Despite long layoff, He Hate Me appears primed for strong effort in Pasco; Almond Roca, Tapa Tapa Tapa likely favorites in Gasparilla, Wayward Lass, respectively; Daniel Centeno rides three winners.
After a runaway victory last June in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont, the then-2-year-old colt He Hate Me spiked a temperature, forcing trainer Horacio De Paz to send him to the sidelines.
A subsequent loss of weight caused De Paz and the management team of owner Sagamore Farm to extend He Hate Me’s vacation from competition through the end of the year. “The Tremont was only two weeks after he broke his maiden at Pimlico, and we wanted to take care of him as best as we could,” De Paz said.
He Hate Me resumed serious training in late November, and a 5-furlong breeze from the starting gate in 1:00.15 on Jan. 6 seemed to indicate the Florida-bred is more than ready to return to action. He followed that effort last weekend with a 59.65-second breeze.
“We’ve been working him with older horses, and he’s been very consistent in his training,” De Paz said of He Hate Me, who will break from the rail against nine opponents in today’s $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Skyway Festival Day card at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We’re hoping to get him started with a good experience and then decide what’s next. I feel he’s fit enough, but it’s a question of whether he can get the distance because going from five-and-a-half to 7 furlongs after a layoff is a tough task.”
He Hate Me, who will be ridden by Manuel Franco, is the second choice on the morning line at 3-1, behind fellow Florida-bred World of Trouble from the barn of trainer Jason Servis. World of Trouble, 2-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo.
The Pasco, which has been won in recent years by the likes of subsequent graded-stakes winners Musket Man (2009), Prospective (2012), Dynamic Sky (2013) and Catalina Red (2015), is the eighth race on an 11-race card scheduled to begin at 12:12 p.m.
Also on tap are the $125,000, 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, which will be the third race, and the $50,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes for older fillies and mares, slated as the 10th race.
For the 32-year-old De Paz, the final chart from the Tremont is suitable for framing, perhaps as much because of the competition he faced as for He Hate Me’s victory in a race first run in 1887.
Finishing behind He Hate Me was a horse trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen, along with four horses trained by Todd Pletcher, for whom De Paz worked as an assistant from 2005-2010.
After leaving Pletcher with nothing but good memories and a wealth of acquired knowledge, De Paz joined the Sagamore Farm team in 2011 as an assistant under current Tampa Bay Downs trainer Ignacio Correas, IV. De Paz became Sagamore’s chief trainer in 2015 and has already achieved outstanding results with the likes of He Hate Me, along with multiple stakes-winning colt Recruiting Ready and stakes-winning mare Ginger N Rye.
Sagamore Farm is owned by Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank.
Set to challenge He Hate Me, in addition to World of Trouble, are multiple stakes-winning Ohio-bred Awaken, from the barn of Tim Hamm; Presque Isle Downs stakes winner Driven by History; and the second and third-place finishers in the 6-furlong Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 16, Arazi Like Move and Twin Farms.
Trainer H. Graham Motion will saddle the Gasparilla favorite, the Chadds Ford Stable-owned filly Almond Roca, who won the 6-furlong Sandpiper Stakes here on Dec. 16 by more than nine lengths.
Her five opponents include Barrier Island (like Almond Roca, a daughter of Speightstown) from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III; Homemade Salsa, who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes in November at Gulfstream Park West; and Passion Plus, who is 2-for-2 on the turf.
Almond Roca, who will be ridden by Pablo Morales, breezed 5 furlongs here on Jan. 12 in 1:03.
“She has done everything we’ve asked (since the Sandpiper),” Motion said. “Her works haven’t been flashy, but I think they’re satisfactory. The extra distance is a challenge, but I think it’s within her range.
“She’s facing a solid group, and the fact (McGaughey) is shipping a maiden winner shows he obviously thinks highly of her,” Motion said. “But we have the advantage of being on the grounds and training there every day, and I like to think that helps.”
Morales also is named to ride the favorite in the Wayward Lass, the 4-year-old filly Tapa Tapa Tapa, who won last year’s Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, defeating subsequent Grade I winner Elate, among others.
Tapa Tapa Tapa, who won’t enjoy a cakewalk against the McGaughey-trained, graded stakes-placed Tejana, the Arnaud Delacour-trained Well Humored and consistent allowance runners Full of Zip and Blue Collar, returned to action here on Dec. 23 after a seven-month layoff and won a two-turn allowance/optional claiming event by more than 12 lengths, achieving an outstanding 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
“She is training as well or better than she was going into her last race,” said trainer Tim Hamm, who believes a matured Tapa Tapa Tapa can be a candidate for graded-stakes success this year.
Around the oval. Daniel Centeno rode three winners today. He was victorious in the first race on Marie Joelle, a 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Maurice Lagasse and trained by Arnaud Delacour.
Centeno added the fifth race on 5-year-old gelding Mr Manning for owners Charles H. White and John Napariu and trainer Barbara McBride and the seventh race on Phish Fan, an 8-year-old gelding owned by Lawson Racing Stables and trained by Monte Thomas.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with the “Morning Glory Club” show, hosted by track announcer Richard Grunder, on the first floor of the Grandstand. Admission is free and attendees receive free coffee and donuts and Grandstand passes.
Grunder’s guest is trainer Tim Hamm, who in addition to saddling Tapa Tapa Tapa in the Wayward Lass will send out Awaken in the Pasco and Clearwater in the Gasparilla.
Tampa Bay Downs 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.