First impressions can have a lasting effect. And jockey Kevin Krigger is unlikely to forget his first appearance at Tampa Bay Downs any time soon.
The 30-year-old Krigger, who rode Goldencents to victory in the 2013 Santa Anita Derby and was also aboard the colt in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Preakness, rode three winners with two seconds and a third on the first day of the Oldsmar oval’s second annual Summer Festival of Racing.
Krigger amassed 44 points in the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge, six points ahead of Ademar Santos, who also rode three winners. The leader after Tuesday’s card – which begins at 12:30 p.m. – earns first prize of $2,500, with $1,500 for the runner-up and $1,000 for third.
“I’m looking forward to that bonus,” said a smiling Krigger, who is currently based in south Florida. “I’m going to work my butt off to make it happen.”
So is Santos, whose three victories from seven mounts gave him 27 winners for the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, which officially concluded today. Santos arrived from Indiana Grand Race Course to compete in the Summer Festival and finished eighth in the final standings.
Tuesday’s card represents the start of the 2014-15 season – the 89th anniversary of Tampa Bay Downs’ opening.
A crowd of about 1,000 attended Monday’s Thoroughbred action, which was also viewed by simulcast bettors across North America.
Krigger sounded as if he will be eager to return to the Oldsmar oval after Tuesday. “I’ve always thought about when I was going to ride here, and I made it today,” he said. “I like it. They have a beautiful turf course, and today it’s been working out good. I’m proud of my horses for running good for me and I’m thanking God to be here.”
All three of Krigger’s victories came on the turf for owner Frank Carl Calabrese and trainer Rasharn Creque. They teamed to win the fourth race with 3-year-old filly Ten Easy Street and the fifth with 6-year-old gelding Holy Smoke, now 5-for-12 lifetime on the turf.
The Calabrese-Creque-Krigger combination turned to first-time starter Dreaming of Flori in the eighth and final race, and she responded with a runaway victory from Scarlett Del going five furlongs on the turf. Krigger and Creque are both from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Summer Festival, first held last year, is designed to boost horsemen’s purses by giving Tampa Bay Downs status as a year-round Thoroughbred racing facility.
Horsemen responded by filling fields for both day’s cards. A total of 60 horses competed today, compared to 49 on the first day in 2013.
“This is the greatest thing in the world,” said trainer Dennis Ward, who finished the meeting in seventh place with 22 victories. “You have all these guys coming in from south Florida, like Frank Calabrese, and they love it. This is my home base, and the purses probably will go up again this year (the 2014-15 meeting is scheduled to resume Nov. 29).
“If they did this a month earlier and a month later I might stay here all summer,” Ward added. “You can’t ruin this (main dirt) racetrack – mud, wet, dry, you can’t ruin it – and they did a heck of a job this summer preparing the turf course for today.”
Count Ocala horseman Chad Stewart as another Summer Festival fan, and not just because he won two races – the first with 3-year-old gelding Jr. Swift and the seventh with 5-year-old gelding Jive On.
“There are more horses here than we expected, and the competition is very good,” Stewart said. “If they can keep getting purses up, it’s going to entice better fields of horses.”
In addition to his victory in the first race on Jr. Swift, Santos rode 4-year-old gelding Harveson to a come-from-behind triumph in the third for trainer Michael Fennessy and captured the sixth race on 5-year-old mare Our Niece for trainer Rick Creel.
Following Krigger and Santos in the Jockeys’ Challenge point standings entering Tuesday are Quincy Hamilton, 28; Christopher Emigh, 23; Jose L. Alvarez, 21; Jose E. Lopez, 14; and apprentice jockey Jose Osorio, Jr., 14.
Also today, Octavio Vergara, Jr., was officially crowned the 2013-14 meeting’s leading apprentice rider with five victories, one more than Juan De La Cruz.
Vergara currently is based at Arlington Park, while De La Cruz is at Suffolk Downs. Both opted not to travel to Oldsmar for the final day of the meeting.
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.