Tampa Bay Downs jockey Willie Martinez leaves Tuesday for the United Arab Emirates, where he will prepare to ride 6-year-old sprinter Giant Ryan in the $2-million Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup card March 31 at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
The Golden Shaheen will be contested at a distance of 1,200 meters, or about six furlongs, on the synthetic Tapeta surface. It is one of nine races worth more than $27 million on a spectacular program that culminates with the $10-million Dubai World Cup.
Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast five of the Dubai World Cup card races March 31, beginning with the Al Quoz Sprint on the turf at 11 a.m. Eastern time. The Dubai Golden Shaheen is scheduled at 11:35 a.m., with the Dubai World Cup at 1:40 p.m.
Before departing on his great adventure, Martinez will ride his final race stateside today at Tampa Bay Downs in the $23,000 Filly and Mare Division of the Tampa Turf Test series, to be run at about a mile-and-three-eighths. Martinez is aboard 4-year-old Loaded Lady for trainer Eduardo Caramori.
The two divisions of the Tampa Turf Test will be contested as the sixth and eighth races on an 11-race card. Post time for the first race is 12:25 p.m. Also on tap is the annual $21,900 Oldsmar Cup, to be contested as the third race. The Oldsmar Cup is an allowance optional $32,000 claiming event for horses 4-years-old-and-up.
Oldsmar residents are admitted to the track free of charge today.
Giant Ryan, who is owned by Shivananda Parbhoo and trained by his father, Bisnath Parboo (they spell their last names differently), is a New York-bred who has won eight of 15 lifetime starts, including the Grade I Vosburgh Invitational last October at Belmont and the Grade II Smile Sprint Handicap in July at Calder.
Martinez rode Giant Ryan when he won the six-furlong Ponche Handicap at Calder last June. Cornelio Velasquez has ridden him in his subsequent starts, including an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs last November, but he has another obligation for the Golden Shaheen, leading Parboo to utilize Martinez, who worked Giant Ryan several times leading to the Breeders’ Cup.
“I’m real excited. I wish the race was tomorrow,” said Martinez, who has ridden more than 3,000 winners in his career. “I live for races like this. For some reason, a gift from God, I think, the bigger the race the more confident I get. It gets in my blood and I start picturing the race, especially when I know the horse.
“I was thrilled when I got the call from Mr. Parboo to go to Dubai,” Martinez added. “I told him anywhere we can get the money, I’ll go.”
Martinez was aboard Giant Ryan for his most recent workout last Saturday at Calder in Miami, a sparkling four-furlong move in 47.60 seconds. Giant Ryan – who has never raced on a synthetic surface – left earlier this week for Dubai.
Martinez will fly from Tampa to New York, then board a flight for Dubai. He will be accompanied by his girlfriend, Genevieve Londono.
Two Saturdays ago, while Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs was being contested, Martinez was at Gulfstream Park solidifying his relationship with the father-and-son Parboo-Parbhoo connection by riding their 3-year-old Trinniberg to a smashing six-length victory in the Grade III Swale Stakes.
Trinniberg finished second in the Grade I Hopeful and the Grade II Nashua as a 2-year-old before a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The Swale marked the first time Martinez rode Trinniberg in a race, but he worked him out last fall leading to the Breeders’ Cup.
“I told them after the Breeders’ Cup if they took the blinkers off he would be a much better horse,” Martinez said. “Right now, he is one of the top 3-year-olds sprinting in the country. As far as going longer, we’ll see. I was very impressed by how he handled everything in the (seven-furlong) Swale and am going to work him out Sunday at Calder.”
Martinez’s only previous trip to Dubai came in 2006, when he rode the William Bradley-trained gelding Brass Hat to a second-place finish behind Electrocutionist in the Dubai World Cup.
Unfortunately for the connections of Brass Hat, trace amounts of a prohibited substance were discovered upon testing, even though Bradley had followed the prescribed guidelines before the race.
The decision deprived owner Fred Bradley of second-place money of $1.2 million and Martinez of his 10 percent cut.
“The first time I went to Dubai, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make the most out of it,” Martinez said. “I did my job and rode my life in that race, and the horse ran his life. I was very proud of the Brass Hat team. I know they did everything right.
“I joke around that I’m going there this time to get that money back, but in all reality I’m not going there in that frame of mind. I have to take care of business and keep my mind on Giant Ryan. These are two different horses, different connections and different races.”
In the $23,000 Colt and Gelding Division of the Tampa Turf Test series today, also at a distance of about a mile-and-three-eighths, Let It Rock, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Tom Gregerson and trained by Chad Stewart, will aim for his third straight victory in the series.
The Florida-bred son of Trippi-Timeless Measure has won six of 36 lifetime starts with career earnings in excess of $250,000. His toughest rivals might be Gold Brew, an 8-year-old gelding who has won three races in a row – the most recent on turf – for owner Wayne Scanlan and trainer Bernell Rhone, and No Inflation, a 6-year-old gelding claimed recently by trainer Jorge Navarro.
Rhone will also saddle 4-year-old filly Paris by Night in the Filly and Mare Division for owner TTD Partners. She won the previous leg Feb. 25 at a mile-and-an-eighth but must contend with that day’s runner-up, the Jamie Ness-trained Lucky Lass, and improving Butterdish from the stable of Jorge Navarro.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 8, 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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