Appearances by Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer William “Buff” Bradley and Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Van Berg and Saturday’s 10th renewal of the $100,000 Turf Dash Stakes highlight an action-packed weekend slate at Tampa Bay Downs.
Meanwhile, in today’s action, 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt Tulira Castle returned to top form with a commanding four-and-a-half length victory in the $34,000 Challenger Prep, stamping him as a major contender for the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on March 22.
Bradley, who trained since-retired homebred Groupie Doll to back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint victories that resulted in consecutive Eclipse Awards as Champion Female Sprinter, will appear at 10 a.m. Saturday as the special guest at track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” show on the first floor of the grandstand.
Free coffee and donuts will be served and everyone attending will receive a pass for free grandstand admission. Early arrivals have the opportunity to observe morning workouts.
Former Groupie Doll owners Bradley, his father Fred Bradley, Carl Hurst and Brent Burns sold her to Mandy Pope for $3.1 million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale after her Breeders’ Cup triumph. The now-6-year-old mare raced two additional times under Bradley’s care, finishing fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile on Nov. 30 at Aqueduct and winning the Grade III Hurricane Bertie on Feb. 9 at Gulfstream.
Groupie Doll is scheduled to be bred today in Kentucky to Tapit, who stands at Kentucky’s Gainesway Farm for a stud fee of $150,000.
Van Berg, who is best known for training 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba, will be at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday to sign copies of JACK: From Grit to Glory, A Lifetime of Mentoring, Dedication and Perseveranc e, by Chris Kotulak.
The 77-year-old Van Berg, who was inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in 1985, has saddled 6,417 winners and still trains a small string at Oaklawn Park. He will be located on the first floor of the grandstand during Sunday’s card.
Van Berg also will be the guest auctioneer Monday night during the “Hearts Reaching Out” charity auction of sports memorabilia and other items. The event benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division. Tickets for the 5:30 p.m. dinner and auction, which will be held under the big tent in the track’s Backyard Picnic Area, are $20; call Kathy at (813) 854-1313 or Sharyn at (813) 494-1870 for details.
Turf Dash possibilities abound. Saturday’s 11-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. The Turf Dash is the eighth race on the program, and most of the 11 entrants appear evenly-matched, adding to the wagering appeal.
Trainer Lorne Richards had to be encouraged by the effort of his 6-year-old gelding, Stormy Rush, in a second-place performance Jan. 2 at Gulfstream in a high-level allowance/optional claiming event at the Turf Dash five-furlong distance. The race was his second after a 13-month layoff, and he could be approaching the form he displayed as a younger horse when competing in graded stakes company. Gary Boulanger is the rider.
Ancil, a 5-year-old gelding from the barn of Joan Scott and to be ridden by Daniel Centeno, will be difficult to beat if he matches the burst he showed in winning a five-and-a-half furlong handicap turf at Ellis Park in August, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. But Ancil has not raced since Oct. 5 and although he has been working well, the depth of the field should make him an attractive betting choice.
Challenger Prep. In today’s third race, jockey Angel Serpa kept Tulira Castle off a lively pace set by Mellow Fellow before moving him into contention around the 3/8-mile pole. Tulira Castle took the lead at the quarter-mile pole and turned back a mild challenge from Nicklaus Way in the stretch, drawing off to a four-and-a-half length victory. Dan the Tin Man finished third in the six-horse field.
Tulira Castle completed the mile-and-40-yards in a solid time of 1:40.54. He paid $13.20 as the fourth wagering choice. Bred and owned by Curtis C. Green and trained by James DiVito, Tulira Castle is a son of War Pass-Tulira, by General Assembly. Tulira Castle was wearing blinkers for the first time.
“The way he ran, it looks like we’ll try to put him in the (March 22 Challenger),” DiVito said from Gulfstream, where he watched the race. “He seems to like Tampa Bay Downs. He did draw away at the end, and I was happy with that.”
DiVito thought Tulira Castle might be a Triple Crown candidate last year after he won a strong 1-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream as a 2-year-old in December of 2012. After failing to contend in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes and finishing fourth in the Grade III Swale last winter, Tulira Castle was sent to the sidelines to have a bone chip removed from an ankle. He was out of action more than nine months.
The Challenger Prep was his third race since his return. Serpa had ridden him in his recent workouts and expected the kind of professional, quality performance Tulira Castle gave him.
“I knew he was doing great, and I told (DiVito) and (assistant trainer James Twardy) I loved him because of how he was doing in the mornings,” Serpa said. “This was a tough field, and I wanted to stay fairly close to the lead. He responded well when I asked him to move, and when I hit him with the left hand (inside the eighth pole) he started running like he just broke from the gate.”
Also today, Jordano Tunon rode two winners. He took the second race on 4-year-old colt Cherokee Colours for trainer M.A. Ferraro and the 10th on the turf on 3-year-old gelding One Hot Pairadice for trainer Rory Barron. One Hot Pairadice paid $51.20 to win.
There will be a Pick-5 carryover Saturday of $17,550.57 and a Super High-5 carryover of $6,082.83.
Beginning next week, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct Thoroughbred racing four days a week – on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Next Saturday, March 8, is Festival Day, highlighted by the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf; and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 20 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.