At the start of the week, the connections of 3-year-old gelding Ring Weekend planned to enter him in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park, close to trainer H. Graham Motion’s Fair Hill base.
What a difference five days can make.
Having broken his maiden only four weeks ago at Gulfstream, Ring Weekend went wire-to-wire to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby by three lengths from the Sam F. Davis Stakes winner, Vinceremos.
Surfing U S A ran on well to be third and Conquest Titan was fourth, followed by Matador, Cousin Stephen and the others.
Daniel Centeno rode Ring Weekend, who toured the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:43.71 and paid $30 as the third-longest shot in the 10-horse field. The winner, a son of Tapit-Free the Magic, by Cryptoclearance, is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds (a group consisting of 15 partners) and Vincent and Teresa Viola’s St. Elias Stable.
“We were all set to go to Laurel, but Graham called me Monday – we have the kind of relationship where we both kind of test each other out – to see if either of us was strong either way,” said Terry Finley, President of West Point Thoroughbreds. “Then we got word Kiaran (McLaughlin’s) horse, Baratti, was running at Laurel, and on paper he has run faster than all these, so we decided to enter here. Funny how those things work out.”
Indeed. From maiden-winner status before the race, Ring Weekend has vaulted into Triple Crown consideration with the victory.
Motion has no idea where he will run Ring Weekend next, but agreed it is a nice dilemma to face. “Really, I haven’t looked past today for him,” said the trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Animal Kingdom.
The victory was one of two on the Festival Day 34 card for Motion, who also trains 5-year-old mare Cloud Scapes, the winner of the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf. She was ridden by Erick Rodriguez.
French-bred Testa Rossi, a 3-year-old filly trained by Chad Brown and ridden by past Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Jose Lezcano, won the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf in impressive fashion and will be headed to Keeneland, perhaps for the Grade I Ashland.
But it was Ring Weekend and five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno, who won the 2009 Tampa Bay Derby on Musket Man, who stole the show before an overflow crowd of 10,359. Total all-sources handle was $10,249,574.95.
Ring Weekend opened up a six-length lead on the backstretch and had more than enough through the stretch to hold off Vinceremos, denying the runner-up a chance at the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus (awarded to a horse that sweeps the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands).
Ring Weekend earned 50 qualifying points on the road to the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
“I wouldn’t say my confidence was high, but I really thought he was legit,” said Motion, who said Ring Weekend turned around after being gelded following his third start as a 2-year-old at Keeneland. “I took him to Saratoga to try to break his maiden (last August), that’s how much I liked him.
“I think gelding him got his mind on the game. I just left the ride to Daniel. I knew he could take advantage of the post position because the inside was good today and told him to just make sure he broke well and to put him where he was comfortable.
“I think the others kind of left him alone because they possibly didn’t consider him a legit horse and he got away with it,” Motion added. “When the jockey looks behind him that much, you feel like he has a lot left. I could never have anticipated him winning like that.”
An emotional Centeno kept his composure as well as possible, but you could tell this victory was extra special. He had ridden Cousin Stephen to a third-place finish in the Grade III Sam F. Davis, but when Javier Castellano came up to ride that one today, Centeno was left without a mount – until Ring Weekend entered his life.
“Alan Garcia (who rode Ring Weekend in his maiden victory) is overseas today, and Daniel does a great job here at Tampa Bay Downs. When he was available, I thought we had to grab him,” Motion said.
“Coming out of the inside post I had to get him to start well, but when I got to the first turn it was like he got mad at me for not letting him run,” Centeno said. “He wasn’t rank, he was just full of himself and I had to give him his head. I knew I was clear of the field and I didn’t want to get run down and I was able to get him to relax and save something for the stretch.
“He was looking around getting into the stretch and I was getting concerned, but when he switched leads he just took off again.”
Edgar Prado on Vinceremos was pleased with the Todd Pletcher-trained runner’s effort. “He did everything just right. We got good position tracking the group behind the leader,” Prado said. “He was relaxed running with other horses like he usually is and when I asked him to run, he ran past horses quickly. But the winner was gone.”
The victory was worth $210,000 to the winners, which even split 15 or 16 ways in a healthy chunk of change. Now, on to. … well, let Motion savor this one for a while, his second Tampa Bay Derby victory to go along with Equality’s 2002 score.
Florida Oaks. Testa Rossi put on a performance to marvel at in the Florida Oaks, despite starting from the extreme outside No. 12 post position. She won by three-and-a-half lengths from pace setter Istanford, with Interrupted rallying for third and Babe’s Ruler finishing fourth.
Testa Rossi is owned by James Covello, Tom Coleman and Mike Doheny’s Doheny Racing Stable. She was picked out in France for the partners by bloodstock agent Nick Sallusto. Her winning time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on the lawn was 1:43.51.
