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December 22, 2018


by Mike Henry
Veteran trainer's quick start mirrors last season; four-time jockey champ has plenty to celebrate; Morning Glory Club returns Saturday, Dec. 29.

Although his is a relatively new face to most Tampa Bay Downs regulars, Michael Stidham first trained horses here in 1980 when his late father, George Stidham, sent him to Oldsmar with about 10 run-of-the-mill horses and specific instructions.

“He told me to go learn something and not bring any back with me – either get them claimed or sold,” Stidham recalled a while back.

The impact of that experience on his future success is hard to quantify, but Stidham might occasionally wonder why he didn’t return to Tampa Bay Downs earlier than last season. For the second consecutive year, his barn got off to a blazing start that has resulted in his earning the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award.

Stidham, who won with six of his first 13 Tampa Bay Downs starters a year ago, started a slightly less torrid 7-for-17 this season after 5-year-old gelding Born for a Storm’s victory in today’s fourth race under jockey Jesus Castanon.

Stidham, who turned 61 Tuesday, is primarily based at Fair Grounds in New Orleans with his main assistant and life partner, Hilary Pridham. Ben Trask is in charge of the day-to-day operation at Tampa Bay Downs, but Stidham spent three days here earlier this month on a “working” vacation.

The old stompin’ grounds remained pretty much as he left them last season.

“We love being at Tampa,” Stidham said. “The backside and the barn area are horse-friendly, with a lot of grass and dirt walking paths. And the track surfaces, both the dirt and the turf, are very kind and safe, which is a key factor.

“If your horses aren’t staying sound, it doesn’t matter how good they are, and one thing we’ve seen at Tampa is that the horses stay safe.”

Relatively safe, so far, is placing a wager on Stidham runners. With more than 1,900 career victories, including 39 graded-stakes triumphs, Stidham is a master at placing horses in the “right spots” – at tracks and in races where they’re competitive – and the results speak loud and clear.

“We tried to hand-select horses this winter that would fit at Tampa and New Orleans to give them all the best chance at success. Plus, the tracks are close enough that we can ship horses between the tracks as needed.

“We have more and better horses at Tampa this year, including some very well-bred Godolphin-owned horses. We’re very lucky to be in a position to get those kind,” he added.

Stidham, who has a career-best six graded-stakes victories in 2018 (four by Pin Oak Stable’s 5-year-old Synchrony), is delighted at having Trask to run his Tampa Bay Downs operation. “He has been with us going on four years, and he is a hard-working, conscientious young guy who is going to go a long way in this business,” Stidham said.

“I think he is an up-and-coming top trainer, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Around the oval. Four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion Antonio Gallardo rode four winners today, helping the first three to break their maidens. Gallardo captured the third race on Shanghai Shuffle, a 3-year-old filly owned by Backstretch Farms and trained by Joan Scott. He added the sixth race on Warm, a 2-year-old filly bred and owned by Leverett S. and Linda Miller and trained by Kent Sweezey.

Gallardo added the eighth race on Tabia, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Ian Wilkes. He closed out his big day by winning the 10th race on Red Angry Bird, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by W. Mike Anderson and trained by Darien Rodriguez.

Pablo Morales rode two winners. Morales, who has 198 victories in 2018, won the fifth race on Suba Lou, a 2-year-old Florida-bred filly racing for breeder-owner Stonehedge, LLC and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Morales added the seventh, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, aboard Malibu Uproar, a 3-year-old gelding bred and owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by H. Graham Motion.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There are 10 races scheduled Wednesday, with a 12:17 post time.

Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Christmas, Dec. 25. The Silks Poker Room and The Downs Golf Practice Facility will be open Sunday and Monday. The Silks Poker Room will be open Monday from 10 a.m.-1 a.m., while The Downs Golf Practice Facility will sell the last bucket of driving range balls Monday at 4 p.m.

The annual Calendar Giveaway begins Wednesday. The 2019 edition of the commemorative keepsake will be distributed throughout the week to the first 10,000 patrons, with paid admission. Included are photographs by some of the area’s top equine photojournalists.

Morning Glory Club returns. Thoroughbred racing fans can gain valuable insights about the sport by attending track announcer Richard Grunder’s popular “Morning Glory Club,” which makes its return at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29 on the first floor of the Grandstand.

Grunder, who is in his 35th season as track announcer, will interview a different guest each Saturday through March 9, including trainers, jockeys and track personalities. Admission is free, along with coffee and donuts.