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March 16, 2018


by Mike Henry
Conditioner expects to breeze Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip once more here before sending him to Keeneland; Saturday's Rebel, Azeri Stakes feature Tampa Bay Downs "graduates."

Heads turned on Jan. 20 when veteran jockey Willie Martinez piloted 88-1 shot Our Closure to a gate-to-wire victory on the turf in the ninth race at Tampa Bay Downs.

The 4-year-old filly is trained by Rodolphe Brisset, a fact little-noticed that day by bettors tearing up their tickets. It was the first victory at the Oldsmar oval for the 34-year-old conditioner, who began his career last May at Churchill Downs after 11 years as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.


Rodolphe Brisset

Seven weeks after Our Closure’s shocker, circumstances changed dramatically for Brisset when he sent out his 3-year-old colt Quip for a victory in the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. The accomplishment by the native of Tours, France earned Brisset recognition as the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month.

Brisset said earlier this week that Quip is likely to race next in either the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland or the Grade II Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct, both on April 7. A solid performance could lead to a run in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5.

“We postponed shipping him to my home base in Keeneland this week because of the weather, so he’ll probably ship there in the next 7-to-10 days,” Brisset said. “The plan is to breeze him once here and once at Keeneland, and from there we’ll make a decision.”

Quip broke his maiden on Sept. 23 in a 6-furlong race at Churchill Downs in excellent time of 1:10.65, then toyed with his competition in a non-winners/other-than allowance at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on Oct. 19 at Keeneland.

But just when Quip seemed to be getting real good, an inexplicable seventh-place performance in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 25 at Churchill resulted in Brisset sending the son of Distorted Humor-Princess Ash, by Indian Charlie, to co-owner Elliott Walden’s WinStar Farm operation near Versailles, Ky., for rest and relaxation.

Brisset noticed a huge change in Quip’s appearance and demeanor when the colt returned to his Fair Grounds winter base in early January. “He matured a lot physically and carried more weight. When he got back to Fair Grounds, he wasn’t a 2-year-old anymore – he was a racehorse,” Brisset said.

“The transition from 2 to 3 is very important for a Thoroughbred, and I could see by the way he acted that he had grown up.”

Brisset keeps the majority of his horses at Fair Grounds in New Orleans while managing a group of 4-to-6 horses at Tampa Bay Downs, with help from his wife Brooke and assistant Leigh Bentley. Brooke currently is at Fair Grounds handling the majority of their horses.

At 16, Brisset entered the jockey ranks in France, graduating from jockeys’ school the same year as Christophe Soumillon, who has won just about every major stakes race in France. Struggles with his weight forced Brisset to leave that profession at 21, but he still takes an active role with his stable.

Brisset worked Quip in the mornings leading to the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, except for those occasions when the colt’s jockey, Florent Geroux, was in town. After Geroux breezed Quip 5 furlongs in 1:01.6 on Feb. 18, Brisset was aboard for his two final works.

Those efforts were as good as any horse in the field: a bullet 5 furlongs in 59.8 on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds and 48 seconds flat on March 5 at Tampa Bay Downs, five days before the race.

“It was just a matter of him being fit enough,” Brisset said. “I’m not sure if we had him 100 percent, but he was fit enough to win and that’s the main thing.”

Although Brooke and their friends were overcome by emotion in the immediate aftermath of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Brisset was the picture of cool composure. That can be traced in part to his years with Mott, who rarely, if ever, let his feelings be known to the outside world.

“I was around a lot of good horses that won a lot of big races for Bill, and you learn how to deal with that kind of horse,” said Brisset. “So (training Quip) is pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing.”

Still, this week has been a whirlwind, with scores of calls and messages from well-wishers. “It was very overwhelming for a few days, but it’s a lot of fun,” Brisset said. “With all the work we put into it, it was a pretty good feeling.”

Simulcast fun heats up. Horses with Tampa Bay Downs backgrounds appear to be well-placed in major stakes Saturday that will be simulcast at the Oldsmar oval.

In the Grade II, $900,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve hopefuls, Magnum Moon is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line in an 11-horse field. The Todd Pletcher-trainee is 2-for-2, including an allowance/optional claiming victory here on Feb. 15.

Magnum Moon, who is owned by Lawana and Robert Low, will be ridden by Luis Saez. The mile-and-a-sixteenth Rebel is the 10th race on the Oaklawn card.

The 3-2 morning-line favorite is Solomini, trainer Bob Baffert’s colt who finished second in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Del Mar. Flavien Prat will be aboard.

Also at Oaklawn, 5-year-old mare Martini Glass tackles seven opponents in the Grade II, $350,000 Azeri Stakes, which is the ninth race. Paco Lopez will be aboard for owners Vince Campanella and Nation’s Racing Stable and trainer Keith Nations.

Martini Glass is the 4-1 third choice on the morning line for the mile-and-a-sixteenth contest, behind Actress at 3-1 and Blue Prize at 7-2. Claimed by Nations for $16,000 from her career debut, a solid 7-furlong victory here two years ago, Martini Glass – who is 5-for-5 at Tampa Bay Downs – won the Grade III Royal Delta at Gulfstream on Feb. 19 in her most recent start and is 9-for-22 lifetime with earnings in excess of $650,000.

In the Grade II, $200,000 Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream, 4-year-old filly Just Be Kind will attempt to pull the upset going 7 furlongs. The Reade Baker-owned-and-trained lass, to be ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, was victorious here in the Minaret Stakes on Feb. 17 in her most recent outing.

Around the oval. Brisset returned to the winner’s circle after today’s seventh race with 3-year-old filly The Weef, who won by four-and-a-half lengths from Adios Rose. A winner of consecutive races, The Weef is a Florida-bred owned by Dare to Dream Stable.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday 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.

The 16th annual Florida Cup, featuring six $100,000 races for registered Florida-breds, three on the main track and three on the turf, is Sunday, March 25.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter 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.