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February 07, 2018


by Mike Henry
Catholic Boy, Hollywood Star headline Sam F. Davis entries; the Eclipse Champion Turf Male, World Approval, is the one to beat in Tampa Bay Stakes; apprentice Jose A. Bracho is the Señor Tequila Jockey of the Month.

Seven 3-year-old colts and geldings take their next steps Saturday toward a potential date with Thoroughbred racing destiny in the 38th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the showcase of a 12-race Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card at Tampa Bay Downs beginning at 12:13 p.m.

The mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis on the main dirt track is a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points race, awarding 10-4-2-1 points to the first four finishers toward eligibility for the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 5. The Sam F. Davis is the 10th race.

Saturday’s program is also highlighted by the return to the Oldsmar oval of two-time Florida Cup winner World Approval, this time as an Eclipse Award winner. The 6-year-old gray Champion Turf Male and Breeders’ Cup Mile winner is a sturdy favorite against nine rivals in the 32nd annual Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will make the trip to Tampa Bay Downs to renew acquaintances with World Approval, who drew the No. 7 post.

Also slated are the 19th edition of the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf and the 38th running of the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track.

The Suncoast awards 10-4-2-1 points to the top four finishers toward eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

The likely favorites for the Sam F. Davis are Catholic Boy, who won the Grade II Remsen Stakes at on Dec. 2 at Aqueduct in his most recent start, and Hollywood Star, who finished second as a 2-year-old in both the Grade II Saratoga Special at Saratoga and the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs.

The full field for the Sam F. Davis in post position order is as follows, with trainer and jockey:

  1. Navy Armed Guard, Joan Scott, Jesus Castanon; 2. Flameaway, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 3. Vino Rosso, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; ; 4. Septimius Severus, George Weaver, Jose Ortiz; 5. Hollywood Star, Dale Romans, Joel Rosario; 6. Catholic Boy, Jonathan Thomas, Manuel Franco; 7. Vouch, Arnaud Delacour, Daniel Centeno.


Trainer Mark Casse, who will saddle Grade III-winning, multiple-stakes winner Flameaway in the Sam F. Davis, brings Live Oak Plantation homebred World Approval to Tampa Bay Downs on the heels of three consecutive Grade I victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Casse hopes to use the Tampa Bay Stakes as a stepping stone to an appearance by World Approval in the $6-million Dubai Turf on March 31. The Tampa Bay Stakes is the 11th race.

The full field for the Tampa Bay Stakes in post position order, with trainer and jockey:

  1. Doctor Mounty, Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III, Antonio Gallardo; 2. Noble Thought, Malcolm Pierce, Jesus Castanon; 3. Fire Away, Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III, Jose Ortiz; 4. Cheyenne’s Colonel, Derrick Parram, Manoel Cruz; 5. Western Reserve, J. Kent Sweezey, Daniel Centeno; 6. Forge, William Mott, Manuel Franco; 7. World Approval, Mark Casse, John Velazquez; 8. Le Ken, Ignacio Correas, IV, Jose Lezcano; 9. Tasit, Michael Matz, Joel Rosario; Brass Compass, Reade Baker, Ronnie Allen, Jr.

The eight-horse field for the Lambholm South Endeavour includes a pair of stickouts in another Casse-trained runner, 4-year-old La Coronel, and 6-year-old Dona Bruja, from the barn of conditioner Ignacio Correas, IV. The Lambholm South Endeavour is the ninth race.

Last year’s Grade III Florida Oaks runner-up at Tampa Bay Downs, La Coronel returns to action for the first time since winning the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes presented by Lane’s End on Oct. 14 at Keeneland. Dona Bruja won two Grade III stakes last year after being imported from Argentina, where she was 8-for-10.

The full field for the Lambholm South Endeavour in post position order, with trainer and jockey:

  1. Truly Together, Michael Matz, Joel Rosario; Dona Bruja, Ignacio Correas, IV, Jose Ortiz; 3. Westit, H. Graham Motion, Manuel Franco; 4. America Mon Amie, Joan Scott, Pedro Cotto, Jr.; 5. Lovely Loyree, Michele Boyce, Daniel Centeno; 6. Josdesanimaux, Joseph Arboritanza, Pablo Morales; 7. La Coronel, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 8. Viva Vegas, Derek Ryan, Jesus Castanon.

The Suncoast, slated as the seventh race, has drawn a field of eight, headed by Grade III 2-year-old winner Daisy and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher Blonde Bomber.

The full field for the Suncoast in post position order, with trainer and jockey:

  1. C. S. Incharge, Dale Romans, Joel Rosario; 2. Blonde Bomber, Stanley I. Gold, Jose Lezcano; 3. Prospective Lady, Gerald Bennett, Antonio Gallardo; 4. Battle Back Curly, Laura Cazares, Samy Camacho; 5. Belles Orb, Eddie Kenneally, Daniel Centeno; 6. Mihrab, H. Graham Motion, Jose Ortiz; 7. So Refined, J. Kent Sweezey, Jesus Castanon; 8. Daisy, John Servis, John Velazquez.


