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March 30, 2018


by Mike Henry
Conditioner of Fort Larned, McCraken likely to be represented in key Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep races next weekend; Antonio Gallardo reaches 90 victories in pursuit of fourth track riding title; final legs of Tampa Turf Test series are Saturday; simulcasting from Dubai begins at 11:30 a.m.

No matter where the sport of Thoroughbred racing and his talents as a trainer lead him, Ian Wilkes will always have a high regard for the deep, sandy surface at Tampa Bay Downs.

“The track fits well with our program. Tampa has a kind, fair surface, and horses come out of there ready to go forward and do well the rest of the year,” said Wilkes, who as the main assistant to Carl Nafzger in 2007 helped engineer Street Sense’s path to Kentucky Derby glory by preparing him for a Tampa Bay Derby victory seven weeks prior.

In the ensuing decade, Wilkes has used Tampa Bay Downs as a proving grounds for such subsequent graded-stakes winners as 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned; 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes winner McCraken; Sonic Boom; Linda; Thatcher Street; Neck ’n Neck; Island Bound; and Warrior’s Reward.

Despite having the majority of his stable winter at Gulfstream Park in south Florida, Wilkes, who has nine victories from 49 starters at the current Oldsmar meeting, has sufficient quality here to earn the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month award.

The native of New South Wales, Australia, might have another Tampa Bay Downs “graduate” to add to the graded-stakes winners list if Demolition keeps improving. The 3-year-old colt, owned by LNJ Foxwoods, SB Racing Corp. and Jason A. Litt, is being pointed toward the Grade II Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets on April 7 at Aqueduct.

Demolition broke his maiden here in impressive fashion going a mile-and-40-yards on March 3.

Another Wilkes-trained 3-year-old to watch is the Lothenbach Stables-owned Gotta Go, who finished second in the Grade III Swale Stakes on Feb. 3 at Gulfstream and could run next in the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass on April 7 at Keeneland (Gotta Go has not been to Tampa Bay Downs).

Wilkes also said McCraken, who followed last year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis victory with a triumph in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs and a close runner-up finish in the Grade I Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth, is about a month away from his first start as a 4-year-old.

With about 20 horses here, 46 at Gulfstream and 10 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Wilkes relies on quality help. “You can’t do it by yourself,” said Wilkes, who employs Cesar Morales as his Oldsmar assistant. “You have to surround yourself with good people.

“It’s the same with any business. Whether you run a farm or work in a factory, your business is only as good as your help. My assistants, the exercise riders, the hotwalkers and the grooms all contribute to what we’re able to accomplish.”

And even if his current collection of 3-year-olds is unable to match the accomplishments of Street Sense, Fort Larned and McCraken, Tampa Bay Downs continues to be a welcoming oasis for the Wilkes stable.

“It’s been a good, solid meet. I’m very happy with how we’ve done,” Wilkes said. “The whole crew, from top to bottom, has done a solid job.”

Around the oval. Leading jockey Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today, raising his meeting total to 90 as he hunts his fourth Oldsmar title. Gallardo won the second race on the turf with On Patrol, a 3-year-old colt owned by Stuart S. Janney, III and Phipps Stable and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III.

Gallardo also won the fourth race with Dog Soldier, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Averill Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett, and the fifth on the turf with Little Code, a 4-year-old filly owned by Anlyn Farms and the Estate of Marvin Little, Jr., and trained by J. K. Sweezey.

Jockey Samy Camacho teamed with trainer Juan Gotera for a pair of long-shot victories on the turf. They won the sixth race with Whiteheelgirl, a 3-year-old filly owned by Four Guys. She paid $23.

Camacho and Gotera returned to the winner’s circle after the eighth race with Nightstorm, a 5-year-old mare owned by J DAB Stable. She paid $51.60 to win.

Jesus Castanon and Kathleen O’Connell also produced a pair of winners. They collaborated to win the third race with Lord Anthony, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by DiBello Racing. Castanon and O’Connell also won the ninth race with She Nailed It, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by the trainer.

Thoroughbred competition continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. Featured are the final legs of this season’s Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series: the fifth race for males and the eighth race for females. Both have attracted fields of nine horses and will be contested at a distance of a mile-and-three-eighths on the grass. Purse money for each race is $25,500.

Tampa Bay Downs is closed Easter Sunday. Otherwise, the track conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 6, with the exception of May 2.

Gulfstream Park’s Grade I, $1.1-million Xpressbet Florida Derby, which has produced three of the last five Kentucky Derby winners, is part of a huge simulcast schedule Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

The mile-and-an-eighth Xpressbet Florida Derby is the 14th and final race on the Gulfstream card, with a post time of 6:36 p.m. The nine-horse field includes multiple graded-stakes winning colt Catholic Boy, who finished second to Flameaway in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 10.

Also on the Gulfstream card, C. S. Incharge, Daisy and Mihrab, the top three finishers in the Suncoast Stakes here on Feb. 10, are part of a 13-horse field entered in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, which is the 12th race.

Racing fans will also take a keen interest in the eighth race, the Grade II Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile. The morning-line, 9-5 favorite is Always Dreaming, the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner who will be making his first start as a 4-year-old.

Always Dreaming broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 25 of his 3-year-old season.

Earlier Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the final three races of the Dubai World Cup program from Meydan Racecourse: the $6-million Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World, the $6-million Longines Dubai Sheema Classic and the $10-million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline.

The first simulcast race (the seventh on the program) is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The previous race, the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen, has a nine-horse field featuring the 2017 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award Champion Male Sprinter, Roy H, and fellow 6-year-old gelding X Y Jet, winner of the Pelican Stakes here on Feb. 17.

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.