Handicappers will face one of their sternest challenges of the 2013-14 meeting Saturday when nine established colts and geldings vie for the lion’s share of the $100,000 purse in the 25th anniversary edition of the seven-furlong Super Stakes on the main dirt track.
The Super Stakes will be the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday’s excitement begins at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the grandstand with track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club,” featuring Tampa Bay Downs trainer and Survivor contestant L.J. McKanas.
A full weekend of Thoroughbred racing begins Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There is a Super High-5 carryover of $12,188.10 in the fourth race. Sunday is Family Fiesta Day sponsored by Univision Tampa Bay, with games, music and events under the big tent just north of the paddock.
Seven of the Super Stakes entrants are stakes winners, with 6-year-old gelding Bear Tough Tiger the most accomplished. The Florida-bred Bear Tough Tiger has won 11 of 21 career starts, including the Grade III Kennedy Road Stakes in November of 2012 at Woodbine, and boasts career earnings of $524,054.
Bear Tough Tiger finished fourth in his previous start, the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint for Florida-breds on Jan. 18 at Gulfstream.
The morning-line favorite at 7-2, Bear Tough Tiger is owned by Michael Bruder and trained by Dale Romans and will be ridden by Daniel Centeno. Bruder and Romans teamed three weeks ago to win the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf with Guys Reward.
The second choice at 4-1 is 4-year-old colt Palace Barista, who has been nothing short of sensational in his three-race career for breeder-owner-trainer Lynne Scace, with two victories and a second. In his most recent start, Palace Barista won the $60,000 Pelican Stakes here on Jan. 25 in a swift 1:09.94, defeating five of Saturday’s nine entrants. Harry Vega will again be aboard Palace Barista, who signaled his readiness for the Super Stakes by breezing five furlongs Tuesday in 1:02.
Another runner likely to be well regarded by bettors is 4-year-old colt Our Double Play, from the barn of trainer Philip Bauer. He will be ridden by Victor Lebron. Our Double Play won the Prairie Mile Stakes last year at Prairie Meadows, and in his two most recent starts he was unplaced in Grade I company in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.
Not to be overlooked are the past two winners of the Super Stakes, 2013 winner Good Lord and 2012 winner Action Andy, and Sneaking Uponyou, who won the 2010 Pelican and Turf Dash and 2011 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes. Good Lord set the Tampa Bay Downs seven-furlong track record of 1:22.03 in last year’s Super Stakes.
Rounding out the field are south Florida invader and multiple-stakes winner Black Diamond Cat, One Buck Roma and Lack of Judgment.
Today’s action. In today’s action, jockeys Antonio Gallardo and Daniel Centeno each rode two winners. Gallardo was aboard 3-year-old filly Oro Pequena in the second race for owners Sheltowee Farm and Blazing Meadows Farm, LLC and trainer Timothy E. Hamm. Gallardo added the seventh on the turf on 4-year-old colt Sharp Omar for owner Robert Gerczak and trainer Carlos Garcia.
Centeno posted victories in the third race on 9-year-old mare Nesfield for owner-trainer W. John Bourke and co-owners Jeff Barbee and James Kerins, and in the sixth on 7-year-old gelding Gimmeadrink for owner Savoy Stable, LLC and trainer Dale Bennett. Gimmeadrink has won four consecutive races, the past three at the current meeting.
Trainer Carlos Garcia saddled two winners. In addition to Sharp Omar, he won the eighth race with 5-year-old mare Rocket Dee, owned by K Stable. Angel Serpa was the jockey.
In the fifth race, a one-mile turf claiming event for maiden 3-year-olds, Virginia breeders and owners Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone won for the third time in the past seven racing days, this time with their first-time starter, the gray gelding Explore. He is trained by Arnaud Delacour and was ridden by Luis Garcia, as were last week’s maiden Firestone winners. Explore won by four-and-a-quarter lengths in 1:36.92.
Van Berg joins Hearts Reaching Out festivities. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, whose best-known horse, Alysheba, won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic and was the 1988 Horse of the Year, will appear at Tampa Bay Downs March 2 and 3.
Van Berg – the son of a Hall of Fame trainer, Marion Van Berg – will be at the track Sunday, March 2 to sign copies of his book JACK, From Grit To Glory: A Lifetime of Mentoring, Dedication and Perseverance, written by Chris Kotulak.
On Monday, March 3, Jack Van Berg will be the guest auctioneer at the 22nd annual Hearts Reaching Out dinner and auction to benefit the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division. The dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. under the tent just north of the grandstand, followed by live and silent auctions of various sports and racing memorabilia, paintings, prints and a beach-resort vacation.
The Hearts Reaching Out festivities begin with the annual scramble golf tournament at 11 a.m. at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. The cost for the tournament, dinner and auctions is $100, while the cost of the dinner and auctions only is $20. For details, call Kathy at (813) 854-1313 or Sharyn at (813) 494-1870.
Jack Van Berg was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985, 15 years after his father and two years before Alysheba claimed the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The younger Van Berg won an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer in 1984.
Alysheba retired after his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory at Churchill Downs as Thoroughbred racing’s all-time money earner with winnings of $6,679,242 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
The 77-year-old Van Berg, who began training in 1957 and has sent out two starters this year, has saddled 6,417 winners, the fifth-best total all-time.
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.