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December 22, 2017


by Mike Henry
Todd Pletcher-trained 2-year-old colt wins for fun under jockey John Velazquez, could return here Feb. 10 for Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes; Jose Ferrer and Antonio Gallardo win three apiece; Suncoast Stakes winner Tapa Tapa Tapa set to return Saturday.

No matter their level of involvement, horsemen and Thoroughbred racing fans are always dreaming of the first Saturday in May, hoping to arrive at Churchill Downs with a Kentucky Derby contender they can embrace.

A Tampa Bay Downs crowd of 2,067, which could swell to 10 times that number by spring, might have seen such a horse today. And even though he is still 2 and has raced only twice, Kentucky-bred colt Vino Rosso showed enough to push aside, for a while, visions of sugarplums among the dreamers.

Vino Rosso toyed with five rivals in the mile-and-40-yard third race, an allowance/optional claiming contest, stalking a slow pace before pulling away through the stretch under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez for a two-and-a-half length victory from stablemate Bon Raison.


Chestnut coat glistening from his exertions on an 80-degree day, 2-year-old Vino Rosso escorts jockey John Velazquez to the winner's circle

Now 2-for-2, Vino Rosso is co-owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, who paid $410,000 for the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale. St. Elias Stable is a co-owner of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 25 under Velazquez at the same mile-and-40-yard distance.

Both Vino Rosso, who won his career debut Nov. 11 at Aqueduct going 7 furlongs, and Always Dreaming are trained by Todd Pletcher, who also used Tampa Bay Downs as a stepping stone for his 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, the third-place finisher in that year’s Tampa Bay Derby.

Can you say déjà vu? We thought you could.

“Tampa Bay Downs has been great to us over the years; it’s been a part of both of our Kentucky Derby winners, with Super Saver making his first start there as a 3-year-old and Always Dreaming breaking his maiden,” Pletcher said by telephone after Vino Rosso traveled the distance in 1:41.82 under a hand ride by Velazquez.

Pletcher said he plans to nominate Vino Rosso to the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10, a race the conditioner has won six times. But he put the brakes on stamping Vino Rosso as a surefire thing for the Churchill starting gate on May 5.

“He remained undefeated and he showed he can stretch out around two turns, so I feel this was another step in the right direction toward bigger things, hopefully, down the road,” Pletcher said. “It’s always fun this time of year when you have an exciting 2-year-old prospect, and he has shown lots of ability, has a lot of stamina in his pedigree and we’re pleased at how he is developing.

“We’d love to follow suit by bringing another (Kentucky) Derby winner through Tampa. But it is probably a little early to draw comparisons (between Vino Rosso and Always Dreaming),” Pletcher said.

Based on how easily Vino Rosso won, Velazquez agrees with that assessment. Although pace-setter Bon Raison, also trained by Pletcher, ran credibly, the competition wasn’t as difficult as Vino Rosso will face if he continues to progress as hoped.

“I wanted him to work a little harder than he did. It was a little too easy,” said Velazquez, who only showed the whip to Vino Rosso in the stretch to keep him on a true course. “I wanted to teach him a little something down the lane, but he was going away easy from the other horses.

“I thought we’d give him a little test today, but there was nothing to test him with. We’ve got to see when he gets tested and has to work a little harder and see how he reacts to that. Right now, it’s about developing mentally and physically and moving forward from here,” Velazquez said.

As for Always Dreaming, he has returned to Pletcher’s digs at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach to resume training. He has been idle since a ninth-place finish in the Travers Presented by NYRA Bets in August at Saratoga, after which he was found to have stomach ulcers and sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for treatment and recovery.

Around the oval. Jose Ferrer, a nominee for the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, and Antonio Gallardo each rode three winners today. Ferrer won the second race aboard High Heel Lady, a 6-year-old mare owned by Ridenjac Racing and trained by Dennis Ward.

High Heel Lady was claimed from the race by owner-trainer Tim Padilla.

Ferrer won the sixth and seventh races back-to-back. He rode 3-year-old filly Deputy Dora to victory in the sixth on turf for owner Penny Lopez and trainer Angel V. Lopez, then added the seventh on Phoenix Rising, a 4-year-old filly owned by Tom Ryan and trained by John J. Tammaro, III.

Gallardo captured the first race on Jimmy’s Legacy, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Jim Thomas and trained by Brenda McCarthy. Gallardo returned to the winner’s circle after the fourth race on the turf with J C’s Proud Kitten, a 2-year-old filly owned by Juan Centeno and Gelfenstein Farm and trained by Efren Loza, Jr.

In the eighth race, also on the turf, Gallardo tallied aboard Great Harbour Cay, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Acclaimed Racing Stable and trained by Darien Rodriguez.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The feature is the third race, a $26,500, mile-and-40-yard allowance/$100,000 optional claiming event for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward.

The seven-horse field is headed by Tapa Tapa Tapa, last season’s Suncoast Stakes winner here who is making her first start since finishing sixth in the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on May 19 at Pimlico. Owned by Beau Ravine, LLC and trained by Timothy Hamm, Tapa Tapa Tapa will be ridden by Pablo Morales.

After Christmas, Tampa Bay Downs will move to a four-days-a-week schedule, with Thoroughbred competition on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The track begins it 2018 calendar giveaway Wednesday, with patrons receiving a free calendar throughout the weekend, while supplies last.

Tampa Bay Downs 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.