In a moment of whimsy Friday morning, trainer Ian Wilkes suggested a record exists of him predicting Fort Larned would win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita after the then-4-year-old colt’s victory in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
As much credit as he deserves for bringing Fort Larned to the pinnacle of Thoroughbred racing, though, Wilkes is no modern-day Nostradamus. “You probably would have locked me up in a mental asylum if you heard me say that,” Wilkes acknowledged.
It seems folly to suggest another Fort Larned is among the seven entrants in Saturday’s renewal of the mile-and-a-sixteenth race for older horses. But it is worth noting Fort Larned was a pedestrian 3-for-11 in his career before the 2012 Challenger and had finished fourth only four weeks earlier at Tampa Bay Downs in a $30,000 handicap at the same distance.
“I thought he ran a good race that day, and I wanted him to kick out to the lead (in the Challenger) and let him do his stuff,” Wilkes recalled. “Ronnie (Allen, Jr., the jockey) got him in front, and he was able to run a big race.”
It was one of many big races that year for Fort Larned, who set a Gulfstream track record four weeks later in the Grade III Skip Away and posted victories in the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap and the Grade I Whitney Invitational at Saratoga en route to his date with Breeders’ Cup destiny. “The Challenger was a very instrumental race, because if he got beat here, I wouldn’t have taken a shot in the Skip Away,” Wilkes later said.
Fort Larned now stands as a stallion at Adena Springs Kentucky, but that hasn’t stopped Wilkes from targeting the Challenger. He’ll saddle two of the seven horses in the field, including last year’s Challenger runner-up, Lothenbach Stables, Inc.’s 5-year-old gelding Nicklaus Way, who will be ridden by Allen and break from the No. 3 post.
The Challenger is the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:25 p.m. The 2-1 morning-line favorite is Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.’s 5-year-old gelding Managed Account, a multiple-stakes winner trained by Jamie Ness and to be ridden by Fernando De La Cruz. Managed Account breaks from the No. 4 post.
Rounding out the field are No. 1 Tulira Castle, a 4-year-old colt trained by James DiVito, Angel Serpa in the irons; No. 2 I’m Steppin’ It Up, trained by Anthony Pecoraro and to be ridden by Brian Pedroza; No. 5 Ruler of Love, trained by Joan Scott, Daniel Centeno up; No. 6 Lack of Judgment, conditioned by Richard Ciardullo, Jr., Jose Ferrer aboard; and No. 7 Twin Engine, trained by Wilkes, with Victor Lebron riding.
Serious handicappers may look to a Feb. 28 allowance/optional claiming event here at a mile-and-40-yards as a key Challenger prep. After laying off the pace, Tulira Castle displayed a burst of speed around the turn and drew off to a four-and-a-half length victory from Nicklaus Way, with Twin Engine fifth.
“That was a good bounce-back race for Nicklaus Way (after an off-the-board effort four weeks earlier in the Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes on yielding turf),” Wilkes said. “He is a consistent horse who is back into form. (Twin Engine) was disappointing, but we wanted to give him another shot.”
With at least three horses – Managed Account, Ruler of Love and I’m Steppin’ It Up – accustomed to running on or near the lead, the Challenger could develop into a tactical race, according to Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Ness.
“The last thing you want to do is take a horse out of its race,” said Ness, who sent out Managed Account for a second-place finish four weeks ago in the $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap at Laurel Park, beaten only a nose by Behemoth.
“In a race like this, sometimes only one horse goes (for the lead) and is able to steal it, and other times they all go and it sets up for a closer,” Ness said. “The horse that can take advantage of the best trip is probably going to win.”
But Ness has no qualms about Managed Account vying for the lead early; the Campbell was a mile-and-an-eighth race and he got nipped in the final jump.
“He’s going to run his race,” said Ness, who is 5-for-11 with Managed Account, with two stakes victories, since claiming him for Midwest for $30,000 last February at Gulfstream. “If his race is good enough, he’ll be in the winner’s circle and if it’s not, he’ll leave it on the track.”
A son of top sire Malibu Moon, the Pennsylvania-bred Managed Account is out of Catinca, a Grade I and multiple-graded stakes winner on the New York circuit in the late 1990s.
