The 34th edition of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby will be contested at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, with a field of 10 3-year-olds set to go a mile-and-a-sixteenth and earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
Saturday is Festival Day 34 – the richest day in the track’s 88-year history, with 12 races on a card that begins at 12:25 p.m. and stakes purses alone of $700,000.
Also on tap are a pair of graded turf stakes: the 31st running of the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth and the 16th renewal of the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth.
The Oaks has attracted an overflow field of 14, of which only 12 can start. Nine horses will contest the Hillsborough.
Three of the top four finishers from the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes are entered in the Tampa Bay Derby: the winner, Vinceremos, from the stable of Todd Pletcher; the third-place finisher, Cousin Stephen, trained by Chad Brown; and the fourth-place finisher, Matador, trained by Mark Casse.
The owners of Sam F. Davis winner Vinceremos, WinStar Farm, LLC and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC, will collect the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus if the son of 2009 Santa Anita Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile wins the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
Additionally, Ben Wheelock of Hudson, Fla., stands to win big by collecting the Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus if Vinceremos completes the three-race sweep. Wheelock’s name was drawn by winning Sam F. Davis Stakes jockey Edgar Prado from an approximate 300 fans who picked Vinceremos.
Prado will again ride Vinceremos, while Javier Castellano is named on Cousin Stephen and Julien Leparoux on Matador.
The Tampa Bay Derby is part of Churchill Downs’ “Road to the Kentucky Derby” Championship Series points system that determines the 20 starters for the Run for the Roses, should more than that number pass the entry box.
The Tampa Bay Derby awards 50 points to the winner, 20 points for second, 10 for third and 5 for fourth. The Tampa Bay Derby has produced two of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners: the 2007 Oldsmar winner, Street Sense, and the 2010 third-place finisher, Super Saver.
Lebron is Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month. Throughout his relatively short career, jockey Victor Lebron has displayed a knack for making a quick positive impression.
In 2008, in his first graded stakes race, Lebron piloted Swift Temper to a four-and-a-half length victory in the Grade III Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park at odds of 21-1.
Last year, in his first meet at Oaklawn Park, Lebron won four races during the first five days, including the American Beauty Stakes aboard Cheery.
It shouldn’t have come as any surprise, then, that the 29-year-old native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands won his first race this season at Tampa Bay Downs after moving his tack from Turfway Park in Kentucky in late January.
Since that victory on 4-year-old filly Hot French Fries for owner Rolf Obrecht and trainer Anthony Granitz, Lebron has established himself in the top rank of Oldsmar riders under agent Doug Davis. With 10 victories from 55 mounts – including the $100,000 Super Stakes on Feb. 22 aboard Our Double Play for Rigney Racing and trainer Phil Bauer – Lebron is the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month.
“No matter where I go, I always try to try my best and get along with everybody, and I always seem to fall into the right spot,” said Lebron, who has ridden 1,376 winners since starting his career in 2005. “Having a lot of riders here didn’t bother me. Wherever I go, I consider myself one of the best riders at the track, and I work hard to keep that level of confidence.”
Lebron – who won 263 races in 2008, the first of three consecutive years in which his mounts earned more than $3-million – has won several graded stakes, including last year’s Grade II Indiana Oaks on Pure Fun for trainer Ken McPeek.
It was another McPeek runner, though, that gave Lebron his most memorable moment in the sport. After riding Frac Daddy to a second-place last spring in the Arkansas Derby, Lebron was invited for the return engagement in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
And, in the unlikeliest of coincidences, he rode in the Run for the Roses against Goldencents and jockey Kevin Krigger, who attended St. Croix Central High School with him back home. They were the first jockeys from the Virgin Islands to ride in the Kentucky Derby and two of only a small number of African-Americans to compete in the race.
Frac Daddy finished 16th and Goldencents 17th, but Lebron hardly felt like a loser.
“It was an amazing experience. It’s a thrill just to get there, and all your nerves start going out of place because you want that moment to come so bad,” Lebron said. “Just getting to the post parade and the starting gate – you’re like ‘Let’s go, let’s go, I want to do this, I want to do this.’ I tried to take it as an every-day race because I didn’t want to push my plan out of place.
