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April 29, 2018

ROAD FROM OLDSMAR TO LOUISVILLE WELL-KNOWN BY TOP 3-YEAR-OLDS

by Mike Henry
Flameaway, Magnum Moon and Vino Rosso bidding to become fourth Kentucky Derby winner with Tampa Bay Downs experience; Samy Camacho, Ademar Santos ride two winners apiece.

Things were different in 1999. Current WinStar Farm President/CEO & Racing Manager, Elliott Walden, was one of the top Thoroughbred trainers in the country, coming off a year in which he won the Belmont Stakes with Victory Gallop to deny Real Quiet’s Triple Crown bid.

And with another promising 3-year-old in his barn named Menifee, Walden had designs on winning the classics in which Victory Gallop had finished second: the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Getting there again was the challenge. And when Walden and owners Arthur B. Hancock, III and James H. Stone decided to make the $150,000 Tampa Bay Derby their unbeaten colt’s career stakes debut, the skeptics couldn’t line up fast enough.

Forget about the fact Tampa Bay Downs lacked the reputation of a Gulfstream, Aqueduct, Santa Anita or Oaklawn. A lot of wise guys wanted to know: Just where the heck is Oldsmar, Fla.?

“It was a long way down that road – Hillsborough Avenue,” Walden recalled of the limited highway access to Tampa Bay Downs 19 years ago. “Then you’d make that right turn, and I remember Race Track Road could get backed up pretty severely.”

But Walden, who joined the WinStar Farm team in 2005, was in on what was then a fairly well-guarded secret: The deep, demanding, sand-based surface at Tampa Bay Downs could be a great place to get a young racehorse fit and yearning for more.

Even though Menifee and Pat Day were defeated by the Ken McPeek-trained Pineaff and Jose Santos, Walden left Tampa Bay Downs (making it to the airport just in time) knowing the race had set Menifee up beautifully for bigger challenges.

“We were disappointed to lose there, but the Tampa race set him up well from a fitness perspective to run a mile-and-an-eighth or a mile-and-a-quarter,” Walden said. “It prepared him well for his starts in the (Toyota) Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, and we learned that the Derby Trail can go through Tampa Bay Downs.”

Menifee won the Toyota Blue Grass before finishing second by a neck to Charismatic and Chris Antley in the Kentucky Derby. Charismatic beat Menifee again in the Preakness, but Menifee rebounded in August to win the Haskell Invitational Handicap.

Although the 1998 Tampa Bay Derby winner, Parade Ground, and the third-place finisher, Rock and Roll, competed in the Kentucky Derby and went on to become multiple graded-stakes winners, the participation of Menifee the following year seemed to stamp Tampa Bay Downs (which had opened its heralded turf course on the day Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby) as a legitimate destination for 3-year-olds sporting classic ambitions.

The inclusion of Tampa Bay Downs “graduates” reached its zenith in 2009, when five horses that had raced at the Oldsmar oval were part of the Kentucky Derby field. Pasco Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man, trained locally by Derek Ryan, fared best, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Four horses from Tampa Bay Downs were in last year’s Run for the Roses field: winner Always Dreaming, Tampa Bay Derby champion Tapwrit (sixth), Sam F. Davis winner McCraken (eighth) and State of Honor.

It’s no different this year, with Tampa Bay Downs visitors Flameaway, Vino Rosso and Magnum Moon expected to be in the starting gate for Saturday’s 144th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Quip, who won the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, is being prepared by trainer Rodolphe Brisset and the WinStar Farm team for the Preakness on May 19 at Pimlico.

For the record, three horses that competed at Tampa Bay Downs have won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve: 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense, owned by James Tafel and trained by Carl Nafzger; 2010 Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher Super Saver, owned by WinStar and trained by Pletcher; and Always Dreaming, Pletcher’s charge who broke his maiden here at a mile-and-40-yards in his 3-year-old debut in January of 2017.

Last year’s Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner, the Pletcher-trained Tapwrit, went on to win the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Back to this year’s Oldsmar Derby hopefuls. Flameaway, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 10 and finished second to Quip in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 10, is owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse. Jose Lezcano, a past Tampa Bay Downs riding champion, is his jockey.

Flameaway’s performances at Tampa Bay Downs set him up for a strong second-place finish to the 2017 Eclipse Award Champion Juvenile Colt, Good Magic, in the Toyota Blue Grass on April 7. Flameaway breezed 4 furlongs in a swift 47 4/5 seconds Saturday at Churchill.

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Flameaway and jockey Jose Lezcano win a dramatic Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)


“He is doing tremendous,” Casse said earlier in the week. He calls the Ontario-bred colt “an overachiever,” especially when compared to his 2016 Eclipse Champion Juvenile Colt, Classic Empire, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness. “This horse is just thriving, and it’s about time for luck to be on our side.”

Casse, who has enjoyed outstanding success on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course with Eclipse Award winners Tepin and World Approval, has long been an advocate for bringing top-level 3-year-olds to Oldsmar in the winter and spring. In 2006, he brought Seaside Retreat to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis; that one developed into a Grade II-winning millionaire.

In 2012, Casse and Oxley won both the Tampa Bay Derby and Pasco Stakes with Prospective, who finished second in the Sam F. Davis. Although he disappointed in the Kentucky Derby, Prospective went on to win the Grade III Ohio Derby and a pair of listed stakes.

Casse says running Triple Crown prospects at Tampa Bay Downs is all about the main dirt racing surface. “This time of year, it’s about getting your horse fit, but more importantly it’s about keeping them sound. I’ve never had any issues there sound-wise with horses, so I think you can go there with a lot of confidence.”

