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January 18, 2019


by Mike Henry
"Tampa Bay Owners Club" members set to raise the roof for War Bridle in Pasco; H. Graham Motion claims Salt Rock Tavern honor, saddles Almond Roca in Wayward Lass; Pick-5 hit for $7,628.80 on 50-cent wager.

David Davila is eager to share the thrills of Thoroughbred ownership with about 90 new friends on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Ocala-based attorney, who owns 75-acre Backstretch Farms in the heart of central Florida’s horse country, will be here to watch his 3-year-old gelding War Bridle compete in the $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes. War Bridle is trained by Joan Scott and will be ridden by Pablo Morales.

Although War Bridle is 30-1 on the morning line, hope springs eternal for his connections. War Bridle won a 6-furlong starter/optional claiming race here on Dec. 8 by seven-and-a-quarter lengths, and his workouts leading to the Pasco have been fast and spirited.

“I’m confident in the horse,” Davila said. “He had plenty to give at 6 furlongs with a lot left and ran a real good time (1:11.28). Even though he is stepping up in class, he has the potential and he may show it.”

The Pasco, which has drawn a field of seven, including Inaugural Stakes winner Gladiator King and fellow stakes winners Jackson and Zenden, is one of three stakes on Saturday’s 11-race Skyway Festival Day card. The Pasco will be contested as the seventh race.

Also on tap are the $125,000, 7-furlong Gasparilla for 3-year-old fillies, which is the ninth race, and the $50,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes for older fillies and mares, which is the third race. The Gasparilla attracted 11 horses, including the well-regarded Bella Ciao, stakes winner Into Trouble and Into the South.

Post time for the first race is 12:09 p.m.

Meanwhile, on today’s program, the late Pick-5 was hit, returning $15,257.60 for $1 and $7,628.80 for the minimum 50-cent wager. There were 31 winning 50-cent tickets sold on the winning 11-8-1-10-8 combination.

Six weeks ago, War Bridle was the surprise winner of the aforementioned starter/optional claimer, which served as the first-ever “Tampa Bay Owners Club” race. The 90 fans who correctly selected War Bridle as the winner became part of the club, with perks including an attractive pin identifying them as club members, free admission, a program, a mutuel voucher and concession-stand discounts each time War Bridle competes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Club members also will be allowed inside the paddock before the Pasco and in the winner’s circle, should he spring another upset.

War Bridle checked a lot of boxes for Davila during his trip to Lexington, Ky., last summer for the July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale. His pedigree and conformation were appealing, and the (then)-2-year-old had set a track record at Belterra Park for four-and-a-half furlongs in his maiden victory on June 29.

But when it came time to decide on making a purchase, Davila relied on intangibles: War Bridle’s presence in the ring and a look that shouted “racehorse.”

“He was big and strong, but mostly it was his look. He had a presence about him,” said Davila, who paid $27,000 for War Bridle. “It had a lot to do with his eyes – he just looked confident.”

He and his family – his wife, Kimberly, and their 12-year-old son, David – are up to 21 horses, comprised of horses of racing age, just-turned 2-year-olds and yearlings. For all, it is the thrill of a lifetime, no questions asked.

“It was a childhood dream of mine to own a farm and race horses, since my father Julio took me to the track in Puerto Rico as a child,” said Davila, who turns 42 Tuesday. “War Bridle’s success is exhilarating for all of us. Our expectations for him were not overly high, but we thought if we gave him a rest and sent him to (bloodstock agent) Nick (de Meric), he could develop to a higher level. He’s also benefited from the individual attention and care Joan is able to give him.

“My dad is on Cloud Nine over this horse. To be able to give him an experience like this is amazing; words don’t explain it. He was a truck driver and worked three jobs to send me through school,” Davila said.

Davila encourages members of the “Tampa Bay Owners Club,” and others, to consider participating as actual owners, but to be realistic and prudent in their approach.

“If you really have a passion for horses and have the disposable income, by all means I think it is worth it,” he said. “But it’s an expensive sport and you can’t go into it expecting to make a profit.

“I’m getting a lot of pleasure from it, but we started with a business plan laid out, and we treat it as a business, not a hobby. You want to get your money back or make a profit, but you don’t want to throw away money you can’t afford to lose.”

Davila and Scott will be special guests of track announcer Richard Grunder at 10 a.m. on Saturday at his “Morning Glory Club” Show on the first floor of the Grandstand. Admission is free and attendees receive donuts, coffee and Grandstand passes.

