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Area simulcast bettors looking for horses with connections to Tampa Bay Downs in this weekend’s 30th Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita are likely to start with 3-year-old colt Verrazano, the favorite in Friday’s $1-million Dirt Mile.
Verrazano won the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 in a virtual tour de force, adding victories in the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Grade I Haskell Invitational and Grade III Pegasus, both at Monmouth. While the classic distance of a mile-and-a-quarter has proved his downfall (14th in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Travers), a victory in the Dirt Mile against older horses would elevate the Todd Pletcher-trainee into consideration for an Eclipse Award as Champion 3-Year-Old.
Win or lose, Verrazano will be retired after the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to stand at Ashford Stud.
Before examining other Tampa Bay Downs connections Friday and Saturday, it is worth taking a look back at last year’s Breeders’ Cup, also held at the fabled Arcadia, Calif., track at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.
A year ago, bettors who pounced on horses with Tampa Bay Downs connections reaped a financial bonanza. Most notable was a victory in the $5-million Classic by Fort Larned, who had started twice in Oldsmar for trainer Ian Wilkes to begin his 4-year-old campaign, winning the $60,000 Challenger Stakes on March 3.
While Fort Larned benefited from his foundational work on the Tampa Bay Downs main surface, then-5-year-old French-bred mare Zagora employed victories in a pair of Grade III, $150,000 local turf stakes – the Endeavour and the Hillsborough – to begin preparing for her eventual coronation in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf under the care of trainer Chad Brown.
To many long-time Tampa Bay Downs followers, the most heartwarming 2012 Breeders’ Cup triumph came in the $1.5-million Xpressbet Sprint, when jockey Willie Martinez piloted 13-1 shot Trinniberg to a dramatic victory. The leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs during the 1991-92 season, Martinez fought to keep his composure when fellow Puerto Rico native John Velazquez – the Hall of Fame jockey on runner-up The Lumber Guy – tapped Martinez with his whip as the horses jogged out after the finish, complimenting him on his first Breeders’ Cup victory.
Still another Tampa Bay Downs connection – perhaps best described as once-removed – was realized in the Filly & Mare Sprint, won by then-4-year-old filly Groupie Doll, who is partly owned and trained by Oldsmar conditioner William “Buff” Bradley.
Tampa Bay Downs’ well-regarded turf course and its burgeoning stakes program make future Breeders’ Cup successes likely. But with 14 races over two days and 161 horses set to compete, it’s largely a matter of speculation (but fun, to be sure) what effect racing or training seven months earlier at the only Thoroughbred track on Florida’s west coast might have on the outcome.
Consider the 20th edition of the Breeders’ Cup, held at Santa Anita in 2003. Back then, it was a one-day affair consisting of eight races. Among the 90 horses that competed, only one had raced at Tampa Bay Downs, and that in a single race: 3-year-old gelding Cajun Beat, who had finished sixth in that spring’s Tampa Bay Derby.
Area simulcast players who picked up on the local connection were rewarded with a $47.60 win payoff when Cajun Beat – owned by Satish Sanan’s Padua Stables in partnership with John and Joseph Iracane – sped home under jockey Cornelio Velasquez to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
If you’re at Tampa Bay Downs on Friday, expect a heightened decibel level if Verrazano lives up to his backers’ expectations and wins the Dirt Mile. Here are the other horses with local connections seeking Breeders’ Cup glory:
·         Another Dirt Mile entrant, from the barn of trainer Kenneth McPeek, Golden Ticket finished second in the 2012 Tampa Bay Derby.
·         Fort Larned is back to defend his 2012 victory in Saturday’s Classic for trainer Wilkes and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.
·         Groupie Doll is favored to defend her title in Saturday’s $1-million Filly and Mare Sprint.
·         Tampa Bay Downs trainer Thomas Proctor is represented by 5-year-old mare Marketing Mix, one of the favorites for the $2-million Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday, and 4-year-old gelding Old Time Hockey in Friday’s $500,000 Marathon. Both Proctor horses are owned by Glen Hill Farm.
·         Two-time leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O’Connell will saddle Scandalous Act in Saturday’s $2-million Juvenile Fillies.
·         H. Graham Motion, another Tampa Bay Downs trainer, sends out long shot Qushchi in the Filly and Mare Turf. The race has also drawn Kitten’s Dumplings, the 3-year-old filly who finished second in the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.
·         Royal Delta is looking for her third consecutive Breeders’ Cup victory in Friday’s $2-million Distaff (formerly the Ladies’ Classic). The champion 5-year-old mare raced in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs two years ago, finishing ninth in her second career start.
·         Tampa Bay Downs trainer Chad Stewart and his wife Laurie bred and previously raced 4-year-old gelding Tightend Touchdown, a challenger in Saturday’s 1-million GEICO Turf Sprint. Also entered is Havelock, a 6-year-old gelding who finished third in 2012 in a turf handicap in his lone Tampa Bay Downs appearance.
·         Bahamian Squall, a 4-year-old colt entered in Saturday’s $1.5-million Xpressbet Sprint, was a close-up fifth in the 2012 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, part of the Florida Cup.
·         Teaks North, a 6-year-old gelding who ran fifth in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf here in 2011, is in Saturday’s $3-million Turf.
The gates open at Tampa Bay Downs each day at 11 a.m. for full Breeders’ Cup action and simulcast wagering from other tracks. The 2013-14 Thoroughbred meeting at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Dec. 4. The barn area opens Monday.

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