Originally scheduled for March 29, the final legs of the annual Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series were delayed until today due to the forecast – realized – of heavy rain last weekend.
With the chance to compete on a firm turf course, 6-year-old gelding Paige Me and 4-year-old filly Cotton Pickin delivered quality performances, winning their respective divisions of the mile-and-three-eighths event.
Rory Barron, the owner and trainer of Colts and Geldings Division winner Paige Me, has developed a strong affection for the Kentucky-bred son of Shaniko-Jaunty Day since claiming him for $7,500 from a third-place effort last June at Presque Isle Downs. Paige Me has three victories and two seconds in 10 starts since, and the $15,080 first-place prize raised his career earnings to $114,560.
After rallying from last place in the early going, Paige Me and winning jockey Jose Angel Garcia held off Houngun by a half-length, reversing the order of finish of the third leg of the Tampa Turf Test series at a mile-and-an-eighth on Feb. 15. Paige Me paid $8.20 as the lukewarm wagering choice in the 10-horse field. Sette E Mezzo took third. The time was 2:19.69.
“He’s something else,” Barron said of his stable star, now 7-for-31 lifetime. “When I claimed him, I saw a big, beautiful horse I thought I could improve because he’d been training off the farm and shipping from one track to another.
“I figured he needed a little bit of stability, and since he’s been in one place he’s been nothing but a monster for me. And he is a pleasure to be around,” Barron added.
As a 3-year-old last year, Tampa Turf Test Fillies and Mares Division winner Cotton Pickin finished fourth in the Suncoast Stakes and third in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies on Florida Cup Day. But when she failed to find the winner’s circle into mid-summer, her breeder and former owner Bob Vogt elected to bring her home to his Vogt Farms in Brandon, Fla.
“We took the wrong path with her throwing her on the dirt, so we brought her home,” said Vogt, who sold Cotton Pickin privately following her runner-up effort at Tampa Bay Downs on March 19. “When we started her up again (at the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting), she started doing really well.”
After Cotton Pickin posted two seconds and a third from five local starts, three on the turf (the others were taken off due to wet grounds), Vogt sold the 4-year-old daughter of High Cotton-Kats Golden Ways privately to Ocala resident John Regan’s Emerald Spring Stable.
All parties felt like celebrating when Cotton Pickin rallied from near the back of the pack early to win the Fillies and Mares Division of the mile-and-three-eighths Tampa Turf Test by a length from a charging Whoodoo Meadow in a time of 2:19.94.
Victor Lebron rode the winner, his second consecutive victory on the card. Cotton Pickin paid $18.80 to win. Thecushmaker finished third in the 10-horse field.
“The trip was perfect, she got a good ride and it all worked out,” said winning trainer Derek Ryan.
The victory was the first at Tampa Bay Downs for Regan, who said first-place money of $19,280 more than paid for Cotton Pickin’s purchase price. “I just wish my wife Karen Anne was here today, but she’s working. Someone has to pay the bills,” he joked.
Vogt, who watched Cotton Pickin being born four years ago, was equally ecstatic. He still owns Kats Golden Ways, who produced a full brother to Cotton Pickin on Jan. 3. “I think he is the best foal she has had yet,” he said.
Lebron’s other triumph in the third race came on 3-year-old gelding Trident Hero for owner Team Buds Racing, LLC and trainer Wayne Mogge.
Pedroza is Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month. Atop a Thoroughbred, 22-year-old Brian Pedroza is a young man in a hurry.
But by learning to wait for the best opportunities to develop, Pedroza has emerged as a potential star in the making.
“For a jockey, patience is the biggest part of the game,” says Pedroza, whose three-victory performance on March 29 (the first of his career) clinched the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month Award. “You’re always making split-second decisions – how to place your horse, when to make your move, whether to go outside or wait for a seam to open – but you can’t be in a rush.”
