Trainer Kathleen O’Connell and Blackacre Farms, Inc., owners Larry and Vicki Stumpf have always had a soft spot in their hearts for 6-year-old Flatter This.
The Kentucky-bred son of Flatter-Val U Me, by You and I, gave the Stumpfs their first stakes victory in August of 2011 at Calder in Miami. And although few outside observers gave Flatter This much of a chance in Saturday’s $60,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, his connections were brimming with confidence.
“He was training awesome, and I thought he was sitting on a good race,” O’Connell said via telephone from Fort Lauderdale after watching the 14-1 shot pull away through the stretch under jockey Antonio Gallardo for a 2 ¾-length victory from Nicklaus Way and Argentine Tango, who dead-heated for second. “I’m ecstatic for the owners, because they have devoted a lot to this business and this is one of their favorite horses.”
Prospective, winner of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby last year, faded to fourth after leading at the top of the stretch.
The winner’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:44.90. Flatter This paid $31.60 to win and is now 7-for-47 lifetime. The first-place prize of $36,000 raised his career earnings to $285,126.
Flatter This has three career stakes victories, the first two at Calder as a 4-year-old. He had been training there for the Challenger since finishing fifth in an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream on Jan. 26.
Gallardo had ridden Flatter This in his previous victory, a $25,000 starter allowance race Oct. 27 at Calder. That followed a third-place effort under Gallardo in the Grade III Spend a Buck at Calder.
“This is a pretty nice horse, and I knew if we were close in the stretch he would finish,” Gallardo said. “He broke well enough, a bit wide (from the No. 5 post), but I wanted to stay close to Prospective and I was happy to be where we were. He was full of run and when (Prospective) moved, I asked my horse and he didn’t disappoint me.”
“He loves the Calder track, which is very similar to Tampa Bay Downs,” said O’Connell, who scored her 1,495th career victory. “He has been doing super, and he’s just a real nice horse to be around. Antonio is an underrated rider, and I use him as much as I can. Flatter This comes from off the pace, and he has to have the race set up, which happened today.”
"Antonio did everything perfect," said O'Connell assistant Brian Smeak. "He broke well, sat there nicely, made his move and just opened up on them."
Each of the first three finishers came from off the pace after Th Original Scotty and Prospective set fractions of 49.24 for the half-mile and 1:13.48 for six furlongs into a brisk headwind up the backstretch.
Nicklaus Way had won three races in a row, the past two at Tampa Bay Downs, before Saturday. “He made a very strong run nearing the stretch and he was trying hard to go after the leader,” said jockey Angel Serpa.
Daniel Centeno rode three winners on Saturday’s card to edge ahead of Serpa in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings, 54-52. Centeno won the third race, a mile-and-40-yard allowance/optional claiming event, on 4-year-old colt Just for Today for breeder-owner Claiborne Farm and trainer Thomas Proctor. Centeno scored again in the sixth, another mile-and-40-yard claiming race, on 6-year-old gelding Family Foundation for Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. and trainer Jamie Ness.
Centeno also captured the 10th race, a six-furlong maiden special weight contest, on 3-year-old filly Brainy for owner Edward A. Seltzer and trainer Curtis Garrison.
Danny Coa and Fernando Jara (who rode Argentine Tango in the Challenger) rode two winners apiece.
Sunday’s 10-race card begins at 12:40 p.m. There is a Pick-5 carryover of $17,144.13. The Super High-5 on Saturday's last race (1-5-6-10-7) paid $62,493.60.
Starting next week, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct Thoroughbred racing four days a week – Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – through the duration of the meet, with the exception of March 31 (Easter Sunday, when the track is closed) and May 1.
Tampa Bay Downs conducts simulcast wagering seven days a week, as well as offering no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
“Hearts Reaching Out.” Time is running short to enter the “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament four-person scramble. Players may enter as a team or as an individual. The event, conducted by the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division, is Monday at 11 a.m. at Countryside Country Club in Clearwater.
The tournament will be held prior to the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division’s Charity Auction and Dinner, which begins at 5:30 p.m. under the tent in the track’s Picnic Area. The tournament awards ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the auction.
Cost is $100 for the tournament, dinner and auction, and $20 for the dinner and auction. Tickets are available at the Chaplain’s Office on the backside. For details or to reserve a spot, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.
Items to be auctioned include a pair of Belmont Stakes tickets, racing and sports memorabilia, signed items, photographs and paintings.
Proceeds benefit the RTCA, a certified 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization which provides spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational services to racetrack workers. The RTCA, Tampa Bay Downs Division, also receives financial support from Tampa Bay Downs, the Horsemen’s Benevolence and Protective Association and individual donors. Information is available on the Internet at www.rtcatbd.org
Car Giveaway. Poker players, circle Friday on your calendars. That is when The Silks Poker Room at Tampa Bay Downs will be giving away a 2013 Toyota Camry SE to one lucky player, as well as $599 cash prizes to nine other players.
To win a drawing ticket for Friday, poker players must get an aces-full or higher hand in a game between now and Thursday using at least one card in their hand. To be eligible to win the car or a cash prize, ticket-holders must be playing or on the waiting list to play on Friday. Ten tickets will be drawn, nine for $599 and one for the car.