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Fernando De La Cruz took it in stride when his mount in today’s fourth race was nosed out by 4-year-old filly My Evangelina – ridden by his younger brother, Walter De La Cruz.
“That’s horse racing,” Fernando shrugged. “We are all competitive, but if I can’t win, I’d like to see my brother win. This is a job, but back home everybody is family.”
Nevertheless, Walter’s victory left Fernando the only empty-handed sibling, since older brother Juan De La Cruz, an apprentice, had won the first race on 8-year-old gelding Awesome Rhythm.
It didn’t take long for Fernando to fix matters.
In the fifth race, he rallied 5-year-old gelding Rocky Gap from off the pace for a three-quarter length victory, giving each of the De La Cruz brothers riding victories on the same card.
Also today, first-time starter Yogi Berra – a 3-year-old colt named for the New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher – won the ninth race, a six-and-a-half furlong maiden special weight contest, by four-and-a-half lengths in 1:17.10. Daniel Centeno rode Yogi Berra, who was bred and is owned by Jessica Steinbrenner’s Florida-based Bach Stables and is trained by Dennis Griffith.
The horse’s owner, daughter of the late Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner, sought and received permission from the real Yogi to name the son of Majestic Warrior-Esperanza d’Oro after him. “Yogi was in New York watching the race on satellite, and he is probably just as ecstatic as I am,” Steinbrenner said.
And in the 10th race, trainer Miranda Downing earned her first career victory when 4-year-old gelding Rynwelski roared home first under jockey Angel Serpa. Rynwelski is owned by the trainer’s mother, Marsha Downing.
Meanwhile, track officials were unable to determine if the De La Cruzes’ accomplishment is a racing first, but it is a marvelous accomplishment for three young men from Huancavelica, Peru, from a family consisting of five boys and two girls. Fernando seemed somewhat shocked upon being informed of the feat’s unique character after being greeted along the rail following his victory by his wife, Rosa, and their two small children, Brian and Norma.
Juan, 29, is the oldest of the three, but he only started his career stateside last year and today’s victory was just his third in the United States. Walter, 24, was the fourth-leading jockey at Thistledown last year, with 75 victories, and led the standings at the Ohio track at its 2012 fall meeting, with 36 winners.
Fernando, 27, is the most accomplished. He finished second in the Tampa Bay Downs standings last season with 75 victories and has excelled on the Indiana circuit in recent years, winning the 2012 Hoosier Park title with 68 victories.
Fernando rode his 1,000th career winner earlier this meeting aboard Jungle Princess for trainer Jamie Ness. He also won the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes on My Sweet Dove and was named Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month before fracturing a bone in his arm in a spill in late December, but has since climbed to fourth in the standings with 31 victories.
Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., posted two victories on today’s card. Allen won the sixth race on the turf with 3-year-old filly Suits My Fancy for owner Burkholder Stables and trainer Maria Bowersock when first-place finisher Step Aside Boys was disqualified for interference in the stretch. Allen added the seventh race on 6-year-old gelding Dreamboat Charlie for owner Margaret Cowan and trainer Gerald Bennett.
Today’s 11-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. The feature is the eighth race, the $100,000 Super Stakes at seven furlongs for older colts and geldings.
Van Berg to make appearance. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, whose best-known horse, Alysheba, won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic and was the 1988 Horse of the Year, will appear at Tampa Bay Downs March 2 and 3.
Van Berg – the son of a Hall of Fame trainer, Marion Van Berg – will be at the track Sunday, March 2 to sign copies of his book JACK, From Grit To Glory: A Lifetime of Mentoring, Dedication and Perseverance, written by Chris Kotulak.
On Monday, March 3, Jack Van Berg will be the guest auctioneer at the 22nd annual Hearts Reaching Out dinner and auction to benefit the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division. The dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. under the tent just north of the grandstand, followed by live and silent auctions of various sports and racing memorabilia, paintings, prints and a beach-resort vacation.
The Hearts Reaching Out festivities begin with the annual scramble golf tournament at 11 a.m. at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. The cost for the tournament, dinner and auctions is $100, while the cost of the dinner and auctions only is $20. For details, call Kathy at (813) 854-1313 or Sharyn at (813) 494-1870.
Jack Van Berg was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985, 15 years after his father and two years before Alysheba claimed the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The younger Van Berg won an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer in 1984.
Alysheba retired after his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory at Churchill Downs as Thoroughbred racing’s all-time money earner with winnings of $6,679,242 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
The 77-year-old Van Berg, who began training in 1957 and has sent out two starters this year, has saddled 6,417 winners, the fifth-best total all-time.
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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