Michael Stidham splits his stable between Tampa Bay Downs and Fair Grounds, and with sterling help from his crew, it is working; apprentice jockey Stephanie E. Sheroski earns first Oldsmar victory.
With more than 100 victories in each of the last two years and a coveted 2015-2016 title at Fair Grounds to his credit, trainer Michael Stidham’s Thoroughbred operation has flirted with peak efficiency.
But with an 80-horse stable that includes an abundance of turf horses, Stidham decided earlier this year some tinkering was in order.
Hoping to satisfy more of his owners on an even more frequent basis, Stidham – who remains among the top conditioners in New Orleans – decided to send about 30 Thoroughbreds to Tampa Bay Downs for the 2017-2018 meeting.
The results have exceeded the veteran trainer’s expectations, with a co-meet-high six victories from 16 starts through today and selection as the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month.
“We were hoping our horses would fit the program there, and so far everything is really going well,” said Stidham, who keeps about 50 horses at Fair Grounds. “You’re always hoping to be successful when you go to a new track, but you don’t really know until you get started.”
In recent seasons, Stidham sometimes faced a delicate balancing act in placing his horses, preferring to not put his owners in a position of competing against each other in the same races. He decided to shift some horses this year from the Evangeline Training Center in Louisiana to Oldsmar to take advantage of the Tampa Bay Downs turf program, and the payoff has been immediate.
“Even though it’s a pretty long ship, we’ve been moving horses around between here (Louisiana) and Tampa to try to get them the right races. So far, it’s worked out fabulous,” Stidham said.
Stidham, who won this summer’s short meeting at Suffolk in Massachusetts with eight victories, had two Breeders’ Cup starters at Del Mar last month. His Grade I winner Zipessa (since retired) competed in the Filly & Mare Turf, and his 2-year-old filly Moon Dash ran in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
With horses for such top outfits as Godolphin Racing, Richard L. Duchossois, Payson Stud, Cobra Farm, Stone Farm and Stallionaire Enterprises, Stidham is quick to credit his crew members who assist him in providing the care and tutelage each horse needs to realize its potential.
Stidham mentioned main assistant Hilary Pridham, Tampa Bay Downs assistant Ben Trask and Fair Grounds assistant Anna Kinney for their contributions. “When you have this number of horses, things constantly have to be checked and re-checked,” said Stidham, known for training other top horses such as 2015 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner Her Emmynency and multiple graded-stakes winners Istanford, Willcox Inn and Two Altazano.
“My people work hard at getting everything right, and we’re constantly communicating about the horses and what’s coming up. We have our own routine of what we do and how we do it, and I trust in them to carry on as if I was there. It has been a great team effort,” Stidham said.
Although some horses struggle to make the leap in conditions after a victory, Stidham is optimistic he can continue to win races at Tampa Bay Downs on a consistent basis.
“We have some well-bred young horses that we’ve taken our time in developing, and that is starting to pay off as they continue to mature,” Stidham said. “I think a number have the ability to climb the (class) ladder.”
The conditioner values the efforts of his “first-call” jockey at Tampa Bay Downs, Brian Pedroza, who rode all six early winners for the outfit, including victories by a nose, a neck and a half-length (twice). Pedroza rode for Stidham last summer at Delaware Park, with excellent success, and that is carrying over to the early going at Oldsmar.
“We’ve been lucky enough to win some close photos, and Brian is another big piece of the puzzle,” Stidham said. “He is making the right moves at the right time, and we’re grateful to have him.”
Around the oval. No bettor correctly selected all winners of the last five races today, so Friday’s card will begin with a Pick-5 carryover pool of $34,138.06.
Apprentice jockey Stephanie E. Sheroski achieved her first Tampa Bay Downs victory in the seventh race today, urging 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding K C Twostep to a neck victory from Stingslikeabee in the 7-furlong maiden special weight contest.
It was the fifth career victory for Sheroski, a milestone which automatically reduces her apprentice weight allowance from 10 to 7 pounds.
“I’m blessed,” said Sheroski, a Detroit native who has a 4-year-old daughter. “It’s my brother’s son’s birthday today, it’s almost Christmas and it’s an amazing feeling. Words can’t even describe it. This is a tough meet.”
Sheroski had worked out K C Twostep and was not surprised when the front-runner repelled a series of challenges during the race. “I just kept asking him for more, and he kept giving it to me,” she said.
K C Twostep is owned by his co-breeder, Tammy Schlager, and trained by Laura Cazares.
Four-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., swept both halves of the early daily double today. Allen won the first race on Revolt, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Keith and Justin Johns and trained by Justin Johns. Allen added the second race aboard Ryoan, a 4-year-old filly owned by Robert Hardie and Timothy Younie and trained by Julie Belhumeur.
Pablo Morales captured both halves of the late daily double. Morales won the ninth race on Her Grace, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. He added the 10th on the turf aboard Funny Questions, a 5-year-old gelding owned by G.L.A. Stable and trained by Victor Carrasco, Jr.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The feature is the third race, a $27,500, mile-and-40-yard allowance/optional claiming event for 2-year-olds.
The morning-line favorite is Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Vino Rosso, trained by Todd Pletcher and to be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Vino Rosso broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 11 in his lone start.
Tampa Bay Downs currently conducts racing on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 31. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, The Downs Golf Practice Facility will close at 4:30 p.m., and The Silks Poker Room will be open from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.