“Jose (Lezcano) rode a terrific race,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He was really prepared when he came to the paddock and said he wanted to try to leave out of there and drop in a little closer this time – she’s capable of doing that now that she has run in this country a couple of times.
“He said ‘If it doesn’t work out, I’ll tuck her in back, but let me try that.’ So he had a plan and it worked, and she has been training great up to the race,” Brown said.
Testa Rossi finished second last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in her second stateside start.
“I didn't think being in the 12 post would be a problem,” Lezcano said. “She has been working really well and even last year when we were coming from way out of it, I was sure she could stay with an honest pace. We broke really well and I was able to get over and get her to relax before we got to into the first turn. After that, it was just waiting on the leaders and keeping her out of trouble. She was very much on her own in the late run.”
Testa Rossi ran down pace setter Istanford impressively, but the runner-up lost nothing by comparison.
“This is a good filly and she showed that today,” said Istanford’s jockey, Joseph Rocco, Jr. “I got her to the front and she was going along easily without any pressure. When we hit the stretch, I didn't think there was anything could run us down. When the winner came to us she dug in and did her best. It took a very good filly to beat us.”
Hillsborough Stakes. Motion’s other stakes victory came with Cloud Scapes, who had also won the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. This finish was even more exciting than that neck victory, as she ran down Waterway Run by a nose under jockey Erick Rodriguez, with favorite Riposte third.
The time for the mile-and-an-eighth was 1:51.56. Cloud Scapes was bred and is owned by Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud.
“She really has done well here, hasn’t she?” Abercrombie said. “We’re just delighted. We hoped a lot for her, but she’s done better than we thought she might.”
“It was a tough race for her because there was no speed in here, and we knew it was going to be awkward for her,” Motion said. “We were lucky that filly (long shot Donna’s Fly Girl) slipped through on the inside so she had someone to follow, because when she is on the lead she starts looking around.
“She ran a big race. Erick rides her great – she’s a little tricky to ride and he has her number now, I think. I really haven’t thought beyond this race for her, but we’ll probably step it up. I think this mare could really go on and have a big year,” Motion added.
Rodriguez was ecstatic about winning another graded race on Cloud Scapes, but more so for her courageous response late when Waterway Run and Lezcano appeared to have enough to last after grabbing a brief lead.
“This is really a wonderful horse; she just likes to race,” Rodriguez said. “Last time we had speed to run at and she came on when I asked. Today we were relaxed on the lead and then just off the lead, and like before she just came away when I asked. We thought there would be more speed in the race but she handles whatever they do up front.”
Odds and ends. Also on today’s Festival Day 34 card, Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode three winners, giving him 72 in his quest for a fifth track riding crown. Two of the victories were for owner Mark Hoffman and trainer Robert G. Smith.
In the third race, Allen rode 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Karaoke Rose to victory for Hoffman and Smith; he was aboard 3-year-old filly World Gone Wright, a first-time starter, in the seventh for the connections, including co-owners Drake Smith and Rhett Smith.
Allen added the eighth race on 4-year-old gelding Street Shark, owned by Stephen Harner and Cheryl LaRoche and trained by Ian Wilkes. Street Shark is a son of 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense, and Wilkes was trainer Carl Nafzger’s assistant when Street Sense won the Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Bobby’s Kitten, a 3-year-old colt who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last November in his previous start, made an impressive return to the races winning the sixth race in the familiar colors of Eclipse Award-champion breeders and owners Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey.
The son of the Ramseys’ outstanding sire Bobby’s Kitten went wire-to-wire in 1:36.84 for a mile on the turf course, defeating Grade III winner Global View by a length-and-a-half. Bobby’s Kitten, who won the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont last October, is trained by Chad Brown and was ridden by Javier Castellano. He paid $2.80 as the huge favorite in the field of six.
Jockey Carol Cedeno won for the first time since fracturing two vertebrae in her back in a spill Aug. 3 at Penn National, in which her mount clipped heels after being jostled by another horse.
Cedeno, who is married to fellow jockey Angel Serpa, rode first-race winner Hey Soul Sister. The 5-year-old Florida-bred mare is owned by Ridenjac Racing and trained by Dennis Ward. Cedeno is riding with a sore ankle, incurred recently in a starting gate mishap.
Not to be outdone, Serpa won the fifth race in a photo finish aboard 5-year-old horse Half Wed for owners George Ditola and John N. Erickson and trainer Anthony Granitz. Half Wed has won three races at the meeting.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Sunday is also Family Fiesta Day sponsored by Univision Tampa Bay, with children’s games, rides and activities in the Backyard Picnic Area adjacent to the paddock.
The track 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.