Botija Zephir fell in love with Thoroughbreds as a young girl when her parents introduced her to racing at New York City’s Aqueduct and Belmont tracks.
Now, as a Tampa businesswoman and owner of Cake Cuties Bakery, Zephir hopes to return the favor by taking her father to a Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. “It’s on my bucket list of things to do, sometime in the next few years,” she said.
The Zephir family – Botija, her father and mother, Leano and Diane, and her 7-year-old daughter Aryanna -- settled for the next best thing today, attending the Tampa Bay Society’s annual Kentucky Derby Party in the Tampa Bay Downs Party Suite along with 83 other revelers and horse lovers.
Although Botija, a retired Air Force Staff Sergeant, has spent many afternoons at the races, this was her first visit to Tampa Bay Downs. “When I moved from New York six years ago, I felt I was far removed from it and would never get to enjoy that kind of thing again,” she said.
“Finding out about Tampa Bay Downs was a way to get connected to that experience and show my daughter the world of horse racing,” Botija added.
The Zephirs’ excitement nearly shot through the roof when Leano’s choice, California Chrome, won the 140th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
The Tampa Bay Society was one of numerous groups to hold their annual Kentucky Derby Party at Tampa Bay Downs. Zephir is a member of Centre Club in Tampa, one of about 20 private businesses, golf clubs and yacht clubs that comprise the Tampa Bay Society.
Under the aegis of its parent company, ClubCorp, the Tampa Bay Society provides a slew of benefits to members of the ClubCorp-owned properties Tampa Palms, Hunter’s Green, Countryside Country Club, East Lake Woodlands and Centre Club, as well as other private Tampa Bay area clubs.
Tampa Bay Society Area Network Manager Amy Jo Blevens said the attraction of the Kentucky Derby gives members a chance to renew friendships and enjoy an afternoon filled with excitement. She estimates only about 20 percent of the party crowd were regular race-goers.
“We fill this room every year,” Blevens said. “It’s the history and the prestige of the Derby and the chance for ladies to dress up in pretty hats, and the Party Suite allows us to have an elevated experience to watch the races.
“It’s just a great way to bring our members together once a year for a sense of community.”
Blevens said the Kentucky Derby will always have a special place in her heart. “My grandmother picked Mine That Bird (in 2009) two days before she died,” Blevens said.
The Tampa Bay Society celebrants were among a fun-loving crowd of 9,134 to enjoy the Kentucky Derby simulcast, as well as a full card of Thoroughbred action, at Tampa Bay Downs on a cool, overcast afternoon.
Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Antonio Gallardo continued his whirlwind pace by riding three winners, giving him 28 over the last 12 racing days and an insurmountable 120-110 margin from four-time Tampa Bay Downs jockey champion Ronnie Allen, Jr., in the standings.
It is the first track riding title for the 26-year-old Spaniard. Allen, who rode one winner, is not riding here Sunday, a decision he made before being unseated from his mount and shaken up in today’s seventh race. Allen did not require hospitalization.
Gallardo got rolling in the fourth race on 3-year-old filly Ice for the Lady for breeder-owner W. Kenan Rand, Jr., and trainer Gerald Bennett. Gallardo won the seventh on 3-year-old gelding Redneck Humor for breeder-owner Jacks or Better Farm, Inc., and trainer Brian Smeak and the ninth on 4-year-old filly Passionforwinning for owner Faustino Hernandez and trainer Robert Boileau.
Bennett and Smeak each saddled two winners. Bennett won the first with Fast Break Racing Stable’s 7-year-old gelding Black Belt, ridden by Allen. Smeak won the sixth race with DiBello Racing, LLC’s 6-year-old gelding Laughter, ridden by Oriana Rossi.
Rossi also won the fifth race on 6-year-old gelding Splashing Prince for breeder-owner Irish Acres Farm and trainer Edward Williams. Splashing Prince paid $50.40 to win. The victory came a year to the day after his previous triumph, also on an off Tampa Bay Downs surface; he paid $66.20 that day.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. Meeting awards will be presented for the track’s leading owner, trainer and jockey. The 2013-14 meeting officially ends on June 30, the first day of the track’s two-day Summer Festival of Racing.
Today’s “Cut the Cash” 50-50 raffle raised $2,830.50 for TROT (Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc.), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe retirement, rehabilitation, retraining and re-homing of Tampa’s racing Thoroughbreds. The winning ticket is also worth $2,830.50.
The winning number was 51777129980887048.
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.