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February 08, 2019

KNICKS GO LEGIT DAVIS FAVE, BUT NO SURE THING; FERRER JOCKEY OF MONTH

by Mike Henry
Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes gives connections a chance to see where their youthful 3-year-olds belong; two Grade III turf stakes also on 12-race card; Jose Ferrer is Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of Month; Ademar Santos rides three winners; first "Kids and Family Days" event is Sunday.

Most of the trainers with runners in Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs view the mile-and-a-sixteenth race for 3-year-olds on the main track as a wide-open affair.

“I think it’s a good race for everybody to see what kind of level their horse can compete at,” said Arnaud Delacour, the trainer of Central Park Stakes winner Five Star General.

Knicks Go, by contrast, has knocked heads with the best (thus far) of his class, winning the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 6 at Keeneland and finishing second to the unbeaten Eclipse Award Champion Two-Year-Old Male, Game Winner, in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs.

That’s why the KRA Stud Farm-owned colt is almost certain to be the betting favorite when the field of 10 enters the starting gate for the 11th race on the track’s Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South program. He is 5-2 on the morning line.

The handsome gray colt Knicks Go will break from the No. 3 post under jockey Albin Jimenez.

Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:12 p.m.

Knicks Go’s last start resulted in an off-the-board finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 24 on a sloppy Churchill Downs track, but the manner in which he has been working in Oldsmar has made that outcome a distant memory.

“I’m really happy with the way he’s been training,” said trainer Ben Colebrook, referencing a pair of bullet workouts and last Saturday’s “maintenance” 4-furlong breeze of 48 seconds that was the fourth-fastest of 64 at the distance. “He’s had good energy the last couple of weeks and is starting to get his game face on.

“He took it easy for a while (after the Kentucky Jockey Club) and gained some weight, but now that he is back in full training, he seems to be thriving,” Colebrook said. “I’m a little concerned with the early speed inside of him (No. 2, the maiden Going for Gold) and possibly some outside speed, but I think the Breeders’ Cup showed (Knicks Go) can sit off a pace-setting horse.”

Colebrook is confident that no matter who goes to the lead, or if Knicks Go inherits it, Jimenez can avoid a damaging head-to-head duel up front that could compromise his chances.

“He’s the most proven horse in the race,” Colebrook said, “and if he runs back to one of his better races, I think if will take a career-best for somebody to beat him.”

That statement still lends itself to the proposition that the Sam F. Davis could be wide-open, since none of the entrants have raced more than six times and any horse can have an off-day, even one as accomplished and training as well as Eclipse Award finalist Knicks Go.

The Sam F. Davis – a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race – is one of four stakes, three of them graded, on the 12-race card.

The graded-stakes excitement begins with the eighth race, the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.

The morning-line favorite in the eight-horse field at 9-5 is 8-year-old Ontario-bred Heart to Heart, trained by Brian Lynch and to be ridden by Julien Leparoux. The multiple-Grade I winner is 15-for-39 lifetime, with career earnings in excess of $2-million.

The ninth race is the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, to be contested at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track. Nine are entered, with Sweet Diane – 1-for-3, with two seconds, including a narrow stakes defeat – a lukewarm 3-1 morning-line favorite. She is trained by Michael Stidham and will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo.

Next up is the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for fillies-and-mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass. The original morning-line favorite, Rymska, from the barn of trainer Chad Brown, will instead run in the Grade III Suwanee River Stakes at Gulfstream.

Pre-race favoritism thus falls in the lap of 6-year-old Irish-bred mare Hawksmoor, trained by Delacour and to be ridden by Javier Castellano. She has finished second in five of her last eight starts (her most recent victory came in the Grade II New York Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in June of 2017), but she is the only career millionaire in the field.

Delacour, who also trains Lambholm South Endeavour entrant Bombshell, offers no excused for Hawksmoor’s string of runner-up finishes and thinks she has an excellent chance to display her best form Saturday. “She is a true Grade II filly, but at the highest level you need to be at your best and sometimes only a length or two divides them,” Delacour said.

Back to the Sam F. Davis, where Delacour, as well as owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International Ltd., and SF Racing, might give an assist to the weather if Five Star General springs the upset.

Sunny skies and warm temperatures are expected today at Tampa Bay Downs, but wet conditions at Laurel on Oct. 27 led to a maiden special weight contest being switched from the turf to a sloppy, sealed main track. Five Star General won by four-and-a-quarter lengths, then captured the Central Park Stakes on Nov. 22 at Aqueduct in gate-to-wire fashion going a mile on a fast track in a race also switched from the turf to the dirt.

