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Mighty Brown and Nesso might have aged a year earlier this week, but their performances on Skyway Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs proved they’re both getting better.
The newly-turned 3-year-olds celebrated three days after the fact by capturing the track’s $100,000 stakes offerings, with Mighty Brown overpowering seven rivals in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes and Nesso turning back eight foes in winning the seven-furlong Gasparilla.
Also on today’s card, trainer Tom Proctor notched career victory No. 1,000 when 4-year-old gelding Avanzare rolled to a five-length victory on the turf in the eighth race. Proctor’s long-time assistant, Nicky Carrillo, saddled Avanzare, who is owned by Donato Lanni and John Youngblood and was ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr.
Here is a recap of a banner Skyway Festival Day of racing at Tampa Bay Downs:
Any nerves trainer Tim Ice felt before the $100,000 Pasco Stakes were dispelled every step of the way by Mighty Brown, who launched a powerful move approaching the 3/8-mile pole and drew away from determined pace setter Cool Cowboy through the stretch for a three-and-a-quarter-length victory.
Supplemental entry Giancarlo, a south Florida invader, made a belated move to finish third, a length behind Inaugural Stakes winner Cool Cowboy and three-and-a-half lengths ahead of Inaugural runner-up Early Entry.
Mighty Brown – a Kentucky-bred son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, out of Mighty Martha, by Chester House – was ridden exquisitely by Dean Butler, the pilot when Mighty Brown broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs going six furlongs on Dec. 7. The winner’s time on a fast track was 1:24.17. Now 2-for-9 lifetime with four seconds, including two in stakes company while a maiden, Mighty Brown paid $10.40 to win as third betting choice.
Mighty Brown received a four-pound break in the weights from the winner, carrying 118 pounds to Cool Cowboy’s 122. Mighty Brown is owned by Chicago resident Tom Rinaudo’s The Farm on 4, LLC and Arkansas residents Rich Robertson and Alan Dean’s Tri-Star Racing, LLC.
“We can hope and dream all we want, but until they run the race you don’t know,” said Ice, the trainer of 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird. “I’ve thought he was a very talented colt from Day 1, and I think cutting him back in distance has helped him a lot. I thought he would be a perfect seven-furlong horse and it worked out well today.”
Butler was surprised by the alert start by Mighty Brown, who had worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 here on Dec. 28. The winner lay comfortably off the early fractions of Cool Cowboy and long shot Three Quarter Roy before Butler asked for his best effort.
“He broke fast and if anything, he was more aggressive than I wanted,” Butler said. “I was able to get him to relax getting to the half, and we had a bead on the leader by then. I asked for run getting into the stretch and I was more worried about something coming up on the inside than I was about getting past the leader.
“He finished up really well, like a very good horse.”
Cool Cowboy may have started a step slow, but this was Mighty Brown’s day. “I loved the outside (No. 8) post, and he broke so sharply he was up there a little closer than where I thought he’d be,” Ice said. “He showed today he can be up there and still finish strong, and I loved how he finished.
“Dale Bennett’s horse (Cool Cowboy) ran a heck of a race. I thought he was the horse to beat going in, but this was a pretty contentious group of horses.”
Ice said he is leaning against sending Mighty Brown back in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 1 at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. “Right now, I think I’ll just want to keep him going one turn,” Ice said. “He’s run well going a mile, but I don’t know whether I’m ready to push him that far (the Davis distance) yet.
“We’re just going to sit back after this race and wait a little bit to see where we go next,” Ice added.
Meanwhile, Nesso’s owner Dennis Amaty (Amaty Racing Stables) was exultant after the Florida-bred daughter of Roman Ruler-Devotedness, by Anet, staved off Ice for the Lady by a length in the Gasparilla under Abdiel Jaen. Runway Giant finished third. My Sweet Dove, the Sandpiper Stakes winner, ran evenly to finish fifth and favorite Enquete faded to ninth.
Nesso, who was twice stakes-placed in California and competed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita, improved to 2-for-6 with two seconds for Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Herman Wilensky. She paid $10 to win as third betting choice.
