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A first-time starter from the barn of trainer Derek Ryan and a promising Chad and Laurie Stewart homebred highlighted Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Downs racing program.
Gun Point, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Harlan’s Holiday-Acrosstheborder, by Include, made a sterling career debut in the seventh race at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, winning by a comfortable four-length margin from Silver Halo in the $32-$30,000 maiden claiming event.
One swat of the whip from jockey Jose Espinoza was all it took for the Ryan-trained youngster to burst past Silver Halo on the turn. Gun Point, owned by George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables, paid $15.80 as the only first-time starter in the 10-horse field. Gun Point’s time was 1:43.65.
In the eighth race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race at seven furlongs on the main track with a $21,200 purse, the Stewarts’ Florida-bred 3-year-old gelding Red Rocket Express stalked fast early fractions before taking command on the turn and holding off China Holiday for a ¾-length victory under jockey Ademar Santos.
Chad Stewart owns and trains Red Rocket Express, now 2-for-2. The son of Exclusive Quality-Apricot Glow, by Concerto turned in a solid 1:23.86 clocking. Red Rocket Express and Santos survived a claim of foul by Daniel Centeno, the jockey on third-place finisher Mind Spell, for alleged interference. The winner paid $31.20.
In Wednesday’s ninth race, trainer Kathleen O’Connell continued her march toward 1,500 victories, saddling Just For Fun Stable LLC’s 5-year-old mare Wildcat Sierra for a triumph in the 1-mile turf claiming race. Angel Serpa rode the winner. O’Connell is at 1,491 wins.
Thursday’s 10-race card begins at 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs 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.
Espinoza Jockey of the Month. Jose Espinoza, who is 12-for-35 at Tampa Bay Downs since joining the jockey colony about a month into the meet, is the Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month.
The 43-year-old Mexico City native has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby. But he has come as close to winning the Run for the Roses as anyone can imagine. In 2002, his younger brother Victor Espinoza got the mount on War Emblem from trainer Bob Baffert. Watching from the jockeys’ room at Belmont Park, Jose cheered when the speedy War Emblem broke on top and rushed to the lead.
By the time War Emblem hit the top of the stretch, tears were streaming down Jose’s cheeks. His brother, whom he rode with and exercised with growing up, had won horse racing’s biggest prize. Victor won the Preakness on War Emblem two weeks later.
“I was so proud of him, and so excited. It is every jockey’s dream to win the Derby,” said Jose, who may finally get his own Derby starter with Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Falling Sky. “We’re all looking for a 3-year-old to get to Kentucky, and it’s very exciting to take a little step on that road.”
This is Espinoza’s first season at Tampa Bay Downs. “Jose had previous opportunities to come to Florida, but he decided to stay in New York with his family,” said his agent, Nick Soulis. “This year, he had a chance to ride here for some big outfits, and we’re hoping other trainers will continue to use him once they recognize his ability.
“Jose has excellent hands and can get any kind of horse to relax,” Soulis said. “His third win last Sunday (on 4-year-old filly Abitya on the turf, for trainer Joan Scott) was a good demonstration of his skills. They came from last to win, and no one has been able to come from that far out of it with the weather we’ve been having.”
Espinoza was 3-for-3 Sunday.
Walk for Roz. The inaugural “Walk for Roz,” a fund-raising event benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s fight against breast cancer, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday on the racetrack at Tampa Bay Downs.
The 1-mile walk around the main track is in memory of the late Dr. Rosalyn Randall, the track’s Association Veterinarian for more than 30 years who died of breast cancer last spring.
Participants should plan on meeting at 10:45 a.m. under the tent in the Backyard Picnic Area of the track. Everyone is encouraged to wear pink. Donations are requested and will go to the Komen for the Cure organization. The event is open to the public.
In addition to working at Tampa Bay Downs, Randall was a practicing veterinarian at Scarborough Animal Hospital in Maine and at Lakeside Animal Hospital in Odessa. She was an accomplished athlete, competing in 25 Boston Marathons, the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii and as a member of a Senior Biathlon team that competed internationally.
Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Randall continued running until her final year of life. A native of Maine who grew up on her family’s dairy farm, she had a lifetime love of animals and held Bachelor’s and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees as a cum laude graduate of Michigan State.
Hearts Reaching Out. The Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament and Charity Auction and Dinner will be held March 4. The RTCA provides spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational services to the workers at the race track.
The tournament will be a four-person scramble at Countryside Country Club in Clearwater beginning with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. The top three teams will receive prizes. The dinner is at 5:30 p.m. under the tent in the Tampa Bay Downs Picnic Area, followed by the auction and an awards banquet at 7 p.m.
Cost is $100 for golf, dinner and auction, $20 for dinner and auction. Tickets are available at the Chaplain’s Office. For details or to reserve a spot, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.
Items to be auctioned include racing and sports memorabilia, signed items, photographs and paintings.
Proceeds benefit the RTCA, a certified 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. The RTCA, Tampa Bay Downs Division also receives financial support from Tampa Bay Downs, the Horsemen’s Benevolence and Protective Association and individual donors. Information is available at the web site www.rtcatbd.org

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