Kentucky Derby hopefuls. A trio of graded stakes on one program, for the first time in track history. Hall of Fame trainers. Jockeys striving to hit the big time.
Not to mention an appearance by trainer Edward Plesa, Jr., at the Morning Glory Club at 10 a.m. and the always-popular Food Truck Festival.
With all that Tampa Bay Downs has to offer Saturday, is it any surprise trainer Mark Casse wants to grab a big slice of the pie? His efforts to do so will begin unfolding when the track’s excitement-packed, 12-race Festival Preview Day card begins at 12:20.
Casse, a four-time Sovereign Award-winner as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer, won three stakes last season at Tampa Bay Downs: the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby and the Pasco with Prospective, and the Florida Oaks with Dixie Strike (both owned by John C. Oxley).
With entries in each of Saturday’s stakes races, it’s possible Casse could exceed his total from the 2011-12 season in one afternoon, since the likely favorite in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, Dynamic Sky, won the seven-furlong Pasco three weeks ago.
Whoa, says Casse, who finished second in the 2012 Davis with Prospective. Let’s not get that far ahead of ourselves.
“No matter how things look, I never get overconfident,” said Casse, who believes Oxley’s Dynamic Sky is “at the top of his game” and ahead of where Prospective was at the same time last year. “In 34 years, I’ve seen so many crazy things happen, that you always go minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour.”
Luis Contreras, who joined Casse as a 2011 Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s Outstanding Jockey, has the riding assignment on Dynamic Sky.
In addition to saddling Dynamic Sky in the Davis, Casse will send out 6-year-old mare Exclusive Love for owner Robert Masterson in the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf; and 3-year-old filly Floral Sky in the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks on the turf.
Floral Sky will be ridden by Contreras. Casse said he plans to use Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Angel Serpa on Exclusive Love, the 2012 Endeavour runner-up to Zagora, after jockey Alan Garcia chose to remain at Gulfstream.
On Friday morning, Casse sounded 99-percent certain Oxley’s other Davis entrant, Northern Lion, would be scratched in favor of a future allowance at Gulfstream or the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 18. Casse’s other entry in the Florida Oaks, W.S. Farish and Gabe Grossberg’s Jadira, was cross-entered and will run in Saturday’s first race at Gulfstream.
Still another Casse 3-year-old, Pasco runner-up Sky Commander, is entered in an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race Saturday at Gulfstream.
“We do have some talented 3-year-olds. It’s a nice problem to have,” Casse said. “Things can change week to week. We’re trying to run the horses that are doing best at the time they are doing well, and waiting a week or two if we think they can be better.”
A horse like Ontario-bred Dynamic Sky gives him that option for the Davis. The son of Sky Mesa-Murani, by Distorted Humor, won the Pasco drawing away after being forced to steady, his second career stakes victory.
To win the Davis on Saturday, Dynamic Sky must best the likes of improving My Name Is Michael from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer William Mott and unproven Midnite Poppa, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito; Speak Logistics, the Eddie Plesa, Jr.-trained winner of last fall’s In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes; and Falling Sky, trained by John P. Terranova, II, who turned in a bang-up victory in an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming sprint at Gulfstream in December.
Both Dynamic Sky and Speak Logistics ran in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in November, finishing sixth and seventh, respectively.
“Dynamic Sky is going to have to run a big race to win, but it looks as if he is ready to do that,” Casse said. “It’s not going to be an easy race, but it is one that will determine what direction these horses are heading. Right now every race is a trial, and they are all trying to get to the next level.”
The 25-year-old Serpa, who leads all Tampa Bay Downs jockeys this season with 42 victories, will be aboard Speak Logistics. Joel Rosario comes up from Gulfstream to ride My Name Is Michael, and Zito will employ Jose Lezcano on Midnite Poppa. The unsung Luis Saez will ride Falling Sky.
Other Davis entrants and their jockeys are Silver Day, Marcelino Pedroza; Divine Ambition, Willie Martinez; Lightning Stone, Danny Coa; and Balino, Nik Goodwin.
In addition to sending out My Name Is Michael, Mott has entered Besilu Stables’ Kentucky-bred Tapicat in the Florida Oaks.
The Food Truck Festival will be held from noon-3 p.m. at the north end of the grandstand.
Jockeys Angel Serpa, Ryan Curatolo, Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Scott Spieth each rode two winners on Friday’s card. Trainer Kathleen O’Connell saddled two winners, including impressive 3-year-old filly Street Gem in the ninth on the turf for Just For Fun Stable LLC.
Tampa Bay Downs currently conducts live racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. 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.