Casse thinks the surface isn’t as deep as it was 10 or more years ago, but says that really isn’t an issue. “I think (the track maintenance staff) has found a happy medium,” he said. “The most important thing is it’s not biased (toward from-runners or confirmed closers) in any way.”

Pletcher trains Vino Rosso and Magnum Moon, both of whom posted victories here this season. They turned in exceptional 4-furlong breezes Friday, Vino Rosso in 47 1/5 seconds and Magnum Moon in 47 2/5.

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Vino Rosso and John Velazquez enter the Oldsmar winner's circle on Dec. 22

Vino Rosso, who is owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, won an allowance/optional claiming event here on Dec. 22 before finishing third in the Sam F. Davis and fourth in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

Neither of those races were cause for optimism, but Pletcher had outfitted Vino Rosso with blinkers for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby to improve his focus and it seemed to help. When he won the Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on April 7 under the only jockey he has had, Hall of Fame member John Velazquez, his Kentucky Derby credentials received a major boost.

Magnum Moon needed no such restored luster. His lone visit to Oldsmar resulted in a two-length allowance/optional claiming victory in a dazzling 1:39.18 for the mile-and-40-yard distance, .11 seconds off the track record. With Luis Saez aboard, Magnum Moon has gone on to win the Grade II Rebel Stakes and the Grade I Arkansas Derby for Pletcher and owners Lawana L. and Robert E. Low, and he will be one of the betting favorites Saturday.

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Magnum Moon and Luis Saez winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn

Pletcher, who is likely to have four starters in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, called Magnum Moon’s victory at Tampa Bay Downs “everything we hoped it would be.” He finds it convenient each year to ship horses to the Oldsmar oval from his training headquarters at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach, believing they can derive myriad benefits from their experience on Florida’s west coast.

“I think Tampa Bay Downs is a great place to prep 3-year-olds,” he said before this year’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a race he has won five times (he has done even better in the Sam F. Davis, winning six, five of those owned wholly or in partnership by WinStar). “Both of our Kentucky Derby winners, Super Saver and Always Dreaming, were able to move forward off their races at Tampa.

“It is a good, safe surface that legs horses up well, and the Tampa Bay Derby happens to fit well on the calendar.”

In addition to Super Saver and Always Dreaming, the list of top Pletcher/WinStar 3-year-olds to use Tampa Bay Downs as a springboard includes the following: Carpe Diem, who won the 2015 Tampa Bay Derby and earned more than $1.5-million; Any Given Saturday, who won the 2007 Sam F. Davis, finished second to Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby and won the Haskell; and Bluegrass Cat, who won the 2006 Sam F. Davis, finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont and the Travers and won the Haskell.

As Walden and Pletcher can attest, you can get there (Louisville, Ky.) from here (little old Oldsmar). And recognition for Tampa Bay Downs’ salubrious effects could come Saturday, or for Quip two weeks hence in the Preakness.

“Our experiences with Menifee, Bluegrass Cat and Any Given Saturday opened my eyes to what a good place Tampa Bay Downs is to prepare for the classic races,” Walden said. “And you don’t always have to win there to get a real good benefit.

“You want your horse to peak on the first Saturday in May.”

Around the oval. In today’s action, 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Reigning Gal broke her maiden in the eighth race, lifting Gerald Bennett to a 49-48 lead over Kathleen O’Connell in the track’s trainer race. Reigning Gal was bred by Bennett and his wife Mary and competed under their Winning Stables banner.

Samy Camacho rode Reigning Gal, who was claimed from the race by trainer Jon Dailey for new owner Jack Cannon.

Camacho and Ademar Santos each rode two winners today. Camacho swept the late daily double by winning the ninth race on the turf, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, on New Nel, a 4-year-old colt owned by Grupo 7C Racing Stable and trained by Gerard Ochoa.

Camacho has 42 victories over the last 19 Oldsmar racing days.

Santos captured the fourth race with first-time starter Noble Soldier, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Rachel Kimbell and trained by Monte Thomas. Santos added the sixth race on One Lucky Step, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding bred by the Bennetts, owned by Winning Stables and trained by Mary Bennett.

Racing continues Friday at Tampa Bay Downs, with the simulcast of the Grade I Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies from Churchill Downs also on tap. The Oldsmar oval will also present full cards on Saturday, which is Kentucky Derby Day, and Sunday, which is Fan Appreciation Day at Tampa Bay Downs.

Tampa Bay Downs will stage a pair of $100,000 main-track stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday: the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Silver Charm Florida Sire Stakes for colts and geldings, and the FTBOA Ivanavinalot Florida Sire Stakes for fillies. Both will be run at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards.

Available reserved seating at the Oldsmar oval on Kentucky Derby Day is limited to Grandstand seats at $10 each. All other seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fans may reserve seats by visiting www.tampabaydowns.com on the Internet and clicking the “PREMIER DAY TICKETS” icon.

Mint juleps will be sold in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses.

Tampa Bay Downs will conduct a “Kentucky Derby Day Hat Contest” as part of its Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve celebration. Winners will be chosen in men’s, women’s and children’s divisions. Participants will be required to register in the Gift Shop on the first floor of the Grandstand.

Pictures of finalists in each division will be posted on the Tampa Bay Downs Twitter page, with fans voting for the best hats. Winners in each division will receive certificates for Gift Shop merchandise, and the overall winner will receive a cash prize.

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.