This one’s for K.O.!
That was the widespread sentiment at Tampa Bay Downs on Friday after trainer Kathleen O’Connell, known affectionately by friends and fans as “K.O.,” saddled 3-year-old gelding This One’s for Mel to win the 10th race, giving her career victory No. 1,500.
Making the milestone doubly sweet is that This One’s for Mel – a son of Act of Duty-True Mood, by Deputy Minister – was bred and is owned by Gilbert G. Campbell. O’Connell and Campbell have combined on numerous major triumphs over the years, including the 2011 Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby with 43-1 shot Watch Me Go.
Campbell and his wife Marilyn own Stonehedge Farm South near Williston, Fla. Marilyn Campbell is the niece of Bradenton resident Mel Sowa, for whom the horse is named; Sowa was present in the winner’s circle.
“Of course, it was nerve-wracking. They are all exciting and nerve-wracking, but this one especially,” O’Connell said. “To win No. 1,500 for Mr. Campbell is very meaningful. I just want to thank everybody who has supported me over the years – they all have a piece of this moment, when you look at it in a broad spectrum.”
Ridden by Antonio Gallardo, This One’s for Mel went virtually gate-to-wire to win the 1-mile maiden claiming race on the turf by a length from Dabblemup. The time was 1:36.48. This One’s for Mel paid $10.20 as the third choice while breaking his maiden in his fifth career start.
“It feels very good, because (O’Connell) has helped me a lot,” Gallardo said. “I am going to have this picture on my wall, for sure.”
This One’s for Mel is a full brother to Fly by Phil, a Campbell homebred who won the Grade III Tropical Park Derby at Calder in 2010 at odds of 23-1 under O’Connell’s handling.
The victory by This One’s for Mel was the 23rd this meet for O’Connell, who trails only Jamie Ness, Jorge Navarro and Gerald Bennett in the standings. Earlier this month, O’Connell sent out 6-year-old Flatter This to win the $60,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for owners Larry and Vicki Stumpf’s Blackacre Farms, Inc. Gallardo was the rider.
O’Connell has won two training titles at Tampa Bay Downs. She led the standings with 26 winners during the 1998-99 meet and tied Ness for the top spot with 51 in the 2009-10 meet.
That same season, O’Connell became the first woman to capture a training title in the 39-year history of Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami.
O’Connell has been a mainstay at Tampa Bay Downs since she arrived in 1976 to gallop horses for trainer W.R. Harp. Since going out on her own more than 30 years ago, O’Connell has been one of the most consistent conditioners in the sport. Her horses have earned more than $1-million every year since 1999, and her earnings of $1,770,207 in 2012 represent a personal best.
In 2011, O’Connell achieved national acclaim by winning the Tampa Bay Derby with Watch Me Go for long-time client Campbell. That victory earned O’Connell her first entry in the Kentucky Derby, and although Watch Me Go finished far back at Churchill Downs in the Run for the Roses, the experience was richly rewarding.
“The Derby walk (en route to the paddock) is everything I thought it would be, and then some,” O’Connell said afterward. “You look at the grandstand packed to the rafters, and it’s like a sea of heads. You just can’t believe there can be that many people packed into a space like that.
“Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, it was a phenomenal eight or nine days. I saw people at Churchill Downs I hadn’t seen in 20 years.”
O’Connell has trained numerous other top horses over the years, including the aforementioned Fly by Phil; millionaire Grade II winner Blazing Sword, a multiple-graded stakes winner, for Campbell; Grade II winner Ivanavinalot (also for Campbell), who amazed observers with her 13 ¾-length victory at Calder in 2002 in the Florida Stallion My Dear Girl Stakes; and the likes of Shananie’s Beat, Lindsey Lane, Bettarun Fast, Sheer Bliss and Shananie’s Finale.
O’Connell commutes throughout the winter between Tampa Bay Downs and her stable in south Florida. The daughter of a retired Detroit policeman, she rode show horses as a girl and had aspirations of becoming an equine veterinarian before heading to Detroit Race Course after she was not accepted into Michigan State’s veterinary program.
She got a job as a hotwalker after she helped to rescue a loose horse that was headed toward a roadway, and 40-plus years later, her love for horses continues to shine through the daily backstretch routine.
O’Connell spreads much of the credit for her success to others, including her main assistant, Brian Smeak, who has been with her for 15 years. “They mean a lot. They are the backbone of my operation,” she said.
Ronnie Allen, Jr., won both halves of the early daily double on Friday’s card. In the first race, Allen was aboard 3-year-old gelding Artie Ocean for owners Barbara Anderson, Benjamin Scherlis and Charles Hayden and trainer Gerald Bennett. Allen won the second race on 5-year-old mare Wynn a Brew for owner Muirfield Farm and trainer Benny R. Feliciana.
Fernando De La Cruz also rode two winners. In the third race, he was aboard 4-year-old filly Choly for owner Roberta Vigil and trainer Javier Negrete. He returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth race on 3-year-old filly Sandman’s Girl for owner Sargas Management LLC and trainer Jorge Navarro.
