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Triple Crown nominee Giancarlo, who finished third in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes six weeks ago, pulled away from Stormy Pacific through the stretch to post an impressive four-length victory in today’s third race.
The victory in the seven-furlong, allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event in a time of 1:24.12 stamps the Kentucky-bred son of top sire Tapit as a potential starter in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8.
Trainer Efren Loza, Jr., who celebrated his 30th birthday on Friday, said there is an “80-percent chance” Giancarlo will return to Tampa Bay Downs for the 34th running of the Festival Day showcase that has produced two Kentucky Derby winners, Street Sense and Super Saver, in its past seven renewals.
“This is a good horse, and we’d like to try him going around two turns,” Loza said. The Tampa Bay Derby is a mile-and-a-sixteenth and nominations close Feb. 23.
The third-race triumph sparked a 3-for-3 day for south Florida-based jockey Jesus M. Rios. Although perhaps not as well-known in these parts, Rios has twice finished among the top-15 jockeys in North America in wins since 2001 and has ridden more than 1,750 career winners.
A rash of long-shot winners today created huge carryovers entering Sunday’s 10-race card of $32,278 in the Pick-5 and $34,073 in the Super High-5. Sunday is Kids & Family Day in the Backyard Picnic Area.
Giancarlo was bred by his owner, German Larrea, and races under his St. George Stable, LLC banner. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 when breaking his maiden under Rios by six-and-a-half lengths going six furlongs at Calder on Dec. 7, then finished third in the Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 4 and a distant second in a Calder allowance on Jan. 17.
Giancarlo paid $4.40 as the wagering favorite in the field of seven sophomores.
Giancarlo’s sire Tapit is also the sire of Sam F. Davis Stakes runner-up Harpoon from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher. Giancarlo is out of stakes-placed Glitzen Glory, by Honour and Glory.
The St. George Stable/Loza/Rios combination returned to win the fourth race, a seven-furlong maiden special weight for older horses, with 4-year-old homebred gelding Facundo.
Rios made his third trip to the winner’s circle after the eighth race aboard 4-year-old colt Grand Tito, who held off a determined late charge from 8-year-old gelding Allie’s Event. The eighth race, at a mile on the turf, was the Lambholm South Race of the Week. Grand Tito is owned by Grupo 7C Racing Stable and trained by Antonio Sano.
Meanwhile, long shots ruled the day’s action in the third legs of the Tampa Turf Test, both at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth. In the older males division, 15-1 shot Houngun rallied late for a neck victory from fellow long shot Paige Me in a time of 1:49.84.
A 7-year-old gelding owned and trained by Dennis Manning, the Florida-bred son of Tiger Ridge won for only the fourth time in 32 races. Antonio Gallardo rode Houngun. The 8-2 exacta paid $489.20, the 8-2-10 trifecta paid $9,816.20 and the $1 superfecta combination of 8-2-10-5 paid $33,655.
In the older fillies and mares division, 10-1 shot Thecushmaker sprang the upset in the Fillies and Mares division under jockey Brian Pedroza, who rode two winners on the card.
Illinois-bred 5-year-old mare Thecushmaker improved to 6-for-23 lifetime while scoring her second victory in three starts this meeting on the Tampa Bay Downs lawn. She is owned by Richard Perkins and trained by David Hinsley. Who Is Lady was second and Mistie Royale third.
 Pedroza’s victories were back-to-back. He previously won the fifth race on 9-year-old gelding Calbo for owner-trainer Robert R. O’Connor, II. Calbo paid $109.20 to win.
Harry Vega also rode two winners. In the first race, Vega won on 7-year-old mare Bond Baroness for owner-trainer Jason DaCosta. Vega scored again in the seventh on 4-year-old gelding Royal Apollo for owner Larry Bloom and co-owner and trainer Peter Wasiluk, Jr.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. 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.

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