Apprentice Bracho is Jockey of the Month. From a distance, apprentice jockey Jose A. Bracho might seem as cool as a polished gemstone as the victories continue piling up.

But it’s worth remembering that a 20-year-old’s heart beats beneath his laid-back exterior, accompanied by a steely mindset that he was born to be a jockey.

Bracho has wasted little time making a strong impression on Tampa Bay Downs horsemen, his fellow riders and fans since moving his tack here from Laurel at the beginning of 2018. With 11 winners from 57 mounts through today’s action, the apprentice from Maracaibo, Venezuela has been selected as the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.

“It doesn’t sink in all the way that I’m doing so well so quickly,” said Bracho, who rode three winners on Sunday, achieving his first “hat trick” on a single card. “It’s really exciting to be doing well and to be getting on horses you know have a good chance of winning.”

Outside of flashing a boyish grin and holding three fingers aloft, Bracho remained a picture of composure after riding his third winner Sunday. But his gut was churning.

“When I crossed the wire (on trainer Gerald Bennett’s 3-year-old filly, R Swift Taylor), I screamed because I’ve always wanted to win three at one track on the same day. It’s truly amazing to be doing so well,” Bracho said.

Bracho, who has won at a 15.9-percent clip since making his professional debut in the fall of 2016, hails from a family of jockeys and horsemen. His father, Agustin Bracho, rides at Mahoning Valley in Ohio – sometimes on horses trained by another son, 23-year-old Jose Bracho, Jr.

Jesus A. Bracho, Agustin’s brother, rides sparingly in the mid-Atlantic region. Another of Jose A.’s uncles, Jorge Bracho (the brother of Jose A.’s mother, Yeri) has returned to Venezuela, where he still rides.

With that kind of support system, it is obvious why the youngster believes he was born to compete. He is grateful for his family’s ongoing love and encouragement as he continues to learn.

“My dad is super, super happy and my whole family is super, super proud,” said Jose A., who always used to wear his father’s helmet and boots on the drive to the racetrack in Venezuela when he was 4. “My family showing how proud they are of me is just a really good feeling.”

Agustin Bracho “has been my role model since I was growing up,” Jose A. said, “and I always looked to him for the right way to do things. His No. 1 lesson was ‘be smart.’ That is the No. 1 key to riding, being smart and having patience. He told me I already have the talent, so don’t worry about that; think about trying to get good position and putting your horse where it needs to be.

“I need to keep being smarter and keep riding harder every day,” Bracho added. “I’m never satisfied with the way I look, the way I ride. It’s nothing specific; I want to keep improving in every area of my job.”

Bracho also benefits from the services of his agent, Mike Moran, who uses his extensive contacts to familiarize horsemen with his youthful find. Even though Bracho loses his apprentice weight allowance in March, Moran thinks his business can continue to thrive.

“The way he rides, I don’t think he even needs the ‘bug’ (allowance),” Moran said. “He doesn’t get too excited; he lets the horses do the running.”

Bracho is prepared for any obstacles thrown in his path. “I know how tough this game can be. I’ve lived it watching my dad and being with him. But I love every bit of it. I don’t wish I was doing anything else, and when tough times come, I’ll just have to tough it out and hope it gets better.”

Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo and Daniel Centeno each rode two winners today. Gallardo won the second race on Cowtown Duke, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding bred and owned by Blackacre Farms and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Gallardo added the fifth race aboard Wagon Boss, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Randy Klopp and Spiess Stable and trained by Klopp.

Centeno captured the third race on the turf on Captivating Moon, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Chris Block. Centeno also won the fourth race on Regal Quality, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Sumaya U.S. Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:44 p.m. 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.

“Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest begins Feb. 10. The annual “Live It Up Challenge” online handicapping contest begins on Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, Saturday.

The contest, which runs through Florida Cup Day on March 25, provides handicappers of all experience levels an opportunity to compete free of charge to win cash prizes, a seat in the 2019 World Championship of Handicapping and a pair of finish-line box seats at this year’s Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Registration is free at and participants must register by 10:30 a.m. on Saturday to be eligible. Once registered, players must log on to the contest website each day and select one entry from that day’s two randomly selected “challenge races.” Each day’s results are determined by a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a player’s pick.

Players begin the contest with a free lifeline, which enables them to continue should their choice fail to finish first, second or third, or they do not enter a selection for that day. Four additional lifelines are available at a cost of $5 each upon sign-up, with additional lifelines provided on Feb. 16 for $10 each and March 9 for $25.

The first-place finisher receives $1,000, a seat in the online World Championship of Handicapping and two seats for the Belmont Stakes. The second-place finisher receives $500.