Trainer Tom Proctor has written his fair share of history at Tampa Bay Downs in recent seasons.
On Jan. 23, 2011, Proctor saddled both winners of a dead heat, Barbara Hunter’s 5-year-old mare Keertana and Craig Bernick’s 7-year-old mare You Go West Girl, in a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf allowance. “I just tell everybody I must really be good to be able to do that,” Proctor said jokingly at the time.
Three months ago, Proctor earned his 1,000th career victory with Donato Lanni and John Youngblood’s 4-year-old gelding Avanzare in a 1-mile Tampa Bay Downs turf allowance. “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 then.
The 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meeting has continued to be one to remember for Proctor, who trained exclusively for Ocala-based Glen Hill Farm until going public in 2005.
Through today’s action, Proctor’s 30-percent win ratio is the best of any conditioner with at least 30 starts. He has also sent out three individual stakes winners, the most of any conditioner (H. Graham Motion also has three stakes victories at the meeting, two by 5-year-old mare Cloud Scapes).
With better luck, Proctor could have gone 4-for-4 last weekend. After Glen Hill Farm’s 5-year-old gelding Old Time Hockey won the $75,000 Tampa Turf Classic on Florida Cup Day, Proctor won with both of his starters the following day on the turf, 5-year-old mare Double Ante and 6-year-old horse Guest Star, both for owner George Krikorian.
Only a disqualification of 4-year-old Lori’s Store in the Florida Cup Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf kept Proctor from a perfect Oldsmar weekend, but it was more than enough to earn the Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month Award. Proctor has trained a record six Florida Cup Day winners in the event’s 12-year history.
He extended his victory streak to four with 4-year-old gelding Chief Cochise’s seventh-race victory under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., before his Empire Road finished third in the ninth race.
While Grade II winner Old Time Hockey, Suncoast Stakes winner Please Explain and Wayward Lass Stakes winner Dress the Part have excelled at Tampa Bay Downs, Proctor has enjoyed even more success with his West Coast string at Santa Anita in California.
The stable star is Glen Hill’s 4-year-old filly Pontchatrain, who won back-to-back Grade II turf stakes this winter and is on a four-race stakes victory streak; she is sidelined with a minor ankle injury, but Proctor expects her to return to full strength by the fall. Other top Proctor charges include graded-stakes winners Global View, Temeraine, Customer Base and Pataky Kid, stakes winner Diversy Harbor and up-and-coming filly Theatre Star, winner of four races in a row.
How’s this for symmetry: Through today, Proctor is 21-for-71 at Tampa Bay Downs and 19-for-67 at Santa Anita, while also competing at Gulfstream and other tracks. “Our whole stable is pretty strong across the country,” Proctor said, “and that really helps us at Tampa Bay Downs, because if we’re strong elsewhere, the talent trickles down. Tampa Bay Downs is a good home for us in the winter.”
Proctor’s late father, Willard Proctor, is a California legend, training such standouts as Convenience, Gallant Romeo and Major Impact. After taking over from his dad as Glen Hill’s trainer, Proctor won the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs with 47-1 shot One Dreamer. Proctor was second in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf with Marketing Mix and third in the 2010 edition with Keertana.
Proctor now trains about 75 horses for 35 different owners. “I’m lucky to have some really nice horses and be training for good people who have the same theory on racing as we do: Let the horse be what it is, don’t push too hard and later on, they develop into a nice horse sometimes,” he said.
His long-time assistant, Nicky Carrillo, handles the Tampa Bay Downs string when Proctor is in southern California and was on hand to saddle Avanzare for No. 1,000. “He is probably the biggest reason for my success at Tampa,” Proctor said. “Not only is Nicky a great assistant, he is a very good horseman and friend.
“He’s a guy who can tell me when I’m wrong about something, and not many people have that authority,” Proctor added, laughing.
ODDS AND ENDS. When trainer Gary Patrick learned about 10 minutes before post time that today’s second race was named in honor of late Tampa Bay Downs trainer Walter Abner, he was flooded with emotion.
The two grew up together in Ashville, Ohio, and rode at bush tracks in Ohio and Indiana as youngsters, as well as competing in barrel racing. They were also training rivals for decades, and to Patrick, it seemed as if Abner almost always got the winning hand.
“He was hard to outrun,” Patrick said. “Walter took good care of his horses and knew where to place them so they would win.” Abner, who died last April at 68 of a heart attack, saddled more than 800 winners, according to Equibase statistics.
Regardless of one’s belief in fate, Patrick did indeed win the second race on the turf, a $16,000 claiming event, with 3-year-old filly Winning Forecast, who is owned by his wife Cindy Patrick. Huber Villa-Gomez rode the winner.
“I was sitting at the picnic table thinking how nice it would be to win the race for Walter, and dadgum, I did,” Patrick said. “We were pals. We had a lot of fun together, and there are a lot of memories.”
Also in the winner’s-circle picture were Abner’s life partner, trainer Barbara McBride; his stepsons, Jason McBride and Randy Klopp; and numerous close friends.
Today’s sixth race, a six-furlong, starter allowance/optional claiming event for older horses, featured an oddity, with five of the seven entrants having been trained previously by perennial Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness.
You probably can guess the rest: The ex-Ness horses finished first, second, third, fourth and – oops – seventh. Houston Bull, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Amaty Racing Stables, now trained by Herman Wilensky and ridden by Daniel Centeno, pulled away through the stretch for a three-and-three-quarters length victory from See I A, with Rocky Gap third and King Rock fourth. The winner’s time was 1:10.41.
Ness had no starters on today’s card.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-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.