No one questioned Spectacular Sky’s quality entering Saturday’s $50,000 Manatee Stakes for older fillies and mares.
But it was fair to ask if she would handle the deep, sandy Tampa Bay Downs surface in her first Oldsmar appearance.
The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Sky Mesa-La Princesse Jolie, by Boone’s Mill, answered in the affirmative, pulling away in the stretch before staving off a furious rally by 18-1 shot Cheechako to win in stakes-record time of 1:23.51 for seven furlongs (2011 Manatee winner Hyperlink held the previous mark of 1:23.52).
Minaret Stakes winner Appealing Stella was another three-quarters of a length back in third, followed by 73-1 shot Glass Bottle.
Spectacular Sky’s victory was her third stakes triumph since August and her sixth career victory in 18 starts. As a 4-year-old, she finished second in the Grade III Las Flores Stakes at Santa Anita. Her previous race was the Grade II Chilukki at Churchill Downs in November, in which she finished sixth.
First-place Manatee money of $30,000 raised her career earnings to $249,485.
Daniel Centeno rode the winner, his third Manatee victory in the past five years (he rode Hyperlink two years ago). Spectacular Sky, who broke from the No. 8 post after two late scratches, paid $5.20 as the wagering favorite in the 10-horse field. The 9-10 exacta paid $76.40, the 9-10-8 trifecta returned $254 and the $1 9-10-8-4 superfecta paid $2,457.80.
Spectacular Sky is owned by Robert and Myron Miller’s Farnsworth Stables LLC and trained by Martin D. Wolfson, who was represented in the winner’s circle by his wife Karla and assistant trainer Raja Malek.
“She was training very well and all the horses that are shipping out of Calder (in Miami) are doing well, so we didn’t have much of a worry about her running here for the first time,” Malek said. “She is doing really good and she ran a great race.
“Hopefully, she’ll come out of the race well and we’ll sit down with the owners and plan her next move.”
Centeno, who got the mount after Jermaine Bridgmohan elected to remain at Gulfstream to ride, began pulling away from Appealing Stella about the 3/8-mile pole and never seemed to lose energy, but Ronnie Allen, Jr., aboard Cheechako threw a scare into Centeno approaching the wire.
“It was a great mount to pick up,” Centeno said. “I thought she might be the speed of the race, but she broke just a bit slow and I had to ask her for run right away (to get into contention).
“Once she got to the lead I got her to relax and we were just rolling along in hand getting to the stretch. I asked her for more as we straightened out, and she responded the way a good horse does. That horse coming up the inside (Cheechako) was a surprise, but the wire was there when we needed it.”
Second-place trainer Ian Wilkes was delighted with 4-year-old Cheechako’s effort for owner Marylou Whitney Stables LLC off an allowance/optional claiming victory here Jan. 12. “She trained well since her last race, so I was very happy with her coming into today,” said Wilkes, who also trains last-place finisher Magic Hour.
“(Cheechako) has a style where she sits back and makes one run, so maybe a couple more jumps and she gets there. But she’s stakes-placed now, which is important for the owner, and my thing now is to work on a stakes win for her,” Wilkes said.
Jockeys Ademar Santos and Fernando De La Cruz each rode two winners Saturday. Santos won the second race on 5-year-old mare Tomorrows Moon for owner Drake Smith and trainer Robert G. Smith and the fourth race aboard 7-year-old mare Bells of Concerto for owner-trainer Charles Harvatt.
De La Cruz was victorious in the fifth on the turf on 4-year-old filly Lets Go Donna for owner Christie Metz and trainer William Downing, and in the 11th on 3-year-old filly Portofappeal for owners Nannette and James McCullough, the latter the trainer.
De La Cruz’s winners paid $28.20 and $34.60, respectively.
Trainer William A. Kaplan sent out two winners, scoring in the first race with his own 4-year-old filly All a Twitter – ridden by Antonio Gallardo – and in the seventh on the turf with 3-year-old colt Preponderate, owned by Robert N. Clay and ridden by Jose Angel Garcia.
All a Twitter paid $$34.80 and Preponderate paid $52.40.
Sunday’s 10-race card begins at 12:38 p.m. The co-features are the fifth and sixth races, a $21,400, 1-mile turf claiming event for 3-year-olds, and a $20,400, seven-furlong main-track optional claiming affair for older allowance horses, respectively.
Sunday is also the first Kids and Family Day of the meet, sponsored by CW 44 TV. There will be a special appearance by Tampa Bay Downs mascot Mouse, the Miniature Horse, as well as games and pony rides. Kids and Family Day is open to the public free of charge.
Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship continues Sunday at 9 a.m. at The Downs Golf Practice Facility. The is Tampa Bay’s largest two-day demo and golf expo.
Admission is $10 for adults, with children 14-and-under getting in free. Qualifying for the TROT (Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc.) $1-million Hole-In-One Challenge will be conducted from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., with each entrant getting five shots for $10 in an attempt to hit a 167-yard shot within a 20-foot diameter circle and advance to the semifinals.
Sunday’s scheduled events get underway with an appearance at 11 a.m. by trick-shot artist and entertainer Brad Denton.
At noon, Dan Vosgerichian, the Director of Mental Training for the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, and Jamal Gibson, the academy’s Director of Fitness, will deliver a presentation. They will be followed at 1 p.m. by Win McMurry of Golf Channel and long-drive champion Mike Ziegler.
At 2 p.m., the semifinals and finals of the TROT $1-million Hole-In-One Challenge will get underway. Only the golfer closest to the hole in the semifinals will get to hit the $1-million shot.
If a hole-in-one is then made, the winner receives $500,000 in a 40-year annuity and TROT receives $500,000. Anyone making a hole-in-one in qualifying wins $250 in range balls.
Attendees can also try and buy the latest equipment from top manufacturers; enjoy on-site discounts in the PGA Golf Shop; enter a drawing to win two tickets to the first 2013 professional major tournament in Georgia; participate in putting and chipping contests; and receive free golf lessons from PGA Class A professionals.
Tampa Bay Downs currently races five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. The track 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.