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A week before Saturday’s $75,000 Lightning City Stakes, 5-year-old mare Smartys Emperoress breezed four furlongs on the all-weather strip at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Her regular trainer, Eric Reed, liked the move enough to send her to the Tampa Bay Downs barn of trainer James I. Spicknall. After starting the current meet 0-for-27, to say Spicknall was grateful is an understatement.
Barreling from behind through the stretch of the five-furlong turf test under red-hot jockey Angel Serpa, Smartys Emperoress grabbed the lead in the shadow of the wire, prevailing by a nose from a charging Trippin’ Along in a five-horse blanket finish.
The winner’s time of 55.50 seconds tied the stakes record set by Bucky’s Prayer in 2007. Christina d’Oro was a nose back in third, with another neck to Honey Chile and still another neck to 7-10 favorite Madame Giry.
Smartys Emperoress, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Holy Roman Emperor-I’ll Get Along, by Smile, and owned by Jerry Jamgotchian, paid $34.60 and keyed a 10-8 exacta payoff of $233.20, a 10-8-2 trifecta return of $2,951.20 and a $1 superfecta payoff for the 10-8-2-9 combination of $8,522.40.
It was the first stakes victory for Smartys Emperoress, who raised her career earnings to $130,997 with her fourth victory in 12 starts.
“She is a very nice filly and I’m pleased to have had her here for this race,” Spicknall said. “I told (Reed) I would be more than happy to run her for him, and she came here Thursday and jogged Friday, just to show her the racetrack.
“She was coming into the race very nicely and I thought she should have a good shot. She does everything right, doesn’t make any mistakes and is very gutty,” Spicknall said. “The final time shows they were really clipping. The Serpa kid can really ride, no holds barred. He is phenomenal.”
When five horses finish less than a length apart, there are bound to be four very disappointed riders, and the way Serpa has been going it probably is no surprise he wasn’t one of the downcast. He has ridden 17 winners over the past nine racing days, two Saturday.
“Mr. Spicknall told me not to worry if the speed got away from us early, so when she broke well I was surprised and was able to let her settle (in mid-pack and in the clear from the No. 10 post),” Serpa said.
“They went very fast up front so I took a long hold on her and didn’t ask her for run until near the stretch. She really picked it up for me then and we were just blowing by tired horses. It was really a perfect trip,” Serpa said.
Trainers Dennis Ward and Lori Smock each sent out two winners Saturday, with Ward’s winners propelling him into the top 10 in the meet standings with eight victories.
Ward won the third race, a $12,500 claiming route, with Ridenjac Racing’s 5-year-old gelding Rio Grey. It was the fifth lifetime victory for Rio Grey, who was claimed by Ward for $6,250 from a Nov. 15 victory at Calder. Mike Allen rode the Florida-bred.
Ridenjac and Ward hooked up for another win in the fifth with 6-year-old mare Drica’s Luck, who took the $5,000, seven-furlong claiming race under jockey Carol Cedeno. Ward had claimed her from her previous start at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 6 for $5,000, and Darien Rodriguez returned the favor Saturday as the Kentucky-bred Drica’s Luck found her third different home this month.
Smock’s winners both were ridden by Fernando De La Cruz. They teamed to win the eighth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on the turf with 4-year-old gelding Chief Redneck, who is owned by Novella Woodward.
They also won the 11th race, a maiden claiming event, with the 4-year-old filly This Cat Can Go, who is owned by Smock.
Daniel Centeno also rode two winners, giving him 34 for the meet, four behind Serpa. Centeno won the second for $25,000-$20,000 maiden claimers on 4-year-old gelding Mr Exclusive for Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc. and trainer Robert G. Smith.
In the sixth, Centeno tallied on the turf in a $50,000-$45,000 maiden claiming race for 3-year-olds. Kentucky Hero, who was bred by Calumet Farm and is by Van Nistelrooy-Indy Pendence, out of A.P. Indy, won for owner Los Samanes LLC and trainer Antonio Sano.
Sunday’s nine-race card begins at 12:38 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently conducts live Thoroughbred racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.
Entries for the Saturday, Feb. 2 Festival Preview Day card will be taken Wednesday in the racing office. The huge day of racing will mark the first time Tampa Bay Downs has offered three graded stakes races on a single card.
Included are the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds; the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf; and the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf.
The Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America has established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund to assist exercise rider Erasmo Tranquilino, who was critically injured Jan. 18 in a fall from a golf cart in the barn area of the track.
Tranquilino suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury in the accident and is at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa in a medically-induced coma. The fund will help defray his medical costs and aid family members, who are traveling from Mexico to be with him.
The 23-year-old Tranquilino has worked for trainer Leigh Delacour for the past three years. He was the regular exercise rider on stakes-winner Lentenor, a full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Lentenor has entered stud at Calumet Farm in Kentucky.
Individuals wishing to assist Tranquilino and his family can make a monetary donation via PayPal at the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division’s website, www.rtcatbd.org. Please specify that your donation is for the Erasmo Tranquilino Fund.
Donations can also be mailed to the track chaplaincy at RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division, P.O. Box 2211, Oldsmar, FL 34677. Checks should be made out to the RTCA. Again, specify that the money is for Tranquilino.
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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