When the field reached the quarter-mile pole in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes with jockey Angel Serpa on Tulira Castle performing his best imitation of a statue, a year of uncertainty faded into oblivion.
The 4-year-old colt – who was on the 2013 Triple Crown trail before being sidelined with a bone chip – sped away from his rivals through the stretch of the mile-and-a-sixteenth race, powering to a two-and-three-quarter length victory from 2013 Challenger runner-up Nicklaus Way in 1:43.68, .85 seconds off the stakes and track record.
Managed Account finished third, followed by 11-10 favorite Ruler of Love and pace-setter Twin Engine. The field was trimmed to five horses by the late scratches of I’m Steppin’ It Up and Lack of Judgment.
Tulira Castle, who won the Challenger Prep by four-and-a-half lengths from Nicklaus Way on Feb. 28, improved to 4-for-10 lifetime with his first stakes victory while whetting the appetites of breeder-owner Curtis C. Green and trainer James DiVito for the colt’s future engagements. The winner’s share of $36,000 boosted Tulira Castle’s lifetime earnings to $132,760.
“I was really confident that this colt would run well,” said Serpa, who received the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month Award earlier on the card. “He won nicely last time, and I have been working him so I knew he was ready to go forward again.
“We broke on top and then I was able to get him to relax and let the leaders go. I moved him off the rail in the backstretch to stay out of trouble and just waited with him. I didn’t ask him for run until nearing the stretch, and he just took off for me,” Serpa added. “He is just a great horse to ride.”
It was the second start wearing blinkers for Tulira Castle, following his Challenger Prep score. Tulira Castle was out of action last year for more than nine months after failing to contend in the Grade III Holy Bull and finishing fourth in the Grade III Swale at Gulfstream, followed by surgery to remove the bone chip.
DiVito’s assistant, James Twardy, who has overseen the colt’s preparation at Tampa Bay Downs, said the Kentucky-bred son of War Pass-Tulira, by General Assembly, has been a picture of contentment since arriving in Oldsmar soon after a pair of off-the-board finishes at Gulfstream in December.
“We kept him fresh and didn’t pound too hard on him” (after the Challenger Prep), Twardy said. “His last race did him a lot of good, and he moved up off that today. We keep him happy and loose, let him eat you up a little. He’s got a will of his own and can be tough to handle, but all in all, he’s a good horse to train.”
Ian Wilkes, who won the 2012 Challenger with eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Fort Larned, saddled Nicklaus Way and Twin Engine today. He and runner-up jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., offered no excuses.
“He (Tulira Castle) just outran us again,” Wilkes said. “He beat me handy last time and it was a little closer today, but not much. Full credit to the winner.”
“We were relaxed behind a good pace down the backstretch and put in a strong run in the turn, but the winner got away from us and it was over,” Allen said.
Tulira Castle paid $8.80 to win as the third wagering option.
In the seventh race, the $28,000 Lambholm South Race of the Week at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, 8-year-old gelding Allie’s Event used every ounce of his class, grit and desire to catch favorite Blameshifter in the final strides for a 1-length victory. Harry Vega was the winning jockey.
Allie’s Event ran the distance in 1:42.67. The son of Wild Event-Crewsin’ Allie, by Manlove, was bred in Florida by his owner and trainer, Lori Smock. He is now 9-for-33 lifetime with 11 seconds, and the $17,200 winner’s share raised his career earnings to $302,142.
Also today, jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners. He was aboard 7-year-old gelding King Rock in the first race for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness; King Rock was claimed from the race by trainer Steven Cathcart for new owner John K. Caulfield. Gallardo added the 10th race on the turf on 6-year-old mare Sing Me a Lullaby for owner Robert A. Meier and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Sunday is also Family Fiesta Day sponsored by Univision Tampa Bay, with food, music, games and other activities for children and their families in the Backyard Picnic Area.
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.
Jockeys and Jeans. The inaugural Jockeys and Jeans event to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund is next Saturday, March 29 during the races under the big tent just north of the paddock.
The PDJF is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial assistance to 59 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. The fundraiser is open to the public. Tickets are $35.
Among the jockeys scheduled to attend are Hall of Fame members Pat Day, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum; Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello, a former leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs; recently retired jockey Ramon Dominguez; Patricia Cooksey, who rode more than 2,100 winners; Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby; and Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a race at a recognized track.
Also expected are four-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey William Henry; William Klinke, a former Tampa Bay Downs jockey known as “The Colonel;” Michael Straight, who rode his first winner in 2009 at Tampa Bay Downs only a few months before becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a spill at Arlington; former Tampa Bay Downs jockey Darrell Brown; and Julia Brimo, who has made a remarkable recovery from a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury suffered in a spill at Keeneland.
Dominguez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct in January of 2013 that forced his retirement, will be the event’s featured speaker. The 37-year-old Dominguez is an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders.
Dominguez retired with 4,985 victories, winning Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His situation has raised awareness within the Thoroughbred industry of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries on jockeys.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have an opportunity to have their picture taken with the jockeys, enjoy a barbecue luncheon and beverages and bid on unique racing memorabilia. Attendees will receive an autographed commemorative poster. The gates will open at 11 a.m. There will be a general autograph session at 3 p.m. on the first floor of the grandstand.
Tampa Bay Downs jockeys will donate a mount fee on the day of the event. For details, visit www.pdjf.org
online or call retired jockey and author Dr. Eddie Donnally at (818) 653-3711.