Four graded stakes winners entered in Grade II, 3-year-old showcase; Grade II Hillsborough field boasts three Grade I winners; Pablo Morales selected as Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.
Eleven 3-year-olds will attempt to take a major step toward Thoroughbred immortality Saturday in the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the centerpiece of Festival Day 38 at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” Prep Race awarding 50 points to the winner and 20, 10 and 5 points to the next three finishers toward eligibility for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs, is the 11th race on a 12-race program.
Post time for the first race is 12:12 p.m. The first 7,500 fans through the gates will receive a beach-style cooler bag with paid admission.
The 38th edition of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race on the main dirt track, is one of three graded stakes on the program and five stakes overall. Total stakes purse money is $1-million, a Tampa Bay Downs record.
The Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, a mile-and-an-eighth event on the turf for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward, has drawn a field of 10. It is scheduled as the ninth race.
Saturday’s other graded stakes is the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, to be run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf. There are 12 horses entered for the Florida Oaks, which is the 10th race.
The other stakes are the $100,000 Challenger for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, slated as the eighth race, and the $75,000 Columbia for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf, which has drawn a field of 14 and will be the seventh race on the program.
Four graded-stakes winners are entered in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, including Grade I winner Free Drop Billy, who is also entered in the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct in New York. Owned by Albaugh Family Stables and trained by Dale Romans, Free Drop Billy won the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland.
The other graded-stakes-winning entrants include Grade II winner Enticed (also entered in the Gotham), from the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; Untamed Domain, who won the Grade II Summer Stakes last September at Woodbine on the turf, trained by H. Graham Motion; and Flameaway, a dual-Grade III winner trained by Mark Casse who captured the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 10 at Tampa Bay Downs in his most recent start.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby has produced two winners of the Kentucky Derby: Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver (third in the Tampa Bay Derby) in 2010.
Here is the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby field in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:
- Arazi Like Move, Aldana Gonzalez, Scott Spieth; 2. Tiz Mischief, Dale Romans, Joel Rosario; 3. Vino Rosso, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 4. Grandpa Knows Best, Kenneth McPeek, Julien Leparoux; 5. Flameaway, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 6. Enticed, Kiaran McLaughlin, Antonio Gallardo; 7. Free Drop Billy, Dale Romans, rider unnamed; 8. World of Trouble, Jason Servis, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 9. Untamed Domain, H. Graham Motion, Jose Ortiz; 10. Quip, Rodolphe Brisset, Florent Geroux; 11. Caloric, Michelle Winters, rider unnamed.
The Hillsborough Stakes has attracted three Grade I stakes winners, all conditioned by top trainers. That collection of accomplished runners includes reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown’s 6-year-old mare Off Limits; Daddys Lil Darling, a 4-year-old filly trained by Kenneth McPeek; and La Coronel, a 4-year-old trained by Casse who finished second here last month in the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf.
Here is the Hillsborough Stakes field in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:
- Tricky Escape, Lynn Ashby, Christopher DeCarlo; 2. Off Limits, Chad Brown, Joel Rosario; 3. Fourstar Crook, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 4. Bonita, Chad Stewart, Daniel Centeno; 5. Daddys Lil Darling, Kenneth McPeek, Julien Leparoux; 6. Lovely Bernadette, James DiVito, Florent Geroux; 7. Dynatail, Michael Dini, Antonio Gallardo; 8. Lovely Loyree, Michele Boyce, Jesus Castanon; 9. La Coronel, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 10. Proctor’s Ledge, Brendan Walsh, Jose Ortiz.
The Florida Oaks will be run on the turf course for the eighth time. Among the leading sophomore fillies entered are trainer Chad Brown’s French import, Grade III-placed Salsa Bella, and Almond Roca, trained by Motion, who won both the Sandpiper and Gasparilla Stakes here on dirt.
