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The optimism that accompanies a new year will be on full display during Saturday’s Skyway Festival Day program, when newly-turned 3-year-olds of both sexes compete for stakes glory at Tampa Bay Downs.
A field of seven colts and one gelding will tackle the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes, which has been carded as the third race. The entries include Savoy Stable, LLC’s Kentucky-bred colt Cool Cowboy, who won the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes here by three-and-a-half lengths on Dec. 7 and is 3-for-5 lifetime.
The co-feature Saturday, the $100,000, seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes, has attracted a field of 10 3-year-old fillies and is slated as the ninth of 10 races. Included is My Sweet Dove, Peter Lawson’s Florida-bred and owned youngster who won the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes here by a half-length on Dec. 7.
Both Cool Cowboy and My Sweet Dove have been assigned to carry 122 pounds, four more than their rivals. Post time for the first of Saturday’s 10 races is 12:30 p.m. A nine-race card is scheduled Friday, beginning at 12:25 p.m.
On Saturday, spectators are encouraged to arrive early for track announcer Richard Grunder’s Morning Glory Club, which begins at 10 a.m. Grunder’s special guest is jockey Antonio Gallardo, an up-and-coming 26-year-old from Cadiz, Spain, who set a track record at Calder last August by winning four consecutive stakes races on a single card. Admission is free and coffee and donuts will be provided.
Cool Cowboy, who is trained by Dale Bennett and will be ridden by Eduardo Perez, was bred to be a sprinter. He is a son of 2009 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter Kodiak Kowboy, and his broodmare sire, Grand Slam, was a multiple-Grade I winner who finished second in the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Despite his glittering pedigree and on-track accomplishments, Cool Cowboy will have no shortage of quality competition. In addition to Inaugural Stakes runner-up Early Entry, trained by Kathleen O’Connell and to be ridden by Octavio Vergara, Jr., the Pasco field includes Mighty Brown – twice second in stakes – who broke his maiden on Dec. 7 at Tampa Bay Downs in a six-furlong time almost a full second faster than Cool Cowboy’s Inaugural clocking. Tim Ice trains Mighty Brown, who will be ridden by Dean Butler.
Also likely to garner significant wagering support is Harry’s Holiday, from the barn of Michael Maker and to be ridden by Scott Spieth. Harry’s Holiday’s most recent effort resulted in a two-and-three-quarter length victory going six-and-a-half furlongs on Dec. 20 in a starter/optional claiming race at Gulfstream.
My Sweet Dove, who is trained by Monte R. Thomas and will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo, enters the Gasparilla 2-for-3 with a second, but is likely to face her toughest challenge yet Saturday. Expected back for another try is Sandpiper runner-up Enquete, who won her first two starts for trainer Todd Pletcher last year at Saratoga and Gulfstream and probably needed the Sandpiper to become accustomed to the Tampa Bay Downs dirt surface. Willie Martinez is back in the irons.
Others certain to be ogled in the paddock include the James DiVito-trained Maria Maria, with Angel Serpa aboard; conditioner Ian Wilkes’ Runway Giant, to be ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr.; and Herman Wilensky’s filly Nesso, with Abdiel Jaen in the irons.
Maria Maria has two victories from seven starts and finished third in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes last September at Arlington Park. Her most recent victory was a three-and-a-half length score on Oct. 18 at Hawthorne in an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event.
Runway Giant has competed in graded-stakes company in her two previous starts, finishing fifth in the Grade III JP Morgan Chase Jessamine at Keeneland and seventh in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill. She started her career with a maiden victory and a pair of second-place finishes.
The well-traveled Nesso – who broke her maiden at Calder before shipping to the West Coast – finished second in stakes at Del Mar and Santa Anita and was unplaced in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She followed that try with a respectable fourth, beaten only two-plus lengths, in the Grade III Miesque on the turf at now-defunct Betfair Hollywood Park on Nov. 30.
Registration has begun for the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, an online competition beginning on Festival Preview Day, Saturday, Feb. 1. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined). Second place receives $1,000, third place receives $500 and a $500 prize will be awarded to the handicapper selecting the most overall winners.
There is no fee for entering the contest. Complete rules are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
The registration deadline is 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, which is the first day of the contest and also Festival Preview Day, highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and their bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs, with strikes being assessed for an out-of-the-money finish (three strikes is goodbye).
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.

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