The Florida-bred 4-year-old Ruler of Love has not raced since drawing off in a mile-and-40-yard allowance/optional claiming race here on Dec. 22, but turned in a bullet five-furlong workout of 59 4/5 seconds last week. He finished second last year in both the Grade II West Virginia Derby and the Grade II Super Derby.
“He’s doing real well,” said Scott, his trainer. “He has natural speed, but he doesn’t have to be on the lead. But it is a different ballgame running against older horses than just running against 3-year-olds.”
On today’s card, Daniel Centeno rode three winners, boosting his total for the meeting to 55. He won the first race on 4-year-old gelding Maximum Impact for owner-trainer Dennis Manning; the third on 3-year-old filly R Crown Royalty for owners Averill Racing LLC and Clark C. Freeman and trainer Ralph Ziadie; and the sixth on Author Bob, a 5-year-old gelding, for breeder-owner Dahl Farms and trainer Gerald Bennett.
The latter saddled two winners on the card, also triumphing in the second race with 6-year-old mare Leggy Laura for owner Ocean Breezes Racing. Carol Cedeno was the jockey.
Jockeys and Jeans. Nearly every jockey attests that riding a 1,000-pound Thoroughbred racehorse is an unimaginable thrill. It is also one of the riskiest professions in sports, as evidenced by the plight of Turf Paradise jockey Anne Von Rosen, who was paralyzed last week when her mount went down and pinned Von Rosen underneath, breaking her neck and damaging her spinal cord.
Subsequent reports indicated Von Rosen might have died had not fellow rider Rodolfo Arvizu seen her situation and rushed in to release her foot, caught in the stirrup, freeing her from being smothered.
According to Nancy LaSala, the Executive Director of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), 59 jockeys currently receive assistance from the organization. The list includes Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, who was paralyzed in a riding accident at Belmont Park in 1978; Tony Dlugopolski, a winner of 3,453 races who became a quadriplegic in a 2001 accident at Mountaineer; and Gary Birzer, a second-generation jockey paralyzed in a 2004 accident.
“We help quadriplegics, paraplegics and riders with brain injuries and other severe injuries,” said LaSala, the wife of retired jockey Jerry LaSala. “What we do is helpful, but we are always looking for ways to raise awareness of the PDJF.”
On Saturday, March 29 at Tampa Bay Downs, horsemen, jockeys, track employees and fans can contribute to the future well-being of disabled riders by participating in the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans event, with proceeds benefiting the PDJF. “It is something (former) jockeys are putting on for jockeys, and I applaud them for wanting to do something locally,” Nancy LaSala said.
Tickets are $35, with the event being held under the big tent just north of the paddock.
Among the jockeys scheduled to attend are Hall of Fame members Pat Day, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum; Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello, a former leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs; recently retired jockey Ramon Dominguez; Patricia Cooksey, who rode more than 2,100 winners; Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby; and Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a race at a recognized track.
Also expected are four-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey William Henry; William Klinke, a former Tampa Bay Downs jockey known as “The Colonel;” Michael Straight, who rode his first winner in 2009 at Tampa Bay Downs only a few months before becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a spill at Arlington; former Tampa Bay Downs jockey Darrell Brown; and Julia Brimo, who has made a remarkable recovery from a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury suffered in a spill at Keeneland.
Dominguez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct in January of 2013 that forced his retirement, will be the event’s featured speaker. The 37-year-old Dominguez is an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders.
Dominguez retired with 4,985 victories, winning Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His situation has raised awareness within the Thoroughbred industry of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries on jockeys.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have an opportunity to have their picture taken with the jockeys, enjoy a barbecue luncheon and beverages and bid on unique racing memorabilia. Attendees will receive an autographed commemorative poster. The gates will open at 11 a.m. There will be a general autograph session at 3 p.m. on the first floor of the grandstand.
Tampa Bay Downs jockeys will donate a mount fee on the day of the event. To purchase tickets, visit www.pdjf.org
online or call retired jockey and author Dr. Eddie Donnally at (818) 653-3711.