Greg Griffith had reason to be discouraged after the Florida Cup Distaff Turf Stakes on April 6. His 5-year-old mare Sweet Little Lion outperformed her 15-1 odds, but had to settle for a close-up third in a race eerily similar to El Commodore’s nose defeat the previous year for Griffith in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes.
But the Tampa resident has been training long enough to realize better days are always ahead, as long as you keep doing what got you there in the first place.
“Just keep working hard, and your time will come. In this business, you have to believe you can win,” said Griffith, winner of the Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month Award. “Otherwise you’re not doing your job.”
While Griffith is warming up on the conditioning front, Augusto A. Marin – the reigning Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month – remains red-hot. Marin rode three winners Wednesday for the third time in the past nine racing days, increasing his victory total for the meet to 24, tied for 12th place in the standings.
Marin got started on his winning ways Wednesday in the second race on Rivas Run, a 4-year-old gelding who broke his maiden for owner Lorna Possler and trainer Gerald Bennett. He helped 4-year-old filly Rokeby Baby break her maiden in the fourth race for owner Marie Bates and trainer Michael Murray. In the seventh, Marin urged 3-year-old colt Rico Suave to a thrilling nose victory from Gallico for owner Michael Reavis and trainer Rick Slomkowski in a 1-mile allowance/optional claiming turf event.
In recent days, the winning habit has returned to the Griffith barn like a prodigal child. Victories by 6-year-old horse Dream of Atlantis, 3-year-old gelding Notta Boat (who paid $22.20 to win) and 6-year-old mare G’s Backinaction – a runner-up in her three previous starts – took some of the sting out of Sweet Little Lion’s narrow miss.
With four victories, three seconds and two thirds in the past two weeks, and five victories since March 20, Griffith is the Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month. He has moved into a tie for 12th in the standings with 12 victories, only two out of the top-10.
What makes winning the award especially meaningful is how much more difficult it has become to win races at Tampa Bay Downs since the introduction of the turf course in 1998 and the resultant increase in purse monies and national attention.
“Anybody who thinks Tampa Bay Downs is an easy track needs to come here and try,” Griffith said. “We have Hall of Fame trainers who run here – guys like (William) Mott, (Jonathan) Sheppard, (Graham) Motion and (Christophe) Clement – and it’s nice when you can beat them.”
Griffith is a New York native who arrived at the racetrack at 14, influenced by his late father Herbert Griffith, a long-time New York Racing Association official. Older brother Jerry was first a jockey, later an outrider and currently works at Saratoga Casino and Raceway harness track in upstate New York.
Griffith learned the craft of conditioning Thoroughbreds under such Big Apple luminaries as Preston King, Chester Ross, Lou Rondinello, Red Terrill and John Campo, Sr., all highly successful but with different methods. By the time he set out on his own in 1991, Griffith was thoroughly prepared for the ups and downs of the business.
Griffith spreads around the credit for his recent roll. At the top of the list are his wife of 37 years, Donna, their son Dennis and their help.
Next in line are his owners. Griffith trains several horses for the family of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, but is thankful to all his owners for their support.
Griffith is the Vice President of the Tampa Bay Downs Chapter of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which is dedicated to the betterment of racing on all levels and to helping horsemen and horsewomen in need. “We have a great relationship with the racetrack management here,” Griffith said. “When issues arise, we get them ironed out by working together as a partnership, not against each other.”
Jockey Danny Coa was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital for observation and X-rays after a spill in the second race. Coa – who had won the first race on 4-year-old colt Friends Rule for owner Robert A. Johnson and trainer Brenda McCarthy – was able to walk back to the jockeys’ room under his own power after the incident. He was later released and has been cleared to ride Friday.
There will be a Super High-5 carryover of $10,198.69 on Friday’s card.
From now through May 4, players in The Silks Poker Room have the opportunity to qualify for a drawing to win a Toyota 4Runner from Wesley Chapel Toyota Honda. In any of the cash games, a hand of aces-full or better with one card earns one drawing ticket; four-of-a-kind or better with both cards earns two tickets; a straight flush earns three tickets; and a royal flush earns five tickets.
Sundays and Thursdays are double-ticket days. The drawing for the 4Runner will be held May 5; the winner must be present to attend. In addition, nine tickets will be drawn that day for $599 cash prizes. The Silks Poker Room is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 a.m.