Watch Me Go, the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby winner owned and bred by Gilbert G. Campbell and trained by Kathleen O’Connell, is set to make his 4-year-old debut Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs in the $75,000, seven-furlong Super Stakes.
Watch Me Go will be ridden by Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Leandro Goncalves.
“It is always a long process bringing a horse back because you’re trying to do the right thing by the horse,” said O’Connell. “Mr. Campbell is real good about letting horses take the time they need. It seems like he is in really good shape now – top shape – so we’re just trying to move forward.”
O’Connell said the colt will not wear blinkers in his return. “He’s a little older and more mature now, so I don’t think he needs them,” she said. “He never galloped with them in the morning, and even when he won the Tampa Bay Derby, he had what we call ‘cheaters.’ It’s a very small cup.”
Watch Me Go, who is 4-for-13 lifetime with earnings of $322,595, has not won since shocking the Thoroughbred world by winning the Grade II, $350,000 Oldsmar showcase March 12 at odds of 43-1 by a neck from Crimson Knight. He had finished third earlier in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes.
After a sixth-place finish in the Grade III Illinois Derby, Watch Me Go – a son of West Acre-Sabbath Song, by Deputy Minister – finished 18th of 19 in the Kentucky Derby. He was 12th in the Grade II Virginia Derby on the turf and fifth and last in the Select Stakes on Aug. 6 at Monmouth in his final start of his sophomore campaign when trained by Edward Allard, the Northern-based conditioner for Campbell’s Stonehedge Farm South operation.
“A lot of West Acre offspring perform well on turf and he is out of a Deputy Minister mare, but the trip to Colonial for the Virginia Derby just didn’t pan out,” O’Connell said. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t try it (turf) again, but that was a failed experiment.
“Monmouth Park wasn’t a very forgiving track, and he was having some problems with his feet after that race, so we gave him the time off,” she said. “It enabled him to grow stronger, longer feet and gave the blacksmith more to work with.
“Mr. Campbell gave him a lot of time because he appears to be a decent, useful horse. He exhibited a lot of heart and a lot of try when he won the Tampa Bay Derby, so all you can do is go from there,” O’Connell said. “Leandro has worked him pretty much since he’s been here and seems to fit him well.”
Watch Me Go is expected to face quality competition in the Super Stakes, including the first two finishers in the Jan. 7 Pelican Stakes, Action Andy and Good Lord. Another likely contender is Tommy’s Memory, who won the 2010 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint at Tampa Bay Downs and finished second in that race last year.
On Thursday’s card, jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr. won both turf races. She captured the fifth, a $25,000 claiming race, on the 5-year-old gelding Big Mingum for owner Michael L. Catalano, Jr. and trainer Anthony Pecoraro, then came back in the seventh on 4-year-old filly Coco Rose, who was breaking her maiden for owner Thomas M. Clark and trainer Eric Reed.
Angel Serpa also rode two winners on the day, capturing the fourth on 4-year-old gelding Cockeyed Rooster for owners Pegasus Holdings Group Stables, James Covello and James Dolan and trainer Justin Sallusto and the eighth on 5-year-old gelding Reign of Kings for owner-trainer Derek Ryan.
In the sixth race, the 7-year-old mare Kitty City improved to a perfect 4-for-4 at the current meeting for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. and trainer Jamie Ness, winning the open $16,000-$15,000 claiming event by a length-and-a-half from Striking Miss in 1:10.60 for the six furlongs.
Goncalves has ridden her in each of her victories at Tampa Bay Downs. The Illinois-bred daughter of Salt Lake-Holy Kitten, by Forest Wildcat is 11-for-41 lifetime with earnings in excess of $150,000.
Ness – who claimed third-place finisher Sing It Again from the barn of trainer Gerald Bennett – had originally claimed Kitty City for $5,000 in December of 2010 at Hawthorne.
Donnovan Haughton claimed her from Midwest and Ness for $5,000 last September at Laurel, but Ness claimed her back in her next start, also at Laurel, on Oct. 14. She is 4-for-5 since and has climbed the price ladder in each of her last three starts.
“She is in good form, she’s healthy and she loves it here. That’s why she is doing so well,” Ness said. “She is probably overachieving, actually. I think we are probably maxed out (in terms of another class upgrade).
“She got a great ride and the perfect trip – she gets it every time. And we caught another field she can beat. She likes this track and feels good, so we’ll keep going with her.”
Ness is the runaway leader in the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings with 39 victories from 82 starters. He has won five consecutive track crowns, sharing last year’s title with Bennett and tying O’Connell at the top in 2009-10.
Live racing resumes at Tampa Bay Downs on Friday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.