OLDSMAR, FL. – Trainers Jane Cibelli and Chad Stewart insist they’re only as good as the people and the horses around them.
Judging from the first five days of the 2012-13 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, though, it’s obvious both possess the traits needed for long-term success in a demanding occupation.
While Cibelli earned the inaugural Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month Award at Tampa Bay Downs with a 3-for-3 start, Stewart moved to the top of the standings Wednesday, winning with both of his starters to give him five victories for the meet.
A native of Leicester, England, Cibelli has already joined the ranks of top East Coast conditioners by winning back-to-back Monmouth Park training titles. She won 30 races at the New Jersey oval this year after finishing fourth in the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Downs standings.
“It was actually more meaningful at Monmouth this year because I had better horses,” Cibelli said. “They don’t run as often, and the competition is tougher. I’m real thrilled with the job everyone did, especially my assistants, Nicole Roman and Robbie Holman. You can’t succeed without good people around you.”
Cibelli, who keeps about 30 horses at Tampa Bay Downs and 16 at Gulfstream, has won with more than 24 percent of her starters in 2012, with purse earnings exceeding $1.9 million. She has won 496 career races.
Her stable is spearheaded by 2-year-old gelding Purple Egg, who drew off to win the $75,000 Inaugural Stakes on Opening Day in stakes-record time of 1:09.93 for six furlongs. Cibelli is pointing Purple Egg to the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, followed by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 2.
Getting Purple Egg to the races was a challenge for Cibelli, who created the Goodwood Racing II syndicate that purchased him as a Keeneland yearling for $22,000. She typically retains a 10-percent share, with a goal of getting more people involved in the ownership side of the sport.
Purple Egg was scratched from his first two scheduled starts at Monmouth after unseating his rider both times in the post parade, leading to the decision to geld him. He is now 3-for-3, and if all goes well Cibelli may soon have her first horse on the Triple Crown trail.
“Purple Egg certainly has the potential to be the best horse I’ve ever trained,” Cibelli said. “I think he will run two turns, and that’s when it gets exciting because it means he can be pretty special.”
Stewart doesn’t have a Purple Egg, but the Ocala resident – who grew up on a farm in Wisner, Neb. – has a knack for leading horses to the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle. He tied for 12th in the Tampa Bay Downs standings last season, saddling 14 winners from 64 starters.
Both of his winners Wednesday are owned by Minneapolis resident Gene Phelps’ World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc., and were ridden by Ademar Santos.
In the first race, Stewart’s first-time starter Mr. Watanabe Too defeated a field of 2-year-old maiden claimers in his first start, winning by a length-and-a-half at odds of 11-2.
Four races later, Stewart saddled 3-year-old filly Patsy Jo for a maiden claiming victory at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf under Santos. Patsy Jo, who was making her second start and first on the grass, paid $33.80 and keyed a $3,397.20 trifecta.
Stewart, whose runners ship in from Ocala, owns and operates Grace Full Oaks Farm with his wife Dr. Laurie Stewart, a veterinarian, and help from their three young sons.
“We have a turf course on the farm, and Patsy Jo trains real well on it,” Stewart said. “Plus her half-brother Rafe won a couple of races here on the turf, so I was hoping for good things today. So her winning was a bit of a surprise, but not really.”
Now 5-for-11 at the meet with a second and two thirds, Stewart is optimistic more success is within reach. “Having good horses, that is the bottom line,” he said. “We’ve got better stock this season and Mr. Phelps is good about placing them where they can win.”
Jockeys Willie Martinez and Ronnie Allen, Jr. joined Santos on Wednesday as two-race winners. Martinez won the fourth race on 3-year-old filly Queen of Mambo for owner Newtown Anner Stud and trainer John P. Terranova II and the sixth on 5-year-old mare Holy Bling for owner Move Horse, Inc. and trainer Mark Passley.
Allen swept the late daily double. In the ninth, he rode victorious 6-year-old gelding Jr’s Exchange, the track-record holder at five furlongs on both dirt and turf, to a turf sprint triumph for owners Winning Stables, Inc., Ray Rech and Patrick Scanlon and trainer Gerald Bennett.
Allen came back in the 10th aboard 4-year-old filly Going North for owner-trainer Maria Bowersock.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a first-race post time of 12:38 p.m. The track is open every day except Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.