Pedroza has ridden less than five years, and he is still learning. But he’s had two pretty fair teachers: his father, long-time southern California jockey Martin Pedroza, and his mother Kimberly Davis, an ex-jockey who works as an exercise rider in Ocala.
“They have both been great influences,” Pedroza says. “My dad (currently sidelined with a leg fracture) calls me every day to tell me what I did right and things I can do a little better, and he is always teaching me things.”
Pedroza also credits Tampa Bay Downs trainers Dennis Ward, David Hinsley and Anthony Pecoraro for his professional and personal growth. “They let me go out and ride my race, which I like,” he says. “They trust me that I’ll get the job done.”
Those conditioners who have used Pedroza’s services extensively have noticed his tremendous strides this season. “Brian is a natural,” said Ward, a former jockey himself and the father of 1984 Eclipse Award Outstanding Apprentice Jockey and current trainer Wesley Ward, earlier in the meeting. “He gets them in the right spot, and a lot of horses just run off the screen for him.”
Brian’s cousin Marcelino Pedroza is a jockey. Brian also has a brother Tyler, 18, and a sister Mya, 4.
Pedroza had moved into eighth place in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 24 victories. It’s a far cry from the 2011-12 season, when he managed only seven victories from 97 mounts. “I had a bad attitude then,” Pedroza admits. “I hadn’t learned to take constructive criticism or get yelled at and not yell back.”
Now, Pedroza is not afraid to criticize himself for a mistake. “When I go home and watch the videos, I’ll curse myself because I could have done so many things differently,” he says.
Pedroza and his agent, Cash Stodghill, will be moving to Indiana Grand Race Course at the conclusion of the Tampa Bay Downs meeting. Both attended Ocala West Port High School, and Stodghill is the grandson of past Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jason Coyote (nee Stodghill).
“I want to get to the top. Who doesn’t?” Pedroza says with refreshing candor. “But I’m still young and I have a lot to learn. Every time you ride a horse, you learn something new.”
To learn more about Pedroza, visit the Feb. 2 edition of the track’s blog, “Racing In The Sunshine.”
Odds and ends. Trainer Tom Proctor sent out two winners on today’s card. In the first race, he won with first-time starter Air Landon, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Randy Bradshaw and ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr. In the sixth race, Proctor’s 3-year-old filly V V Goodnight snuck through inside under jockey Ricardo Feliciano for owner Lucky Seven Stable.
Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners for the son-father training duo of Dale Bennett and Gerald Bennett. Gallardo took the fifth on 4-year-old gelding Exactness, trained by Dale and owned by Irene Hock and Equiforce, Inc. Gallardo added the ninth on 3-year-old filly Ice for the Lady for the elder Bennett and breeder-owner W. Kenan Rand, Jr.
Angel Serpa also booted home two winners. He was on 4-year-old filly Rocket Tee in the second race for owner K Stable and trainer Carlos Garcia, and rode 4-year-old filly Dido to victory in the 10th for breeder-owner Jack Swain and trainer H. Graham Motion.
Saturday is the 12th annual Florida Cup Day, celebrating the Sunshine State’s excellence in breeding and raising top-quality Thoroughbreds. The third-most lucrative card of the season consists of six stakes races worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds.
Three races will be contested on the main dirt track and three on the turf, with three races exclusively for 3-year-olds and three for older horses. A total of 117 horses were nominated to the event, an 8.4 percent increase from 2013.
The Florida Cup has two new title race sponsors for this year’s renewal: Pleasant Acres Stallions, which is sponsoring the mile-and-a-sixteenth Distaff Turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward, and Skinny’s Place of Anna Maria Island, sponsor for the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sophomore Turf for 3-year-olds.
The other Florida Cup races are the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, at seven furlongs on the main dirt course; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, also at seven furlongs on the main; the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint, for 4-year-olds-and-upward at six furlongs on the dirt; and the Tampa Turf Classic for 4-year-olds-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the grass.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 20 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.