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January 05, 2018


by Mike Henry
Warming trend makes Oldsmar oval more inviting, creating ideal venue for Saturday's Tampa Turf Test races; return here by Horse of Year finalist World Approval possible.

With a forecast for warmer temperatures and bright skies all weekend, Tampa Bay Downs horsemen, jockeys and fans are optimistic Wednesday’s rain and this morning’s near-freezing temperatures are about to be a distant memory.

Although nothing to compare with the bitter cold and heavy snow that caused racing to be cancelled in other parts of the country, this week’s snap is outside the realm of normalcy for west-central Florida. Yes, it’s January, but seven years have elapsed since Oldsmar experienced any kind of prolonged “winter” to keep patrons from focusing fully on handicapping.

Enough of subjects over which we have no control. Saturday’s 10-race card, which begins at 12:25 p.m., features the second legs of the popular Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, both races to be run at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.

The Tampa Turf Test races are for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2017-2018.

First up is the fillies and mares division, carded as the fourth race, which has attracted an overflow field of 11 distaffers. The 7-2, morning-line favorite is the 6-year-old mare, Mast Cove, winner of the series’ first leg on Nov. 25 at odds of 7-1.

Scott Spieth has again been named to ride Mast Cove, who has finished first or second in six of her last seven starts. She is owned and trained by John Rigattieri.

The males division of the Tampa Turf Test is the eighth race, with 14 older horses and geldings entered (only 10 may run). The 3-1 morning-line choice is the Ontario-bred 9-year-old gelding Perfect Tay, who has been first or second in 10 of his last 11 starts, the only exception a third-place finish in the Captain Tony’s Stakes at Gulfstream in October.

Antonio Gallardo has been named to rider Perfect Tay, who is owned by Frank Carl Calabrese and trained by Angel M. Rodriguez.

Saturday’s festivities kick off at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Grandstand with the Morning Glory Club, hosted by track announcer Richard Grunder. Admission is free, as are the coffee and donuts. The special guest is Thoroughbred Owners of Florida, Ltd., president Tom Sweeney, who has worked in the industry as an owner, farm trainer, bloodstock agent, consignor, general manager of a breeding farm, talk-show host and media consultant.

Around the oval. Jesus Castanon rode two winners today, both on the turf. In the sixth race, he piloted 14-1 shot Fox Strike to victory for the 3-year-old gelding’s owner, Dennis Petrisak, and trainer, M.A. Ferraro. Castanon also won the eighth race aboard Viva Vegas, a 4-year-old filly owned by George Bolton and Peter Leidel and trained by Derek Ryan.

Two-time Tampa Bay Downs stakes winner World Approval, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the Del Mar turf in November, is one of three finalists for the Eclipse Award as 2017 Horse of the Year. The others are Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner and Arrogate, who won the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline early in the year.

While the now-5-year-old Gun Runner is a virtual shoo-in for Horse of the Year among the 269 eligible industry voters after four consecutive, dominant Grade I victories, World Approval is considered the favorite to win an Eclipse as Champion Grass Male after winning five of six 2017 starts, including three Grade I events.

Owned by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation and trained by Mark Casse, the 6-year-old World Approval is expected to make his 2018 debut on the Feb. 10 Festival Preview Day card at Tampa Bay Downs in the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf. Casse hopes to use that race as a “prep” for the $6-million Dubai Turf on March 31 at Meydan Racecourse.

Both of World Approval’s Oldsmar stakes triumphs came in Florida Cup races. He won the Sophomore Turf in 2015 and the EG Vodka Turf Classic last year.

Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with a pair of Thursdays added to the mix on Feb. 15 and 22. The track is open every day 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.