OLDSMAR, FL. – Trying to predict how 2-year-old Thoroughbreds will perform from race to race is an undertaking that can age trainers prematurely.
But that isn’t stopping Michael Campbell, a self-avowed optimist, from singing the praises of his Kentucky-bred colt Patriot Spirit leading to Saturday’s $100,000, 6-furlong Inaugural Stakes for juvenile males at Tampa Bay Downs.
“The owner (George Mellon, who races under the stable name Mellon Patch, Inc.) and I have won a lot of stakes together. We won the Grade III Dogwood Stakes (on Sept. 23) at Churchill Downs with Lady Radler,” Campbell said. “And in my opinion, Patriot Spirit is the best horse we’ve ever had.”
In fact, Campbell liked Patriot Spirit the first time he laid eyes on him, convincing Mellon to spend $235,000 to purchase him earlier this year at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March Sale.
The son of Constitution, a leading sire of 2-year-olds, and Grade I and Grade II winner Mistical Plan has been established as the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the 38th running of the Inaugural, which is the eighth race on a nine-race card scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m.
Eight horses are entered in the Inaugural, and each is seeking his first stakes triumph. Gotts Got It, Crazy Mason and Sound of the Beast are stakes-placed, but it’s a virtual certainty Patriot Spirit will attract most of the wagering interest under leading Oldsmar jockey Samy Camacho.
Also scheduled on Saturday is the 46th edition of the $100,000, 6-furlong Sandpiper Stakes, which has a morning-line standout of its own in two-time stakes winner Chi Chi, who will open at 8-5 against seven rivals. Owned by Ernest C. Frohboese and trained by Herman Wilensky, Chi Chi will be ridden by Edwin Gonzalez.
Her main competition may come from Toupie, a Kentucky-bred trained by H. Graham Motion who won the 6-furlong Stewart Manor Stakes on Nov. 4 on the outer turf course at Aqueduct in her most recent start. Jorge Ruiz will be back in the saddle on Toupie.
The Sandpiper is the sixth race on a solid program that includes three turf races.
If Patriot Spirit lives up to the hype, Tampa Bay Downs fans could be talking about him for a while. Campbell likes the idea of following the Inaugural with the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes on Jan. 13 and the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, on Feb. 10. “The program here offers you a chance to train on a nice track surface in a progressive way that can get you back to Kentucky with enough points to maybe think of the big game,” Campbell said.
But, first things first. After breaking his maiden in his career debut by 6 lengths going 7 furlongs on Aug. 25 at Colonial Downs in Virginia – “We turned down all kinds of offers for him after that,” Campbell said – Patriot Spirit faded to sixth in the Grade III, 1-mile Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 16 at Churchill Downs after setting the early pace and was fourth in the 6-furlong Bowman Mill Stakes on Oct. 28 at Keeneland when he broke in the air and was unable to launch a sufficient late kick.
“Young horses are like young people – they all make mistakes,” Campbell said. “We’ve made mistakes with him. So we’re here doing this as part of the process to get to bigger and better things down the road going two turns.”
Patriot Spirit and Camacho will break from the outside No. 8 post. Campbell is taking blinkers off for this start after watching him work out 5 furlongs unblinkered here on Nov. 16 in an eye-popping time of 57 4/5 seconds under exercise rider Jesse Garcia. “He’s had a series of workouts without blinkers, and he seems to be more settled and more focused without them,” Campbell said. “I’ve never asked him to run in his workouts, and I believe he’ll want to go farther as time goes on.”
In the Sandpiper, Chi Chi will bid for her third consecutive stakes victory on the dirt after starting her career with a fifth and a fourth sprinting 5 furlongs on the turf at Del Mar. She won the E. L. Gaylord Memorial Stakes on Sept. 24 at Remington Park in Oklahoma and the Juvenile Fillies Sprint Stakes on Nov. 11 at Gulfstream, both sprinting 6 ½ furlongs under Gonzalez.
“She’s a strong filly who is not easy to handle, but Edwin has also breezed her for us and they get along great,” trainer Wilensky said. “She ran well on the turf, but 5 furlongs was a little short for her and we knew she’d run on the dirt. It was just a matter of timing and giving her some racing experience.
“She got here (Tampa Bay Downs) on Wednesday morning and she shipped great and is eating great. It looks like there is some speed in the race, and I think she should be able to sit right off it and hopefully pick them up in the stretch.”
Chi Chi will break from the No. 3 post.
Camacho is Boot Barn Jockey of the Month. Talent, experience and a strong work ethic are major factors in Samy Camacho’s success. But a passion for his profession is probably the No. 1 reason the 35-year-old Venezuelan has won three consecutive Oldsmar riding titles and four of the last five.
“Anything you do in life, you have to do it with love,” Camacho said after his third victory on today’s card in the seventh race on the turf, a 2-length score aboard 4-year-old gelding Happy Runner for owner Breeze Easy, LLC and trainer Joseph Orseno. “Don’t do something just because you have to. I love what I do, and I’m thankful to God for blessing me.”
Camacho is off to a strong start in his quest for another title with seven winners, two more than Marcos Meneses and three ahead of Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Mychel Sanchez. As mentioned above, Camacho has been named to ride morning-line favorite Patriot Spirit in Saturday’s Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds.
“That’s a great opportunity for me,” Camacho said. “I’ve never been on that horse, but (trainer) Michael Campbell, (jockey agent) Mike Moran and (exercise rider) Jesse Garcia think he can be really good. I’m excited to ride him.”
Camacho has had a strong 2023 campaign that could have been better had he not suffered a separated AC joint in his right shoulder in a spill on July 2 at Monmouth Park, an injury that caused him to miss almost six weeks. He still managed to finish second in the Monmouth standings with 45 winners, second only to Paco Lopez.
Before he got hurt, Camacho collected his third career graded-stakes victory, aboard 4-year-old filly Consumer Spending in the Grade III Eatontown Stakes on the turf at Monmouth for owner Klaravich Stables and trainer Chad Brown.
Camacho says Moran, a past leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs, is instrumental in all the winning.
“He’s a nice person, we have good communication and he’s there for me 24-7,” Camacho said. “The way you improve in this sport is to learn something new every day and not make the same mistakes. I love the competition, I’m working hard and I’m focused, and every day I try to get better.”
Camacho won today’s third and fourth races back-to-back. He captured the third on 2-year-old gelding The Honeyman for owner ProRacing Stable and trainer Jose Francisco D’Angelo, then won aboard 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Uncaptured Warrior for owner William D. McCarty and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
Uncaptured Warrior was claimed from that race for $16,000 by new owner-trainer Tim Padilla.
“10 Days of Festivus Challenge” contest begins Saturday. The 10 “Days of Festivus Challenge Online Handicapping Contest begins Saturday. There is no cost to enter. Handicappers and fans of all experience levels are encouraged to pit their skills at picking winners against each other, with the contest running through Tampa Bay Downs’s Dec. 23 card. The first-place prize is $1,000 and the runner-up prize is $500. The deadline to register is 10:30 a.m.
For a full set of rules and to register, visit www.festivuschallenge.com on the Internet.