Tim Girten thinks 2012 could mark a new beginning in the racing career of 2008 Pennsylvania Derby winner Anak Nakal.
The 7-year-old son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop – who dead-heated for third himself in the 2008 Belmont under trainer Nick Zito – is scheduled to make his first start on the turf in Saturday’s fifth race at Tampa Bay Downs.
The $30,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth handicap for horses 4-years-old and up is one of 11 races on Saturday’s card, which includes the $60,000-guaranteed Pelican Stakes at six furlongs for 4-year-olds and up. Post time for the first race is 12:25 p.m.
Girten, the assistant to his mother, Anak Nakal’s trainer Shirley Girten-Drake, believes the Four Roses Thoroughbreds-owned horse has the pedigree and class to adapt to the grass. Mother and son hope to use Saturday’s race as a stepping stone to the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf Feb. 25, although Girten said there is a possibility Anak Nakal could return in the seven-furlong Super Stakes on the dirt Feb. 11.
“Mr. (Kassem) Masri, the owner of Four Roses Thoroughbreds, told me Nick Zito trained him on the turf course at Saratoga to get ready for the Pennsylvania Derby, and he took to the synthetic surface well (at Presque Isle Downs in September), so I think he will fare well on the grass here,” Girten said. “He is doing very well and we figured he would fit nicely into the Tampa Bay program.”
Anak Nakal also won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as a 2-year-old and has amassed earnings of $1,046,944. He will be ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr., last season’s champion Tampa Bay Downs jockey.
Anak Nakal has turned in two solid breezes since arriving in Oldsmar last month. Tim Girten, who has trained him for his previous three starts – an allowance victory at Presque Isle and middle-of-the-pack efforts behind top older horse Wise Dan at Presque Isle and Keeneland – said although he may have lost a step, Anak Nakal exudes class in the barn and on the racetrack.
“He is still stakes quality, that’s for sure,” Girten said. “He is a gorgeous horse – he’s dappled out, healthy and ready to go. Realistically, he is not the horse he was when he won the Pennsylvania Derby, but he is still a very nice animal.
“He is just a pleasure to be around. He has a ‘jolly ball’ he plays with in the stall, and it gets pretty comical when he starts bouncing it off his head. Other than that, you wouldn’t know he is in the barn. He is a class act,” Girten said.
Anak Nakal’s turf debut is anything but a cakewalk. The morning-line favorite, the Lori Smock-owned and trained 6-year-old gelding Allie’s Event, has finished first or second in 13 of his 20 career starts and was runner-up to Blues Street in the Grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 19.
Second-choice I’m Steppin’ It Up, owned by Roman Hill Farm and trained by Anthony Pecoraro, was victorious in the fall in back-to-back stakes at Delaware and Belmont but has yet to win in four turf starts.
The Pelican Stakes, the eighth race on the card, has drawn a field of nine older runners. The role of favoritism appears to fall between Sundance Thoroughbreds’ Gibson, who won the Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap at Calder on Nov. 12 and went wire-to-wire in a five-furlong turf event at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 9; and It’s Never To Late, who was 6-for-9 in 2001 and has earned almost $400,000 in his career.
Friday’s card saw Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness turn in his third 3-for-3 performance of the meeting. Each of his winners Friday are owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., a finalist for the 2011 Eclipse Award as top owner.
Ness won the second with 4-year-old filly Emma’s Kiss, ridden by Angel Serpa; the third with 6-year-old gelding Western Prospector, Leandro Goncalves riding; and the eighth with 3-year-old filly Sugadadeze, Huber Villa-Gomez aboard.
Friday’s card also produced the meeting’s largest trifecta payoff when Soldier Sam, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Colin Sherwood and ridden by Angel Serpa, won the sixth race by a head at odds of 62-1. Soldier Sam paid $127.60 to win and the $2 trifecta of 10-3-1 paid $15,696.80.
Tampa Bay Downs’ always popular Morning Glory Club begins at 10 a.m. Saturday on the first floor of the grandstand. Announcer Richard Grunder’s special guest is author, philosopher and Thoroughbred racing enthusiast Peter Mallett, who has co-authored 18 editions of Crushing the Cup, a yearly handicapping guide to the Breeders’ Cup.
Early arrivals can watch horses work out on the track and enjoy free coffee and donuts. In addition, each attendee will receive a copy of Mallett’s Betting 2011-12 Tampa Bay Downs: An Up-To-Date Guide For Bettors Handicapping The Oldsmar Oval.