Here is the Florida Oaks field in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:
- Beckoning, William Mott, John Velazquez; 2. Altea, Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz; 3. Peach of a Gal, H. Graham Motion, Scott Spieth; 4. Almond Roca, H. Graham Motion, Pablo Morales; 5. Andina Del Sur, Tom Albertrani, Julien Leparoux; 6. Closer Still, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 7. Cash Out, George R. Arnold, II, Florent Geroux; 8. Over Thinking, Victoria Oliver, Samy Camacho; 9. Goodthingstaketime, Jorge Abreu, Joel Rosario; 10. Jehozacat, Arnaud Delacour, Daniel Centeno; 11. Souper Striking, Michael Trombetta, Antonio Gallardo; 12. Salsa Bella, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Tampa Bay Downs will offer a Festival Pick-5 wager on the five stakes, scheduled as races 7-through-11.
Morales is Señor Tequila Jockey of the Month. Pablo Morales chuckles at the notion of being an elder statesman in the jockeys’ room. But even though he has yet to reach his 30th birthday, his results are proof of the reputation he has built.
“I still feel like a kid, but my license says differently,” said Morales, selected as the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month after riding 14 winners over a recent three-week stretch.
Since riding his first winner in the United States at Gulfstream Park in 2005, when he was 16, the words “precocious” and “potential” have often been used when describing the native of Lima, Peru. His lone graded-stakes victory came less than a month after he turned 17, when he piloted The Daddy to victory in the Grade II, $750,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in 2005.
But now that he’s begun his 14th year and coming off a year in which he rode 201 winners, it’s clear Morales has established a firm foothold as a solid, reliable veteran.
“I’m at a good point in my career where I’m young, but I’m experienced,” said Morales, who has 1,554 career winners. “Where the experience comes into play is you pretty much know what to do in almost every scenario, physically and mentally. You pretty much know how to react, so you have a cool head for everything that is going to be thrown your way and you can usually come up with a plan and make it happen.”
Morales, who won his fourth riding title at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., last year with 124 victories and is currently fourth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 36 winners, knows what is required to keep himself in the condition needed to pursue his goals.
About once a week, he enters a boxing ring at the gym where he works out with a personal trainer. The action is fast and furious, but Morales doesn’t want anyone to get the idea he’s thinking about switching careers.
“I kind of hit him and he kind of jabs me here and there, but it’s just very light sparring, mainly for fitness and strength and maintaining sharp reflexes,” Morales said. “I can’t afford to be bruised or sore. My livelihood is out there (on the racetrack), not in the ring.
“I try to stay as fit as possible in order not to get tired and for my mind to work even better.”
Morales’ agility and nimble footwork makes you think he’d be a good boxer, but he has matured into a top-flight jockey at the Oldsmar oval. His record here this season includes triumphs aboard the H. Graham Motion-trained filly Almond Roca in the Sandpiper Stakes (in December as a 2-year-old) and the Gasparilla.
His ongoing development has enabled Morales to secure two plum assignments for Saturday’s Festival Day 38 card: aboard Almond Roca in the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf and on 5-year-old gelding Rafting in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes.
Both horses are trained by Motion.
“I think that shows how much confidence I have in him as a rider,” Motion said. “Pablo is a very sensible, patient jockey, and he provides good feedback after a race. We had a lot of success together at Presque Isle last year, and it’s continued at Tampa Bay Downs.”
“For him to even consider putting me on those kind of horses means a lot,” Morales said. “Hopefully, I can keep doing well for him and the relationship can keep going.”
A devoted family man, Morales draws strength from his wife Erin, daughter Sophia, 7, and son Camilo, 5. “Erin works harder than me in the house and with the kids,” he said.
He also credits his agent, retired jockey Paula Bacon, for her efforts. “There is only so much you can do without a good horse, and I’ve been getting live mounts all season,” Morales said.
Around the oval. Jesus Castanon rode two winners today. He captured the sixth race on Lord Barna, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by DiBello Racing and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Castanon added the seventh race on the turf with 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Old Florida, bred and owned by Glen Hill Farm and trained by Tom Proctor.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:44 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 1, when the track is closed.
Otherwise, 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.