In addition to its 11-race live program Saturday beginning at 12:35 p.m., Tampa Bay Downs will offer a veritable cornucopia of worldwide simulcast action.
For most Thoroughbred fans, Saturday’s most significant races are the Grade I, $1-million Florida Derby over a mile-and-an-eighth at Gulfstream Park and the Grade II, $1-million Louisiana Derby, also nine furlongs at Fair Grounds. Both races will have a bearing on the point standings that determine eligibility for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
A field of 10 3-year-olds are entered in the Florida Derby, with the 5-2 morning-line favorite Shanghai Bobby, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as Outstanding 2-Year-Old Male. The race is the 12th on Gulfstream’s card, with a 6:19 p.m. scheduled post time.
The Louisiana Derby is the ninth race on the Fair Grounds card, with post time at 5:44 Eastern Daylight Time. Revolutionary, one of several Kentucky Derby contenders from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, is a 3-1 morning-line in a field of 14 sophomores.
Several hours before the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby are run, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast five races on the Dubai World Cup card from Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.
Included in the Oldsmar oval’s offerings is the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News. Which features the 2012 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter, 4-year-old colt Trinniberg, and Tampa Bay Downs jockey and Tampa resident Willie Martinez.
Simulcasting of the races from Dubai begins at 11:05 a.m. EDT. Wagering on the first two races to be shown, the $1-million Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored by Emirates NBD and the Dubai Golden Shaheen, will be available through self-service terminals only.
Houyhnhnm Stable’s 6-year-old Great Attack, who won the $75,000 Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 5, is listed at 8-1 in the 16-horse field for the Al Quoz Sprint, to be run at a distance of about five furlongs on the Meydan turf course. The Florida-bred Great Attack is trained by Wesley Ward and will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Trinniberg, who won the Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita under Martinez in his most recent start, is a 5-2 morning-line favorite in the 13-horse Dubai Golden Shaheen field. Trinniberg is owned by Sherry Parbhoo and trained by her father, Shivananda Parbhoo. Martinez rode the colt to four graded-stakes victories in 2012.
Post time for the Dubai Golden Shaheen is 11:45 a.m. EDT. The race will be run at about six furlongs on the Tapeta all-weather surface.
Tampa Bay Downs will also simulcast the $5-million Dubai Duty Free Sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, the $5-million Dubai Sheema Classic Presented by Longines and the $10-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline. The Dubai World Cup is scheduled to commence at 2:05 p.m. EDT.
In the Dubai World Cup, the United States will be represented by reigning Eclipse Award Champion Older Female Royal Delta, owned by Besilu Stables LLC and trained by William Mott, Mike Smith the jockey; 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, owned by Arrowfield Stud & Team Valor and trained by H. Graham Motion, Joel Rosario to ride; and Dullahan, winner of last year’s Pacific Classic, owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Dale Romans with Gary Stevens aboard.
Two Tampa Bay Downs stakes winners are entered on the Gulfstream undercard, which includes six stakes, five of which are graded. Both are in the $75,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes.
Two past Tampa Bay Downs stakes winners, 6-year-old gelding Action Andy and 7-year-old gelding Capt. Candyman Can, are entered in the $75,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes, the second race at six-and-a-half furlongs.
Action Andy, who is owned by Robert Gerczak and trained by Carlos Garcia, has won the past two editions of the $60,000 Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He also won the 2012 Super Stakes and finished second by ¾-length to Good Lord in this year’s running. Action Andy holds the Tampa Bay Downs track record of 1:15.47 for six-and-a-half furlongs. Angel Serpa will be in the saddle.
Capt. Candyman Can, who is owned by David Zell and Stephen Zell and trained by Ian Wilkes, is a Grade I winner who captured the 2011 Super Stakes here. Alan Garcia has the riding assignment. Also in the Sir Shackleton is the Jamie Ness-trained 7-year-old Guam Typhoon, a winner of eight races in a row before finishing second locally in his 2013 debut two weeks ago. Ness, the leading trainer at Tampa Bay Downs, has enlisted leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno to ride.
Another horse with local connections set to compete at Gulfstream on Saturday is 6-year-old gelding El Commodore, who is entered in the Grade III, $100,000 Appleton at a mile on the turf. Owned by Kinsman Stable and trained by Greg Griffith. El Commodore will be ridden by Serpa. El Commodore finished second last year in a pair of Grade III stakes, the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes and the Red Bank at Monmouth.
Golden Ticket, who finished second in last year’s Tampa Bay Derby and dead-heated with Alpha in the Travers at Saratoga, is entered in the Grade III Skip Away.
Saturday’s Tampa Bay Downs co-features are the ninth race, a 1-mile allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event on the turf for older fillies and mares, and the seventh, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf allowance for older horses.
Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Easter Sunday. Otherwise, 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. Following Saturday’s card, Thoroughbred racing will resume Wednesday.