Handicappers who thought the $60,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was a virtual match race between Wiki and 2011 Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go didn’t pay much heed to 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt Fort Larned.
But after the Ian Wilkes-trained horse’s first effort at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 4 – a fourth-place finish to Wiki, beaten only four lengths, at the Challenger distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth – Wilkes’ assistant, Peggy Dunleavy, was encouraged about Fort Larned’s chances.
Ridden exquisitely by 2010-11 Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., Fort Larned moved to the lead approaching the 3/8-mile pole and had control on the turn. Despite a firm challenge from Wiki through the stretch, Fort Larned had plenty left in his tank, scoring a 1 ¼-length victory in a time of 1:42.93, only one-tenth of a second off Bold Start’s stakes and track record.
Fort Larned – a son of E Dubai-Arlucea, by Broad Brush, bred and owned by Janis R. Whitham – paid $14.80 as the fourth betting choice in the five-horse field. Runner-up Wiki was nine lengths better than Imperial Czar, with Watch Me Go another half-length back in fourth. The pace setter, I’m Steppin’ It Up, was last.
Seruni and Crimson Knight were late scratches.
Fort Larned won for the fourth time in 12 starts. The winner’s share of $37,200 raised his career earnings to $121,331. Claims of foul by Scott Spieth, the jockey on Watch Me Go, against Fort Larned and Wiki for interference into the first turn were disallowed.
“His last time out, he just got a little tired, so having a race over this track made me think there was going to definitely be an improvement,” Dunleavy said. “Ian and I thought being in the outside post was going to help him. The pace was good, we sat right behind it and it developed in our favor.
“Ian thought he would be more forwardly placed today, and we told Ronnie if there was no pace he would be the pace and if there was, to sit right behind it and ride his race. Ronnie did a great job today.”
Fort Larned won three times as a 3-year-old, including a solid score Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs on a sloppy track in a $50,000, non-winners of two/other than allowance.
“I knew he had some speed, and looking at the race I figured we could set up just behind the lead and that’s exactly what happened,” Allen said. “Sometimes the races come out just the way you planned. I used all the racetrack (while drifting out slightly in the turn for home), but that’s race-riding.”
Allen, who was injured earlier in the meeting, has been red-hot lately. He rode three winners on Saturday’s card and has seven winners in the past three days.
In the ninth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week at a mile on the turf, Allen rallied the Roger Attfield-trained Ima Soul Miss to a five-length victory from Temparnillo. It was the first start for Ima Soul Miss, a 6-year-old daughter of Perfect Soul, since August of 2010 at Woodbine.
Allen also won the fourth race on 4-year-old filly Royally Sweet for trainer Kathleen Guciardo.
The winning connections from last week’s Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes struck again Saturday in the fifth race, a maiden special weight for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf. Owner-trainer Dennis Manning, who saddled Tampa Bay Stakes winner Roman Tiger, won Saturday’s $20,000 contest with first-time starter Raging Lion. Angel Serpa, who rode Roman Tiger to the upset last week, was aboard Raging Lion.
A Kentucky-bred gelded son of Lion Heart-Milla, by Unbridled, Raging Lion paid $27.80 to win. He completed the distance in 1:36.85, winning by 5 ½ lengths from Berni de Mint.
Leading jockey Leandro Goncalves won a race for the 17th consecutive day at Tampa Bay Downs when he rode 5-year-old gelding Well Excuuuze Me to victory in the second race for leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness. Goncalves has 69 victories at the meeting, 26 more than Allen.
Former Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno plans to move his tack from Gulfstream back to Oldsmar next week, providing additional depth to the strongest Tampa Bay Downs colony in memory. Centeno, who is 14th in wins at Gulfstream, won four consecutive riding titles at Tampa Bay Downs from 2006-07 to 2009-10. He set the track record during the 2007-08 season with 144 victories.
Tampa Bay Downs Festival Day is March 10, with a special noon post time. The Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a major prep race for the Triple Crown, headlines the card, along with the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf and the $100,000 Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
A commemorative cooler bag will be given out to fans with paid admission while supplies last.
The annual Race Track Chaplaincy of America-Tampa Bay Downs Division “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament and Charity Auction and Dinner is Monday. All proceeds benefit the chaplaincy. The RTCA provides spiritual, emotional, physical, social and education services to workers at the track.
The golf tournament at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz begins at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start. The dinner and auction begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Tampa Bay Downs Picnic Area. The cost is $100 for golf, dinner and the auction and $20 for the dinner and auction only. Call (813) 298-1576 for details.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. The track is open every time for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.
Information on The Silks Poker Room can now be found on Bravo Poker Live at http://www.bravopokerlive.com
, as well as a mobile app on Android phones and iPhones. Bravo Poker Live enables players to check out the current live action and tournaments in local poker rooms, as well as promotions, utilizing the Bravo poker room management and player tracking system.
The listing distance is configurable as well as your current location. Use the search function to find the nearest poker room playing your favorite live game or tournament.