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In only his second season at Tampa Bay Downs, 28-year-old trainer Jason DaCosta has taken major strides toward becoming a household name.
But DaCosta doesn’t mind if you mention his father in the same sentence.
Wayne DaCosta recently nailed down his 11th training title at Caymanas Park in Jamaica, and with more than 1,600 victories, he is a member of the island nation’s Racing Hall of Fame. Jason worked for his father for almost five years at his Caymanas Park stable before coming to the United States.
“Basically, most of the stuff I know right now, I learned from him,” said Jason, who has been selected Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month after vaulting to the top of the track standings with eight victories from only 17 starters. “He is a great trainer and I want to continue following his guidelines.”
Jason credits his father with teaching him to be a hands-on conditioner and not to cut corners in his horses’ preparation and care. Following in his footsteps has enabled DaCosta to emerge as a force at Tampa Bay Downs. During the 2012-13 meeting, he won 20 races from a mere 58 starters. His fast 2013-14 start gives him an overall 37-percent win rate in Oldsmar, with a 64-percent in-the-money figure.
Much of DaCosta’s success here comes with claiming horses, and he displays a skill for placing his runners where they will be competitive. Case in point: now 3-year-old gelding Magic Luck, who broke his maiden at the $12,500 level on Dec. 27 after being claimed by DaCosta out of a $16,000 claiming race at Calder in Miami in early November.
“I look for horses with some upside to them, ones I think I can improve and win with right away,” he said. “I might see something in that horse the previous trainer didn’t see – maybe the horse has been sprinting and wants to go long, or the horse has been on the dirt and the breeding suggests it might want turf. And you want a horse that still has its conditions. There are a lot of different things to look at.”
DaCosta has also shown he knows what to do with a stakes runner. His 6-year-old gelding Silver Cloud won the Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at Calder in July and may surface next here in the $100,000 Turf Dash (in which he finished second last year) on March 1.
Interestingly, all of DaCosta’s victories through Dec. 27 came with leading jockey Fernando De La Cruz riding. De La Cruz is sidelined with a broken arm, but DaCosta is confident his horses will continue to perform. “I definitely am going to miss having Fernando for the time he is gone,” DaCosta said. “But my horses seem to like the environment here and they like training over the track. The surface is very consistent and (track maintenance personnel) take good care of it. It is not too deep and not too fast – it’s just right.”
DaCosta has been around racing long enough to know every trainer experiences dry spells. “We all go through slumps, but I enjoy coming here every morning to work with the horses. I love being around them,” he said.
Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode three winners to ring in 2014, moving him closer to the injured Fernando De La Cruz atop the track standings (23-18). Allen won the second race on lightly-raced 4-year-old gelding One Buck Roma for owner Winning Stables, Inc., and trainer Gerald Bennett, who bred the horse in Florida with his wife, Mary. In the fourth race (taken off the turf), Allen scored on 4-year-old filly Zooma for breeder-owner Carlos Diago and trainer Rory Barron.
Allen completed his hat trick in the seventh race on 4-year-old filly Ambitious Dancer for owner Richard Perkins and trainer David Hinsley.
Eight-year-old gelding Sneaking Uponyou, owned by Jagger, Inc., and trained by Mandy Ness, was impressive winning the eighth race by seven lengths in 1:10.61 for six furlongs under jockey Antonio Gallardo. Following the allowance/$32,000 optional claiming triumph, Sneaking Uponyou is 2-for-2 at the meeting and 9-for-43 in his career. He won the Pelican Stakes and Turf Dash Stakes in 2010 and the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes in 2011.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Saturday is Skyway Festival Day, featuring the 15th running of the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds and the 30th edition of the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both are seven furlongs.
Registration has begun for the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, an online competition beginning on Festival Preview Day, Saturday, Feb. 1. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined). Second place receives $1,000, third place receives $500 and a $500 prize will be awarded to the handicapper selecting the most overall winners.
There is no fee for entering the contest. Complete rules are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
The registration deadline is 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, which is the first day of the contest and also Festival Preview Day, highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and their bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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