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For the 10th consecutive year, the Admiral Valverde Krewe of the Conquistadors of Tampa Bay held its annual Kentucky Derby Party at Tampa Bay Downs.
Decked out in their finest hats and attire, the group of 45 enjoyed an outstanding view of the finish line from their location in the veranda while soaking in the atmosphere that make the Derby such a beloved event.
A festive crowd of 9,028 enjoyed a 12-race live card before the Kentucky Derby simulcast in beautiful spring weather on the final weekend of the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Downs season.
“Horses are beautiful, whether they win or lose,” said the group’s current Admiral, Wayne Kent. “I’m not a great judge of horse flesh, but watching them run is a great way to spend the day. And being part of the Kentucky Derby, even here at Tampa Bay Downs, brings us a little closer to the event.”
Kent combined the best of two major celebrations Saturday, wearing a colorful poncho and a sombrero to mark Cinco de Mayo.
The Krewe of the Conquistadors of Tampa Bay was organized as a non-profit organization to promote the quality of life in Tampa Bay. The group takes part in the annual Gasparilla Festival and numerous other social events.
The Krewe’s main charitable benefactor is the Pediatric Cardiac Care Program of All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. It’s a cause of great importance to Katie and Scot Johnson, who have been in the Krewe for several years but were attending their first Kentucky Derby Party at Tampa Bay Downs.
Their daughter, 8-year-old Gracie Rae, is a special-needs youngster who was born with a three-chambered heart and has undergone several open-heart surgeries. Gracie Rae loves to be on horseback and has become involved with both Special Olympics and Horses for Handicapped in Seminole, Fla.
Gracie Rae attends a mainstream private school, The School of the Immaculata, but will need additional surgeries throughout her lifetime, her mother said. “She loves horses, and I told her we would take lots of pictures today,” said Katie Johnson, who was wearing a stunning pink Derby hat ringed with miniature horses.
“She is the whole reason we are in this Krewe. The Krewe does such amazing things for the whole community, and we decided if we were going to spend our dollars socially, let’s put them toward something that is going to help keep our daughter alive,” Katie Johnson added.
Lara Valverde – whose husband Manuel is one of the five founding members of the Krewe – considers the Kentucky Derby “a celebration of horse culture.
“It brings people together to admire the beauty of the horse and everything it takes to train them, and we are pleased to share this event with members of the Krewe,” she said.
“The racetrack does a great job of putting this event together,” said Krewe member Steven Schwerman. “I enjoy it for the atmosphere and camaraderie with the Krewe, and I just enjoy any event involving the majesty of race horses.”
He and his fellow Krewe members shared those sentiments with about 9,000 other folks.
Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., the runaway leader as top owner during the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting with 79 victories and No. 1 nationally in 2012 with more than 200 wins, has made generous donations to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc. (TROT) and the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America-Tampa Bay Downs Division.
Midwest owners Richard and Karen Papiese were finalists for the 2011 Eclipse Award in the category of Outstanding Owner. Teaming up with perennial leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness, Midwest has been a dominant force at both Tampa Bay Downs and across the country since its inception in 2009.
Richard Papiese is the founder of Midwest Store Fixtures, which manufactures, ships and installs custom store fixtures for retail outlets.
Midwest donated $10,000 to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and $5,000 apiece to TROT and to the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America-Tampa Bay Downs Division.
Midwest and Ness won Saturday’s 10th race at Tampa Bay Downs with Ten Past Ten, a Florida-bred 3-year-old gelding ridden by Daniel Centeno.
Cathy Rountree, the breeder, owner and trainer of 5-year-old Royal Hill, couldn’t understand why his odds kept climbing before Saturday’s $30,500 Lambholm South Race of the Week at Tampa Bay Downs. “I was pretty confident, because he has run against tougher horses,” she said.
“Every trainer has their doubts, but he was coming into the race good.”
Royal Hill made an explosive move on the turn of the one-mile turf overnight handicap and never faltered through the stretch, scoring a 2 ¾-length victory from 7-5 favorite Allie’s Event. Audacity of Hope was third in the nine-horse field.
Royal Hill paid $24 to win.
Under jockey Jesse Garcia, Royal Hill turned in a time of 1:33.86, only .07 seconds off Lucky J J’s 12-year-old track record. It was the fifth victory in 24 lifetime starts for Royal Hill, who has been campaigned by Rountree his entire career under her Seven Gables banner.
Royal Hill is by Royal Academy out of Rountree’s 16-year-old mare, Shingalana. She also produced Royal Hill’s full sister Royal Regan, who won the Lightning City Stakes for Rountree at Tampa Bay Downs in 2007, and stakes winner Dash Dot Dash (by Put It Back), sold by Rountree as a 2-year-old.
With all that history in play, it was easy to understand why Rountree became emotional watching Royal Hill power home.
“I was almost crying. It’s a real thrill,” she said.
Form from the past two editions of Tampa Bay Downs’ $75,000 Turf Dash was upheld Saturday at Churchill Downs by Great Attack and Bridgetown, who finished 1-2 in the Grade III, $125,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes.
Great Attack, who finished second to Bridgetown in the 2011 Turf Dash before winning this year’s renewal, captured the Twin Spires Turf Sprint in a snappy 56.61 seconds for the five furlongs. Great Attack is owned by Houyhnhnm Stable and trained by Wesley Ward, the son of Tampa Bay Downs trainer Dennis Ward.
The elder Ward found the winner’s circle Saturday in the third race at Tampa Bay Downs with Blake’sluckypenny, who rallied in a three-horse photo finish with runner-up Marsella’s Gold and third-place finisher Win Picture.
Dennis Ward owns and trains Blake’sluckypenny, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare who has won six of 25 lifetime starts. Pablo Morales was the winning jockey in the mile-and-40-yard claiming event.
Ronnie Allen, Jr. rode three winners on Saturday’s card, giving him six over the past two days. Morales, Jesse Garcia and apprentice jockey Erik Barbaran rode two winners apiece.
Sunday’s 11-race card concludes the 2011-12 Thoroughbred season. Post time for the first race is 12:40 p.m. Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day, with $1 hot dogs and sodas from noon-3 p.m. and $2 draft beers from noon-3 p.m.
Tampa Bay Downs 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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