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November 24, 2018

TIME TO DREAM AGAIN: OPENING DAY POINTS TO SEASON OF POSSIBILITIES

by Mike Henry
Up-and-coming rider Samy Camacho wins Tampa Turf Test Fillies and Mares Division on She's Right Again; six-time track champion Daniel Centeno victorious in Males race on Marksman; nominations for Turf Dash, Lightning City Stakes released; fans impressed by upgrades; next day of racing is Wednesday.

Like any racetrack, Tampa Bay Downs is a place where dreams often come true for horsemen, jockeys and bettors.

Before dreams can be realized, though, they have to be clearly defined. For jockey Samy Camacho, his focus on his own lofty goals has been unwavering since finishing second in last season’s standings to Antonio Gallardo with 100 victories.

camacho




Samy Camacho

“I’m happy to come back to Tampa,” Camacho said after his second victory on the Opening Day card, on 4-year-old filly She’s Right Again in the first leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series for fillies and mares which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2018.

“My dream – I talk to God every day – I want the (riding) title this year,” Camacho said, chuckling a bit nervously at his own bravado.

The Tampa Turf Test was just one of many highlights on a day that began sunny and warm before turning overcast in mid-afternoon, then partly sunny later.

In the Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test, contested as the seventh race, 5-year-old gelding Marksman found an opening along the fence in deep stretch and powered past pacesetter Pirate Beach, a 39-1 shot, for a length-and-a-quarter victory.

Daniel Centeno rode Marksman, who is owned by Bruce McCrea and trained by Rob O’Connor, II.

centeno (2)





Daniel Centeno

Perhaps channeling what he has learned by watching the six-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion Centeno, Camacho turned in a textbook performance on She’s Right Again in the 1-mile turf event for females, carded as the fifth race.

After stalking pacesetter Faster N Blazes up the backstretch, Camacho asked his mount for her best approaching the far turn, and She’s Right Again sped clear from her nine rivals to win in a time of 1:35.86 for the mile on a firm turf course.

Owned by Big Lick Farm and trained by Sarah Nagle, She’s Right Again paid $5.60 as the wagering favorite after improving her career record to 4-for-15.

“I rode her the last time at Gulfstream Park West (a fifth-place finish on Oct. 19), and I lost the irons from the gate (making it a challenge just to stay on),” Camacho said. “Today she was ready. She broke really sharp, I put her behind the speed and at the half-mile pole I took the lead easy because I had a lot of horse.

“Turning for home I just smooched to her a little bit, and she won easy. She’s a nice filly,” Camacho said.

Aquemini and jockey Addiel Ayala closed well to finish second, three-and-a-quarter lengths behind, while never threatening the winner.

The 30-year-old Camacho’s vast improvement last season under the savvy tutelage of agent Steve Elzey gives the Oldsmar jockey colony a new dimension, and if Camacho stays healthy and his focus remains strong, there is a decent chance he can give past champions Antonio Gallardo and Centeno a fight for the top spot.

Another determined foe is Camacho’s 27-year-old brother, Samuel Camacho, Jr., who turned in a good second in the third race on 11-1 shot Noonsight to Dollar Blue.

“He is real good competition. We have a good relationship, and I’m trying to help him because he is new here and Tampa Bay Downs is not an easy track,” Samy said. “He’s working hard every day and he’ll win races here, for sure.

“I’ve never won a riding title, and I’d like to do it here because Tampa gave me the opportunity as a young rider. I’m learning every day,” Samy added.

Camacho’s other victory came in the second race on 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Northern Wind for owners Gina Brooks and Nation’s Racing Stable and trainer Keith Nations.

Centeno, who also rode two winners, didn’t panic when Pirate Beach and jockey Brian Pedroza opened an early 5-length lead from Franklin Towers and the other stalkers. “We thought (Franklin Towers, who finished fourth) was the only speed in the race, so when (Pirate Beach) went to the lead, that was perfect for me,” Centeno said. “I got good position on the rail, and I had a lot of horse.

“I was worried a little bit turning for home, but when the leader came out, my horse went through. I could have been outside or inside, no matter what,” Centeno said.

Although it was only Marksman’s third victory in 19 starts, O’Connor said he has been racing against tough company all spring and summer in Kentucky. “Everything pretty much went the way we thought it would, and Danny gave the horse a superior ride,” O’Connor said.

“I told him in the paddock I really liked this horse today, and I never say that.”

Marksman completed the mile in 1:34.83 and paid $11.40 as the second wagering choice.

Gerald Bennett, who has won three consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles, got off to a quick start by saddling two winners. Bennett sent out 4-year-old filly R Way to Escape to win the first race for owners Averill Racing, Silver Oak Stable and CCF Racing Stable. Centeno was aboard.

Bennett also won the sixth race with 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Jiffy Josh for owner Harold L. Queen. Ronnie Allen, Jr., another past Tampa Bay Downs champion, was the jockey.

The track unveiled numerous improvements on Opening Day, including a redesigned main entrance; a waterproof, vinyl plank floor throughout the Grandstand; and banners from new sponsor Touch Vodka honoring many of the sport’s great champions, including the locally based 1995 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter, Not Surprising.

Also drawing much attention and compliments was the new “Tracking Our History” display, consisting of a video retrospective and a glass-enclosed collection of memorabilia and milestones from the track opening in 1926 to the current day.

Turf Dash, Lightning City kick off stakes schedule. Turf sprinters of both sexes will bask in the spotlight on Saturday, Dec. 1 when Tampa Bay Downs launches its 2018-2019 stakes schedule with the $100,000 Turf Dash and the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes.

Both races will be contested on the grass at a distance of 5 furlongs. The Turf Dash is for horses 3-years-old-and-upward and the Lightning City is for fillies and mares 3-and-upward.

The Turf Dash closed last week with 29 nominations, among them Florida-bred World of Trouble, last season’s Pasco Stakes winner who finished third in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. The 3-year-old Jason Servis-trainee finished second by a neck to Stormy Liberal earlier this month in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Servis has also nominated Vision Perfect, a 6-year-old graded-stakes winner who has earned $672,784.

Other nominees include last year’s Turf Dash winner Pay Any Price, an 8-year-old Florida-bred gelding who has won four consecutive races for owners Matties Racing Stable and Averill Racing while increasing his career bankroll to $551,683, and last season’s Inaugural Stakes winner Tricks to Doo, a 3-year-old from the barn of trainer Arnaud Delacour.

The Lightning City Stakes closed with 34 nominations, including last season’s winner, the Delacour-trained 4-year-old Smiling Causeway. Also nominated are last season’s winner of the Sandpiper and Gasparilla Stakes, the H. Graham Motion-trained 3-year-old Almond Roca; 5-furlong Florida-bred grass specialist Blue Bahia, from the barn of Servis; and 4-year-old Grade III winner Morticia, trained by George R. “Rusty” Arnold, II.

Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m.. Tampa Bay Downs is on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with Sundays added to the mix beginning Dec. 23.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.