Motion is Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of Month. Even in the dead of winter, spring seems tantalizingly close to racing fans when they are reminded the 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is only 15 weeks (and a day) away.

Trainer H. Graham Motion knows the road to Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May is strewn with pitfalls. He also knows how to get there and win, as he proved in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, who made only four starts before capturing the Run for the Roses.

So Motion is quick to dismiss any talk that the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay Downs might be too early to test his 3-year-old colt Still Dreaming, who broke his maiden on Jan. 1 at Laurel Park going a mile in his second career start. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and Chris Larsen, Still Dreaming is a half-brother to 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.

“We’re very high on him. There is a very small window between now and the first week in May, and we have to find it,” Motion said.

The Sam F. Davis is a Road to the Kentucky Derby points race.

Picking the right spots at the right times seems like second nature for Motion, who earned the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award after sending out five winners in recent weeks.

The Fair Hill, Md., resident has won 2,359 races in his career, but if you threw out all his victories except the stakes he has won at Tampa Bay Downs, he still would reside in the top echelon of active conditioners.

Motion won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in 2014 with Ring Weekend, 12 years after he saddled Equality to win the same race as a Grade III event. In 2014, he took the Grade III Hillsborough and the Grade III Endeavour, both on the turf, with the 5-year-old mare Cloud Scapes.

He also won the Endeavour with Silver Reunion in 2011 and that year’s Florida Oaks (now a Grade III event) with Dynamic Holiday. Last season, Motion won the Sandpiper and Gasparilla Stakes with Almond Roca, who competes Saturday in the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes.

Truth be told, Motion piles up graded-stakes victories like some kids used to collect marbles or baseball cards. In the last five years, he has a staggering 69 graded-stakes victories, including 12 Grade Is.

While based at Fair Hill, Motion considers Tampa Bay Downs an integral part of his success. “I like Tampa’s program and the consistency of the racetracks, both the main track and the turf,” he said. “It’s a good option for getting horses started.”

Two of his recent victories here came with homebreds owned by major client Isabelle de Tomaso, the breeder-owner of Motion’s since-retired Irish War Cry, a multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire and the 2017 Belmont Stakes runner-up to Tapwrit. One was Irish Strait, a half-brother to Irish War Cry.

Motion, who also maintains strings at Gulfstream Park and Laurel while targeting major races on both coasts and everywhere in between, credits his assistants and staff with ensuring his horses are primed to perform to their utmost. He spends most of his time at his Fair Hill home, which is only a mile from the training center.

“You’re only as good as your owners and your employees, and I’m fortunate to have very good assistants. I couldn’t be spread out like I am if I didn’t have confidence in them,” Motion said. His Tampa Bay Downs assistant, Cat McGee, has been with him for almost seven years and runs his barn at Fair Hill during the summer.

“She is very loyal and committed, and I’m lucky to have her,” Motion said.

Also with McGee here is the Motion-trained sophomore filly Her Royal Highness, who will be prepared for the Feb. 9, $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, a Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race.

High Rollers Handicapping Contest. Saturday’s festivities include the first-ever “High Rollers Handicapping Contest.” The deadline to register is noon.

The tournament will originate from the VIP Room on the first floor of the Clubhouse. The winner earns $20,000 (based on 100 entries) and the first and second-place finishers receive their choice of a seat at the 2019 or 2020 National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping World Series. Second place, based on 100 entries, earns $8,000; third place, $6,000; fourth place, $4,000; and fifth place, $2,000.

The “High Rollers Handicapping Contest” is a real-money event, with players required to deposit $1,000, from which $500 serves as the player’s wagering bankroll and $500 goes into the prize pool. At the conclusion of the contest, each player gets to keep their bankroll, in addition to any contest winnings.

To enter, players must register online at www.tampabaydowns/challenge and make the required payment of $1,000 by noon Saturday. For details, contact Margo Flynn at or (813) 855-4401, extension 1368.

Around the oval. Jockey Jose Ferrer and trainer Jorge Navarro teamed to win two races today. They captured the second with Singanothersong, a 9-year-old gelding owned by Flying P Stable. Ferrer and Navarro added the fourth with What About Tonight, a 5-year-old mare owned by Julian De Mora.

Leading jockey Samy Camacho rode two winners. He won the first race on Colorincolonel, a 5-year-old mare owned by Powerstroke Racing and trained by Alfredo Lichoa. Camacho added the eighth with Releasethethunder, a 3-year-old colt owned by Sumaya U.S. Stable and trained by Christophe Clement.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day 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.