Taylors Irish surrendered the lead momentarily in the stretch, then found an extra burst of energy to surge past Island Bound and win Saturday’s $50,000-guaranteed, seven-furlong Manatee Stakes for older fillies and mares at Tampa Bay Downs by a neck from Island Bound.
The victory was the first stakes triumph for the 6-year-old mare, who was claimed by owner Michael Newman and trainer Charles R. Harvatt two years ago at Tampa Bay Downs for $10,000. Taylors Irish has won six of 38 lifetime starts, with 12 seconds, but all her victories have come at Tampa Bay Downs, where she has finished out of the money only three times in 16 races.
Pedro Cotto Jr. rode the winner, who paid $35.40. Much Rejoicing finished third while the 6-5 favorite, Hot Summer, faded to eighth after a sluggish start and mild mid-race rally in the nine-horse field.
Taylors Irish is a Florida-bred daughter of Drewman out of the Mr. Frisky mare Brandon’s Ride, who is also the dam of 2011 Wood Memorial Stakes winner Toby’s Corner.
“She loves everything about this place – the weather, the water, the surface. She trains well here and just loves this track,” Harvatt said. “And she can go short or long. On grass or dirt, it doesn’t make a difference. She is getting older, but she keeps herself in good shape and just does everything right. You really can’t fault her.”
Newman, an attorney from Stuart, Fla., who owns four horses, earned his first stakes victory as an owner and described the experience as “surreal.
“When you win a stakes race, well, that just doesn’t happen very often,” Newman said. “When she was coming down the stretch, I was in shock mode. She is an absolutely gorgeous horse, and I can’t say enough about her. She always gives you an effort.”
In her stakes debut in the Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 31, Taylors Irish broke poorly and never got into the race, finishing eighth behind freakishly fast sprinter It’s Me Mom. Harvatt, Newman and Cotto all believed that effort was an aberration.
“Pedro was very upset the last time, and he came back the next day and apologized to me for not getting the true ride from her. She was flipping her head around in the gate and broke so bad,” Harvatt said.
“Pedro asked to please ride her again, and I said there was no question about that. We wanted to try stakes company again and see if she belonged.”
Cotto was able to get Taylors Irish in front early from the No. 5 post, and she persevered through a quarter-mile in 23.08 seconds, a half-mile in 45.83 and six furlongs in 1:10.54. Her final time of 1:23.55 was .03 seconds off Hyperlink’s stakes record, set last year.
“Isn’t she one fine mare?” Cotto exulted. “She wanted to be up front and when we got there, she settled for me. One of them (Island Bound and jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr.) pushed past us on the turn, but I could sense my horse had more to give. Having ridden her before really helped me today.”
Cotto won a 6 ½-furlong allowance aboard Taylors Irish at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 7. “He rode her perfect today,” Harvatt said. “She likes to catch her breath at the eighth pole, and I told him to let her take two or three jumps at the top of the lane and then re-ride her and she would break again. It doesn’t work out that way all the time, but it did today.”
Allen was pleased with Island Bound’s effort but disappointed with the result. “When we made the lead getting into the stretch, I thought we had won it,” he said. “But the other mare had more left than we did.”
Jockey Ademar Santos rode three winners on Saturday’s card, winning the second race with Clever Performance ($31); the sixth aboard Celtic City ($67.40); and the 11th on El Grande Rojo ($8.60).
Tampa Bay Downs conducts live racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Post time for the first race Sunday is 12:25 p.m.
The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, along with no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.