Despite being switched from turf to the main track because of Friday night’s rain, the final races of the Tampa Turf Test Starter Handicap Series produced more than sufficient excitement with back-to-back, track-record performances by a pair of older horses that might have their best races ahead of them.
Two hours after 7-year-old mare First Acquital broke Tampa Bay Downs’ 54-year-old main-track mark for a mile-and-a-quarter – winning the Fillies and Mares Division by more than six lengths in 2:05.64 – 6-year-old gelding Saffron Hall powered home by four-and-a-half lengths in 2:05.10 in the Colts and Geldings Division.
The previous record time at the rarely-contested distance was 2:07 4/5, set in 1959 by Finale Puer, a hard-knocking Oklahoma-bred who won 24 of 122 career races. Both Tampa Turf Test races were for older horses which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2012.
Saffron Hall, an Ontario-bred son of Giant’s Causeway-Eden Lodge, by Numerous, won his third consecutive start and second since being claimed for $25,000 for current owner Kenneth L. Ramsey (who owns all his horses with his wife, Sarah). Saffron Hall, who improved to 5-for-11 lifetime, is trained by Kenneth Wirth and was ridden by Oriana Rossi.
It was the second victory on the card for the Wirth-Rossi combination. They also won the fifth race with 6-5 favorite The One Thing, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Ascendant Farm LLC.
After breaking second, Saffron Hall moved to the lead early and led the field on a merry chase. Runner-up Awake At T Wire and Mimito Boy threatened briefly, but Rossi had her whip put away by the sixteenth pole and Saffron Hall strode out much the best. He paid $6.40 as the betting favorite. Graded-stakes winner Lethal Combination passed Mimito Boy late to take third.
“Oriana rode him perfect,” Wirth said. “I told her to just keep him relaxed and he’d gallop them to death, and that’s what he did. She is such an underrated rider. In the last year since I came back from Oaklawn Park, we’ve run 32 horses and won 12, and I think we’ve been worse than fourth only three times.”
Saffron Hall actually was claimed by Wesley Ward as agent for Ramsey from his Jan. 20 turf victory at Tampa Bay Downs and transferred to Wirth’s barn soon after. The victory was the horse’s first in four main-track starts, but Wirth has observed his versatility during training.
“I told you when we took this horse he was worth the money,” an exultant Wirth told Ramsey via telephone from the winner’s circle. “We just set the track record, too.”
Wirth said he had been keen to acquire Saffron Hall since last year. “I told Mr. Ramsey, ‘I really think I can move this horse up,’ ” Wirth said. “I don’t like a horse that is just strictly grass. If he can run on both, you have them over a barrel.”
The Colts and Geldings Division of the Tampa Turf Test was also the Lambholm South Race of the Week.
Fillies and Mares Division winner First Acquital joined Jorge Navarro’s stable July 21, and she’s achieved enough in the past eight months for the trainer to refer to her affectionately as a “check-getter.” Her victory was her fourth in nine starts under Navarro, along with a second, a third and two fourths.
Owned by Pembroke Pines resident Juan Matos’ Blue Top Holdings Stable, First Acquital drew away through the stretch under jockey Pedro Cotto, Jr., for a six-and-a-quarter length victory from Audington, with 5-2 favorite Lets Go Donna Third. First Acquital’s time of 2:05.64 was a short-lived track record, as mentioned above.
First Acquital is a 7-year-old New Jersey-bred daughter of 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Volponi, out of a mare by 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze. She has won seven of 37 lifetime starts and earned $231,704. She paid $7.80 to win.
Navarro claimed her last summer for $12,500.
“She is bred to run all day. I never run my horses back that soon (First Acquital was fourth last Sunday in a 1-mile starter allowance on the turf), but she was doing so good I had to take a chance,” Navarro said. “I told Pedro once he made his move I wanted him to open up and put it away, and that’s what happened.”
Although First Acquital has won twice on the turf, Navarro also thought her chances might improve if the race was switched to dirt. “I told my wife if it rained, we would probably get a short field,” he said. “I was surprised there was only one scratch (First Run), but everything went our way. She has a lot of good races ahead of her. She’s a New Jersey-bred mare, too; big money for when we go back (to Monmouth).”
In the 10th race, the annual Oldsmar Cup, 5-year-old gelding Fifth Street rallied late to defeat Escort by a nose. The winner paid $17.80. Fifth Street is owned by MCR Stable, Inc., and trained by Benny R. Feliciano – whose son, Ricardo Feliciano, was aboard for the victory. The race was an allowance/$32,000 optional claiming contest at six-and-a-half furlongs.
Early on Saturday’s card, long-shot players experienced heavenly delight. The unpredictability kicked off in the first race, when 5-year-old gelding Whazamudder U rallied to win the mile-and-a-sixteenth claiming event under jockey Francisco Maysonett. As the longest shot in the race, he paid $67.40.
Owned by Tony’s Investments LLC and trained by Padarath Lutchman, Whazamudder U has won three times at the current meet.
The second race produced an even bigger shocker, as 4-year-old filly Pegasus Pearl rallied up the rail to break her maiden under jockey Eddie Joe Zambrana in her 23rd lifetime start. She paid $140.80 as the second-longest shot in the 10-horse field. Pegasus Pearl is owned by Hannelore Fuller and trained by Billy Fuller, Jr.
The 5-1 daily double combining Whazamudder U and Pegasus Pearl paid a meet-high $2,007.80.
Ademar Santos rode two winners Saturday, giving him 24 for the meet. Santos won the third race on 3-year-old gelding Bonetown Wild, a first-time starter, for owner Ocean Breeze Stable and trainer Gerald Bennett. He also scored in the 11th on 5-year-old mare Temptation Bound for owner M and G Stables LLC and trainer Gary G. Jackson.
Sunday’s 10-race card begins at 12:40 p.m.
The 11th annual Florida Cup Day, Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of the state’s excellence in breeding and raising Thoroughbreds, is Saturday, April 6. The event features six stakes worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds.
The action-packed card includes the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs; the Journeyman Stud Distaff at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf; the Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Besilu Stables Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs; and the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint at six furlongs.
Nominations for Florida Cup Day close Saturday at midnight.
The Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America will hold its annual Easter Egg Hunt and Party at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at the Chaplain’s Office on the track’s backside. The event is open to children under 12 whose parents are licensed at the track.
In addition to the Easter Egg Hunt, the event will feature prayer, fellowship, games, refreshments and a visit from the Easter Bunny. Anyone wishing to attend may pick up their free tickets in the Chaplain’s Office.
The chaplaincy will also conduct holiday services Easter Sunday, March 31 and Monday, April 1. An Easter Catholic Mass will be held March 31 in the Chaplain’s Office, with Father Michael Cooper hearing confession at 10:45 a.m., followed by a celebratory Mass at 11:15.
Worship and communion service will be held at 6 p.m. on April 1 in observance of Easter and the Resurrection, also in the Chaplain’s Office. For details on any of these events, call (813) 855-4401, ext. 1276.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 31 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action at The Downs Golf Practice Facility and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.