“You want to enjoy everything about it, but it’s my job not to let nerves and stage fright get in the way. It really is an indescribable feeling. You have to live through it to appreciate it fully,” Lebron said.
Lebron and his wife Ruth have four daughters: Maya, 10; Leslieann, 9; Lea, 4; and Jaslean, 2. After riding at Tampa Bay Downs four years ago during the second half of the meet, he is considering putting down roots in the Sunshine State.
“I’ve liked this track from the first time I came here four years ago,” said Lebron, who has won riding titles at Turfway, Indiana Downs and Ellis Park. “It’s a place I can consider home, and I can see myself riding here every winter. The weather is beautiful, and my family being here helps a lot. I would love to stay in Florida – maybe ride at Gulfstream and Calder this summer – and show off my talents and open new doors.”
He shouldn’t have any problem making a fast impression.
Today’s action. On today’s card, two horses recorded their fourth victories of the 2013-14 meeting. In the second race, 5-year-old mare Chelsie’s Chapel edged Sister Genevra by a nose under jockey Ricardo Feliciano. Chelsie’s Chapel, now 4-for-5 this season, is trained by her breeder, Gary Patrick, and owned by Cindy Patrick.
Favorite Patriot is also 4-for-5 after his convincing score in the sixth race under jockey Daniel Centeno. The 5-year-old gelding was owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness, but was claimed for $12,500 by trainer William Sienkiewicz for new owner Harry Hoglander.
In the third race, trainer L.J. McKanas earned his first victory at Tampa Bay Downs when 7-year-old gelding Frontier Warrior rolled to a two-and-a-quarter length victory under jockey Ademar Santos. McKanas is a contestant on the CBS hit show Survivor Cagayan: Season 28, from the Philippines, which is broadcast each Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Frontier Warrior was claimed out of the race for $5,000 by trainer Kenneth M. Cox for new owners Schoolyard Stable and C and G Stable. His victory was one of two on the card for Santos, who also won the first race on 5-year-old mare With Class for owner Matteo Pecoraro and trainer Anthony Pecoraro.
Centeno also rode two winners, scoring in the seventh race on 4-year-old gelding Herecomethehawks for owners Nannette and James McCullough (the latter was the trainer). Herecomethehawks was claimed for $16,000 by owner-trainer Robert O’Connor, II.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There will be a carryover of $16,180.22 in the Super High-5. 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.
Jockeys and Jeans benefit. Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum, along with recently retired rider Ramon Dominguez and Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello, will be among the attendees March 29 during racing at Tampa Bay Downs for the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans fundraiser under the big tent in the Backyard Picnic Area.
Jockeys and Jeans is open to the public. Tickets for the casual-wear event are $35, with proceeds benefiting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial assistance to about 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
The long-term objective of the PDJF is to create an endowment that will enable the fund to be self-sufficient. Dominguez, who suffered a career-ending traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct in January of 2013, will be the featured speaker.
Other retired jockeys planning to attend are Diane Crump, the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby; Barbara Jo Rubin, who at age 19 in 1969 became the first woman to win a race on a recognized track, at Charles Town; and William Klinke, a former Tampa Bay Downs jockey nicknamed “The Colonel.”
A general autograph session will begin at 2:30 p.m. on the first floor of the grandstand.
The 37-year-old Dominguez has become an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders. He was forced to retire last year as a result of injuries incurred when his mount clipped heels with another horse, unseating the jockey, who was kicked by a trailing horse. Dominguez was hospitalized three weeks before being released.
He retired with 4,985 victories and $191,615,698 in purse money won. He won Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Dominguez’s situation has raised awareness within the Thoroughbred industry of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries on jockeys years after they have retired from the saddle.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have the opportunity to take photos with the jockeys, enjoy a barbecue luncheon and beverages and bid on unique racing memorabilia. Everyone will receive an autographed commemorative poster and there will be a cash bar. The gates will open at 11 a.m. and the first race is at 12:25 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased online at the PDJF website at www.pdjf.org
For details, call Eddie Donnally at (818) 653-3711.