Wilensky assistant Sandino Hernandez handled the saddling chores. The Gasparilla was only Nesso’s second start on dirt. Her winning time was 1:24.93.
Amaty, who has owned horses for 12 years, was doubly thrilled since he tried to sell Nesso at Del Mar as a 2-year-old. He had originally claimed her for $25,000 out of her maiden victory at Calder last June.
“Thank God no one wanted to pay what I wanted for her,” said Amaty, a resident of Wellington, Fla. “We left her in California for a while and (trainer) Vann Belvoir did a great job with her, but after the Breeders’ Cup (and a fourth-place finish in the Grade III Miesque at Betfair Hollywood Park), we thought it was time to bring her home and have a little fun with her. We like the conditions and the backside at Tampa Bay Downs, and I am in the sport to have fun.
“She deserves all the credit,” added Amaty, who said he will sit down with Wilensky and Hernandez before determining her next start. “She is a little horse with a big heart and will fight to the end.”
Jaen, who rode 5-year-old mare Beauties Honor to victory in the second race for trainer Greg Griffith, gave Nesso a textbook ride, keeping her slightly off the pace set by long shot House Money, and appeared to have plenty left approaching the finish.
“I knew there were some fast fillies in here so I wanted to stay close to the lead, but I also wanted to wait to make my run,” Jaen said. “I knew there would be a late run from someone, so I kept asking for run and she had something left.”
Proctor’s 1,000th victory in the eighth race, a one-mile turf allowance which was also the Lambholm South Race of the Week, was an emotional experience for assistant Carrillo, who has been with him almost 25 years, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff victory in 1994 at Churchill Downs with One Dreamer. “He (Proctor) is the best thing that happened to me in my life,” Carrillo said. “He treats everybody in the barn the same, but he has been like my dad.”
The 57-year-old Proctor, who trained exclusively for Glen Hill Farm before going public in 2005, watched the race from home in California. “It was nice to see Nicky and all the barn people in the winner’s circle, and it’s nice to win at Tampa Bay Downs. It’s been a good racetrack to me the last few years and it’s a special place,” Proctor said.
“Nicky tells me I am like his daddy, but I always tell him we are like brothers. He is not afraid to tell me when he doesn’t like something, and I can leave him in charge and trust him to do a great job. Winning 1,000 to me is basically a credit to a lot of nice horses, good owners and the people who work for me and make good things happen,” Proctor said.
Avanzare is 2-for-2, having broken his maiden at Churchill Downs in November. Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., also won the seventh race on 5-year-old horse Long to Win for owners Rolf Obrecht and Richard Estvanko and trainer Anthony Granitz.
In the fourth race, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.’s 9-year-old mare Kitty City improved to 6-for-6 lifetime on the Tampa Bay Downs main track with a half-length from Antia in a six-and-a-half furlong claiming race. Kitty City is trained by Jamie Ness and was ridden by Antonio Gallardo.
Kitty City paid $5.20 as the wagering favorite. Her previous five local victories came from Dec. 30, 2011 through Feb. 26, 2012.
Registration is underway for the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, an online competition beginning on Festival Preview Day, Saturday, Feb. 1. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined). Second place receives $1,000, third place receives $500 and a $500 prize will be awarded to the handicapper selecting the most overall winners.
There is no fee for entering the contest. Complete rules are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
The registration deadline is 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, which is the first day of the contest and also Festival Preview Day, highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a traditional Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands stepping stone.
The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and their bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs, with strikes being assessed for an out-of-the-money finish (three strikes is goodbye).
The Feb. 1 card promises to be one of the most memorable in the track’s 88-year history. In addition to the Sam F. Davis, the blockbuster stakes schedule includes the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Additionally, the mile-and-a-sixteenth Davis is the first leg of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus. The owners of any horse that wins the Davis; the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8; and the Kentucky Derby on May 3, will collect $1-million.
Prior to the running of the Davis, fans will have the opportunity to fill in an entry blank and deposit it in a bin corresponding to their choice for the race. The winning jockey will draw one name from the appropriate bin immediately after the race is official, and that individual will become eligible for a $100,000 prize, payable if the horse fulfills the requirements of the bonus.
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.
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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