As van traffic increases on the backside of the track and jockeys begin their gradual exodus north, Tampa Bay Downs officials, horsemen and fans confront the same question that rears up every April: Where has the time gone?
Only two weeks remain in the 2013-14 meeting, plus the official June 30 closing day that also signals the start of the second annual, two-day Summer Festival of Racing. And while the track’s annual Kentucky Derby celebration on May 3 promises thrills and lasting memories, there is a wistful mood in the air, as long-time friends and rivals prepare to bid each other au revoir until November.
Fortunately for followers of Tampa Bay Downs jockeys and trainers, it won’t be difficult to keep track of their favorites during the spring and summer months. Many of the track’s leading riders plan to move their tack to Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie, Pa., which begins its four-and-a-half month season on May 11.
Certainly one competitor in no hurry to leave Oldsmar is leading jockey Antonio Gallardo, who rode three winners today to take an uncontested lead in the standings from four-time Tampa Bay Downs champion Ronnie Allen, Jr., 104-101. Allen was at Hawthorne today to ride Dress the Part for trainer Tom Proctor in the Grade III Sixty Sails Handicap (go to www.equibase.com
More on Gallardo’s big day later.
Among those headed to Presque Isle from Oldsmar (per information provided by their agents) are four of the top-10 in the current Tampa Bay Downs standings: Gallardo (1st), Allen (2nd), Harry Vega (5th) and Ricardo Feliciano (tie 10th), who is currently competing at ThistleDown Racino in Ohio.
Whether any of the four can challenge for a title this summer remains to be seen, but to do so they’ll need to unseat Pablo Morales, who has won the past three Presque Isle jockey crowns (tying for the top spot in 2011 with Huber Villa-Gomez, who is also headed there). Morales rejoined the Tampa Bay Downs colony about a month ago.
Other familiar faces heading to Erie include Willie Martinez, who earned his 3,000th career victory at the Pennsylvania track in 2011; Allen’s brother, Mike Allen; Erick Rodriguez and Scott Spieth, both of whom have already left Tampa Bay Downs; and Jose Angel Garcia.
Delaware Park begins its 2014 season May 17, and five-time Tampa Bay Downs titlist Daniel Centeno plans to return there after finishing third in the standings each of the last two years. Also headed to Delaware from Oldsmar is Carol Cedeno, who seeks to fulfill her potential after being sidelined until recently with fractured vertebrae incurred in a spill last summer at Penn National.
Cedeno’s husband Angel Serpa, sixth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings, and Luis Garcia, eighth, have already relocated to the mid-Atlantic region.
Fernando De La Cruz, who is fourth in the Tampa Bay Downs rankings despite missing a month with a broken bone above his wrist, is going back to Indiana Grand Race Course, where he has finished second each of the last two years. The meeting in Shelbyville, Ind., begins May 6.
He will be joined there by Brian Pedroza, the 22-year-old up-and-comer who has climbed to seventh here; Ademar Santos, who is tied for 10th; and Oriana Rossi, who will also compete at Churchill Downs.
Dean Butler, currently ninth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings, is returning to Canterbury Park in Minnesota to defend his 2013 title. The season there begins May 16. Also headed to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is Quincy Hamilton, who is tied for 12th in the local standings.
Victor Lebron, who made a strong impression in his first season at Tampa Bay Downs after arriving at roughly the halfway point of the meeting, is headed to south Florida. Gary Wales and Augusto Marin are headed to Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts and Jose Ferrer is headed to Monmouth in New Jersey. (Marin broke his wrist in a training accident this week and is out indefinitely.)
The majority of top Tampa Bay Downs trainers have finalized their plans for the summer season. Jamie Ness, who is on the verge of wrapping up his eighth consecutive Oldsmar title, has been moving horses to the Bowie Training Center in Maryland, from where he can race throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions at Pimlico, Delaware, Monmouth, Parx, Penn National and New York. He also plans to stable some horses at Presque Isle.
Current runner-up and past training champ Gerald Bennett has secured 30 stalls at Indiana Grand. He will also keep horses at Arlington outside Chicago, and plans to compete at Belterra Park (formerly River Downs) in Ohio. His son Dale Bennett, who is fourth in the standings, will compete primarily at Arlington, which opens its meeting on May 2.
Also competing in Illinois (Hawthorne and Arlington) and Kentucky is Anthony Granitz, who is eighth in the local rankings.
Kathleen O’Connell, a two-time Tampa Bay Downs titlist and third in the standings, will spread her horses between Presque Isle, Monmouth in New Jersey and Calder in Miami – “wherever they need to be,” she says.
Tom Proctor, whose 29-percent strike rate is second only to Ness’ 30-percent mark here, will have horses at Santa Anita, Churchill Downs and Indiana Grand, with an abundance of quality horses that enables him to compete at the stakes level across the country.
Dennis Ward is leaning toward being stabled at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, although he is keeping Monmouth open as an option. Already committed to Gulfstream are top Oldsmar conditioners Jason DaCosta, who is fifth in the local standings; Peter Wasiluk, Jr., who is tied for 12th; and Dennis Griffith.
Arnaud Delacour, who is tied for ninth here, will be based at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, and he already has started the “new” season with a bang. Today, he sent out 8-1 shot Ageless, a 5-year-old mare owned by Lael Stables, to win the Grade III Giant’s Causeway Stakes on the turf at Keeneland.
Ageless posted an allowance/optional claiming victory in December at Tampa Bay Downs before finishing third in January in the Lightning City Stakes on turf.
H. Graham Motion, who saddled Ring Weekend to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, is at Fair Hill in Maryland on a year-round basis but competes around the country. Bernell Rhone goes back to Canterbury, where he tied for second last summer.
Joan Scott is currently at Keeneland, and her small but high-quality stable gives her extensive options. She entered 4-year-old colt Ruler of Love against mighty Game On Dude in tonight’s Grade II, $1.5-million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia (visit www.equibase.com
on the Internet for results).
Also in the top 15 of the standings locally are Lynne Scace, who is leaning toward Gulfstream but may also compete at Presque Isle, and Anthony Pecoraro, who has already moved his horses to Delaware for that meeting.
Jockey Antonio Gallardo finished the day with three victories, two seconds and two thirds. He won the first race on 4-year-old gelding Paradise Rock for owners Nicholson Thoroughbreds, Inc., Big Bang Racing, Equiforce, Inc., and Keith Huffman and trainer Dale Bennett, and the third on 5-year-old gelding Untethered for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness.
Gallardo added the seventh on 3-year-old filly Girl From Glan for trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
Fernando De La Cruz posted two victories in the saddle. He won the fifth race on 5-year-old mare Sister Genevra for Midwest and Ness and the eighth, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on 3-year-old gelding Three Quarter Roy for owner Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jason DaCosta.
Kathleen O’Connell joined Ness in sending out two winners. In addition to Girl From Glan, she had the one-two finishers in the ninth race, 5-year-old mare Master the Blues and Spanish Concert. She owns Master the Blues in partnership with Holli Day and Dennis Holman; Mike Allen was the jockey.
Tampa Bay Downs is closed Sunday. It reopens Monday for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility; the next day of Thoroughbred racing is Wednesday.