The first legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series highlight Saturday’s action at Tampa Bay Downs.
Post time for the first race Saturday is 12:30 p.m. The Tampa Turf Test races are the seventh and the ninth, both offering purse money of $23,000. Both races are scheduled at a mile on the track’s turf course, with fillies and mares contesting the seventh race and colts and geldings the ninth race.
Both contests are restricted to horses which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2012-2013. Subsequent Tampa Turf Test events are scheduled Jan. 18; Feb. 15; and March 29.
Following today’s action, the status of Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Fernando De La Cruz for Saturday’s card is unknown after he was thrown from his mount Poster Girl in the ninth race. De La Cruz was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital for observation. The 3-year-old filly was vanned off as a precaution.
Trainer Ronald Allen, Sr., sent out two winners on today’s card, and counting his son’s four riding victories Thursday and one today, that makes seven winners for horsemen named Ronnie Allen the past two days.
The Allens combined to win the second race with 4-year-old filly No Touch, who is owned by Felicia Campbell and Daniel McCarthy. In the eighth race, Walter De La Cruz rode winning 5-year-old gelding Sean Who for Allen, Sr., and Campbell.
A pair of horses that won their first starts locally made it 2-for-2 at the Oldsmar oval. In the fourth race, 5-year-old gelding Ardency scored under jockey Harry Vega for owner George Isaacs and trainer Lynne Scace. Vadvada, a 2-year-old filly owned by Sescan, LLC and trained by Anna Lee, repeated in the fifth race, this time under Daniel Centeno.
Saturday’s front-side activity begins at 10 a.m. with the return of track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club,” with first-year Tampa Bay Downs trainer Tim Ice as the featured guest.
In his first full year as a conditioner, Ice was the trainer of 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, a son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone. Ice did not receive Summer Bird from owners Dr. K.K. and Dr. Vilasini Jayaraman until his 3-year-old season, yet developed him into the Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old male after subsequent victories in the Shadwell Travers Stakes at Saratoga and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.
Summer Bird died earlier this week of colic at age 7 while standing at stud at Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan. “I didn’t take the news very well,” Ice says. “Being around that horse as long as I was, he was almost like a kid to me. He went along and was happy to do whatever I asked. It was just his attitude, how easily he handled everything. He was just an awesome horse to be around.”
Ice has nominated Mighty Brown, a son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, to the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for newly-tuned 3-year-olds on Jan. 4. The multiple-stakes placed Mighty Brown broke his maiden here Dec. 7, winning a six-furlong race in 1:10.21 – almost a full second faster than Cool Cowboy’s winning time the same day in the Inaugural Stakes.
Back to the Tampa Turf Test. Both races drew 14 entries, but only 10 will start. The morning-line favorite for the fillies and mares division at 7-2 is Pennsylvania-bred 4-year-old Slander, owned by Jack Matia and trained by Forrest Kaelin. Slander won here Dec. 11 in a $16,000 turf claiming race against similar company, and her stalking style seems well-suited to the challenge. She will be ridden by Scott Spieth.
In the male division, Ron Hendrickson’s 5-year-old gelding El Uno is the 3-1 morning-line choice. The Florida-bred El Uno finished the 2012-13 Tampa Bay Downs meeting with a three-race winning streak, all on the turf, and won an allowance/optional claiming event on the grass at Gulfstream on Nov. 2 before finishing as an also-ran in a $125,000 starter stakes at Gulfstream three weeks ago. El Uno is trained by Marcial Navarro and will be ridden by Angel Serpa.
Sunday’s nine-race card begins at 12:30 p.m. Thoroughbred racing then returns Wednesday, New Year’s Day, as Tampa Bay Downs begins its January schedule of Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday racing.
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.