Jockey Julien Leparoux and trainer Mark Casse team up with Sky Flight in Saturday's Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on turf; Tricky Hat goes for trainer Shug McGaughey.
Outstanding turf horses of both sexes and top sprinters are set to compete at Tampa Bay Downs on the track’s first major stakes Saturday of 2015.
Top jockey Julien Leparoux, a two-time Eclipse Award winner who won three Breeders’ Cup races in 2009, is slated to make the trip from his south Florida base to ride in two of the three stakes. Leparoux has ridden more than 2,000 winners since coming to the United States in 2005.
The 29th edition of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward to be run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course, is the first graded stakes of the track’s 89th anniversary season.
Among the 14 entrants are 5-year-old War Correspondent, a runner-up in a Grade II stakes at Woodbine in Toronto in November; Sky Flight, a lightly-raced 4-year-old who won the Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream last month; and 8-year-old Guys Reward, who won the 2014 Tampa Bay Stakes.
The field is limited to 12 starters, which means War Correspondent – who drew the No. 14 post position and is on the “also-eligible” list – will run only in the event of two or more scratches. The main body of 12 horses is determined by total purse earnings in 2014-2015.
In the Tampa Bay Stakes, Leparoux has been named to ride Sky Flight, a Kentucky-bred whose three career victories were on different turf courses. The son of Sky Mesa-Cordoba, by Unbridled, is owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, who combined to win the 2012 Grade II Tampa Bay Derby with Prospective.
Casse sent out the good-looking 3-year-old filly Watch This Cat to win today’s third race on the turf, a maiden special weight, mile-and-a-sixteenth event, for owner Bridlewood Farm. Gary Boulanger was the jockey.
No bettor hit the Pick-5 today, so there is a carryover pool of $11,697.13 into Saturday. There is also a Super High-5 carryover of $3,697.24.
The Tampa Bay Stakes is the eighth race on an 11-race card that begins at 12:25 p.m. It will be followed directly by the 31st edition of the $100,000 Pelican Stakes for horses 4-and-up at six furlongs on the main dirt track and the 11th running of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-up at five furlongs on the turf.
Leparoux is scheduled to ride Googleado in the Pelican.
Saturday’s stakes offerings serve as a prelude to one of the biggest days on the Tampa Bay Downs calendar – the Jan. 31 Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, which will be highlighted by the 35th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The Sam F. Davis has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in 10 of the last 11 years. The Jan. 31 program will include two other stakes, including the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf, and total purse money in excess of $600,000.
Jan. 31 also marks the start of the track’s second annual “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, a free online competition which gives serious handicappers and casual fans alike a chance to compete for a grand prize of $1,000 and a seat at the 2016 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Championship, plus additional cash awards.
Last year’s “Live It Up Challenge” winner, Glenn Wilson of nearby Westchase, is currently at Treasure Island in Las Vegas for the 2015 DRF/NTRA Handicapping Championship. Wilson is competing against more than 500 handicappers, including 10 former champions, for a first-place prize of more than $800,000 and an Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year.
This year’s “Live It Up Challenge” runs from Jan. 31 through Saturday, April 4, which is Florida Cup Day.
Players can register online and get the complete set of rules at www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet. All wagers are mythical. Players must make a selection every day; those skipping a day incur a strike, with three strikes ending their participation. Players also incur a strike when their selection in one of that day’s “Challenge Races” does not finish first, second or third.
All players begin the competition with two life lines. A new feature will give players the opportunity to purchase two additional life lines before the contest and extra life lines at two specified times during the competition. The deadline to register is 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, the first day of the contest.
Back to the Tampa Bay Stakes, which shapes up as one of the most wide-open, attractive wagering contests of the meeting.
Sure to attract attention is Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III’s 6-year-old Chilean-bred gelding Tricky Hat, who will be ridden by past Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Leandro Goncalves. A multiple-stakes winner, Tricky Hat is owned by Andrew Rosen, Robert Trussell and Gainesway Stable.
Another likely contender is 6-year-old gelding Margano, from the barn of trainer Arnaud Delacour. To be ridden by Daniel Centeno, Margano is a homebred racing for the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson who has won two stakes and was third to Dynamic Sky and Big Blue Kitten in the Grade III Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in November.
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.