As he has so many times during the course of his 32-year career, jockey Harry Vega brought his lunch bucket with him to Tampa Bay Downs on Friday.
Vega’s mounts in the first three races were eligible to be claimed for $5,000, $8,000 and $10,000, respectively, and he was a combined 1-for-6 on the trio earlier in the meeting. But Vega didn’t climb to the top rung of his profession without a full measure of persistence and an ability to produce a horse’s best effort.
Vega began the day with a natural hat trick, winning the first race on 7-year-old mare Bond Baroness ($4.40), the second on 5-year-old mare Pica Pica ($16.60) and the third on 7-year-old gelding Ritmo Criollo ($15.40) to raise his career victory total to 4,101.
In the fifth race, his only other ride on the card, Vega finished a fast-closing third on Seeking a Babe.
The 48-year-old reinsman is fifth in the track standings with 34 victories.
“Age doesn’t matter,” Vega said. “In this game, when you get the right horse and the right people behind you, you can’t go wrong.”
Vega knows how special it can be for the connections of inexpensive, and usually inconsistent, claiming horses to win a race. Bond Baroness had one victory in her past 12 starts dating back to June; Pica Pica was 1-for-4 lifetime, in an $8,000 maiden claiming race last spring; and Ritmo Criollo was 1-for-8 since June.
“It’s very gratifying to see something come together for all of us like that, because we dedicate our hearts and time into trying to figure out a way to win,” Vega said.
In the second race on Pica Pica, Vega made an instantaneous decision to split horses in deep stretch and prevailed by a nose from pace-setter Tommy’s Girl. In the third race, he got every ounce of courage from Ritmo Criollo to post a head victory from Musical Flair and 27-year-old jockey Antonio Gallardo after an intense stretch duel.
“I thought he was going to come on again and beat me, because he’s done it before this meet,” Vega said of Gallardo. “He is a nice, competitive young jockey. My horse helped a little more and I got lucky today.
“We all try to provide the best we can, and the day I can’t do it, I’ll be ready to go home,” Vega added. Don’t look for him sitting in front of the hearth any time soon.
For $8,000, Kitty City too good to pass up. If Friday’s seventh race was the last time 9-year-old mare Kitty City races under the Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., silks, it will be an effort long remembered by Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness.
The gallant Illinois-bred improved to 9-for-9 over the main Tampa Bay Downs dirt surface with a come-from-behind 1-length victory from Freebie’s Sister, achieving the victory in a swift 1:10.50 under jockey Antonio Gallardo. The time was more than a second faster than her winning clocking on Feb. 27.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for Kitty City at the current meeting and her ninth in her previous 11 starts. Now 16-for-48 lifetime, with nine seconds, the daughter of Salt Lake-Holy Kitten, by Forest Wildcat, has earned $200,657.
Kitty City changed hands after the race when she was claimed for $8,000 by trainer William Sienkewicz for new owner Harry Hoglander. Can she maintain her exceptional form in a new barn? A lot of her fans – including Ness – will be watching closely.
Kitty City was one of two winners on the day for Gallardo, who also won the 10th race on 4-year-old filly Fascinante for owner St. George Stable, LLC and trainer Efren Loza, Jr. The two-bagger enabled Gallardo to tie Ronnie Allen, Jr., atop the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with 85 victories apiece.
Ness was 2-for-2 on the day, also winning the sixth race with Midwest Thoroughbreds’ 5-year-old gelding Hitec Dave. Daniel Centeno was the rider.
Saturday’s festivities. Saturday’s 11-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. The co-features are the ninth and 10th races, a pair of allowance/optional claiming events; the ninth for older fillies and mares and the 10th for horses 4-years-old-and-upward (all, in this case, geldings).
Tampa Bay Downs is the site Saturday for the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans benefit under the big tent just north of the paddock. Legendary jockeys Pat Day, Ramon Dominguez, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum headline the lineup for the event, which will be held from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Proceeds from the luncheon and auction will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial assistance to 59 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
Tickets are $35 and will be available at the gate. 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. He is an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have an opportunity to get 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.
Huge day for simulcasting. In addition to its regular inter-track wagering menu – which includes the full Aqueduct card – Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast four races Saturday from the Dubai World Cup card at Meydan in the United Arab Emirates, beginning with the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News at 11:41.
The other three races being offered, all Group I races, include the Dubai Duty Free; the Dubai Sheema Classic Presented by Longines; and the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines.
The morning-line favorite at 9-2 in the mile-and-a-quarter Dubai World Cup, which has attracted 16 entrants, is 2013 Investec Epsom Derby winner Ruler of The World. The second choice at 5-1 is Florida-bred multiple-Grade I stakes winner Ron the Greek, a 7-year-old now owned by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Sons.
Tampa Bay Downs also will simulcast two major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races Saturday: the Grade I Besilu Stables Florida Derby from Gulfstream Park and the Grade II Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds.
Two Grade II Tampa Bay Derby runners are entered in the Florida Derby: the Mark Casse-trained Matador, who was fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby, and the William Kaplan-trained East Hall, who finished eighth.
Centeno heads north to ride Risky Rachel. Daniel Centeno, currently third in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with 57 victories, will be at Aqueduct in New York on Saturday to ride 7-year-old mare Risky Rachel in the $100,000, six-furlong Broadway Stakes for fillies and mares. Risky Rachel is the second morning-line choice behind 4-year-old La Verdad.
Centeno rode Risky Rachel to a pair of stakes victories at Tampa Bay Downs for owner breeder-owner Sanford Bacon and trainer Juan Coronel: the Minaret Stakes and the Manatee Stakes.
On Sunday, Tampa Bay Downs will have a special 12:50 p.m. first-race post time. The gates will open as usual at 11 a.m. Sunday is also Kids & Family Day, with music, games, pony rides and a visit from track mascot Mouse the Miniature Horse in the Backyard Picnic Area.
The Silks Poker Room will be presenting a 2014 Toyota Corolla S Plus CVT to a lucky patron at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. Poker players can win a ticket for the drawing through Saturday with a full house or better. Beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, there will also be drawings for $250 cash prizes and high-hand giveaways of $250 every half-hour.
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.