefit Thoroughbed Retirement of Tampa, Inc. (TROT); and a chance to win two tickets to the first 2013 major tournament in Georgia are among the highlights of Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship, to be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9-10, at The Downs Golf Practice Facility at Tampa Bay Downs.
Admission is $10 for adults, with children 14-and-under getting in free.
Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship is Tampa Bay’s largest demo day and golf expo, with golfers able to hit new clubs from such manufacturing companies as TaylorMade, Nike, Adams, Cobra, Callaway, Ping, Wilson and Mizuno, among others.
The event also features 20 golf lifestyle booths inside the Golf Expo Area, free 10-minute lessons from certified PGA teaching professionals and hourly prize drawings. Food and beverages will be available at the Golfest Diner and rounds of golf for four at area courses will be sold at discount prices.
There will also be a Kids Zone where youngsters can play mini-golf.
Saturday’s featured guest on the GOLFLocker.com stage at noon will be Seminole, Fla. resident Brittany Lincicome, who has established herself as one of the top players on the LPGA Tour, with five victories and more than $5-million in earnings since her 2005 rookie season.
McMurry, Sunday’s special guest speaker at 1 p.m., joined Golf Channel in 2010. She reports for Golf Central, is a contributor on the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” and hosts her web exclusive, “Gone with the Win.”
Others set to appear during the weekend include Downs Golf Practice Facility professional Matt Mitchell, trick-shot artist Brad Denton, long-drive champion Mike Ziegler and several other instructors and golf-industry professionals.
All attendees at Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship can register for a drawing for two tickets to the first major tournament in Georgia.
Everyone is also eligible to enter the TROT $1-Million Hole-In-One Shootout, with each entrant receiving a goody bag which incudes a free round at Westchase and other golf-related items.
Qualifying for the hole-in-one shootout will be held Saturday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., with the semifinals and finals beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Only the closest-to-the-hole golfer in the semifinals will advance to the finals and one shot for the chance to win $1-million by making a hole-in-one, with $500,000 going to the golfer 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.
Racing resumes Wednesday at Tampa Bay Downs with a 10-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.