“He has a lot of turf in his pedigree (by Distorted Humor out of Party of Interest, by Bernardini), but he hasn’t done anything wrong on the dirt,” Delacour said. “So this (the Sam F. Davis) is a logical spot for him, I think.

“He has been training very well and seems to like this track,” Delacour said of Five Star General, who posted three successive 5-furlong bullet workouts here before breezing 4 furlongs Monday in 48 seconds. “So before we make a switch (back to turf), it will be nice to test him at this level.”

Five Star General will break from the No. 7 post under Jose Ortiz.

Godolphin, the global racing behemoth started by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has two homebreds in the Sam F. Davis: Kentucky Wildcat, who broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Dec. 1 in his third start, and Cave Run, who finished third here in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 19. Cave Run is by Street Sense, who won the 2007 (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby on the road to Kentucky Derby glory.

Joe Bravo rides Kentucky Wildcat and Jesus Castanon is on Cave Run.

Another intriguing entrant is So Alive, who is 2-for-3 including a mile-and-40-yard victory here on Jan. 6. So Alive is trained by Todd Pletcher, who is seeking his seventh Sam F. Davis triumph, and will be ridden by Castellano. Trainer Ian Wilkes’ Counter Offer finished a length-and-a-half behind So Alive last month, so he and jockey Antonio Gallardo are hard to dismiss.

The others are the Kathleen O’Connell-trained Florida-bred gelding Well Defined, who won the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Sire In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream and participated in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and will be ridden by Pablo Morales; Still Dreaming, a maiden winner on Jan. 1 at Laurel, trained by H. Graham Motion and to be ridden by Jorge A. Vargas, Jr.; the Dale Romans-trainee Moonster, to be piloted by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Samy Camacho; and the maiden Going for Gold, trained by Robert B. Hess, Jr., with Jose A. Bracho getting the riding assignment.

Ferrer honored as Señor Tequila Jockey of the Month. Competing against jockeys roughly half his age seems to heighten Jose Ferrer’s competitive drive.

“These young kids here are great performers and good riders. But I think I have a little advantage on them in experience,” said Ferrer, who turns 55 on March 31. “I can see a lot of things on the racetrack right before they happen, and that goes a long way.”

Ferrer has ridden seven winners since Jan. 12, earning the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award. At an age when a lot of guys want to swing in a hammock, the Santurce, Puerto Rico product pushes himself as hard as he did at 19, when he became the first jockey to win five races on a single card at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

“Watching Tom Brady win another Super Bowl, stuff like that keeps me going,” said Ferrer, who works out diligently – often side-by-side with his wife, Steffi – and doesn’t smoke or drink. “Brady is so strong mentally, and that’s how I try to be. I’m glad to be doing what I am at my age, and I plan to keep going the way I’m going.”

Nearing 4,400 career victories, Ferrer is 21st among active jockeys in wins in North America. He has 26 graded-stakes victories, including the Grade I Spinaway in 2000 at Saratoga on Stormy Pick.

None of his career accomplishments could have prepared him for 2018, which he describes as “a dream year.” When he arrived at Tampa Bay Downs in the fall of 2017, he was recovering from a multi-horse spill at Delaware Park in which he incurred a collapsed lung, eight broken ribs and three fractured vertebrae.

Instead of buying that hammock, Ferrer arrived in Oldsmar with something to prove. Plus, as Steffi once observed, “His motivation to keep going strong comes from his love of the sport and his desire to take care of his family.”

His passion resulted in a spectacular campaign. After finishing sixth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 37 victories, Ferrer took Monmouth Park by storm by winning the title with 95 victories, 24 more than the runner-up.

The Santurce, Puerto Rico product rode six winners on July 8 for the first time in his career. His 25-percent strike rate for the year was ninth-best in North America among jockeys with 100 or more victories. He finished 2018 with 166 victories, his most since 1998, and his horses amassed purse earnings of more than $3.2-million, his highest figure since 2000.

Ferrer’s banner year actually took flight in February when he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which honors a rider whose career and personal character earn esteem for the individual and Thoroughbred racing. The winner is decided by a vote of active jockeys.

He received the award in a winner’s-circle ceremony on April 15 at Santa Anita.

“You have to have some kind of balance and support to accomplish those things, and my foundation is God, my wife and my children,” Ferrer said. “At my age, everything that happened last year was a blessing from the sky.”

Ferrer and wife Steffi have two sons: Derek, 4 ½, and Joseph, 3. The rider accepted Jesus Christ as his savior several years ago and takes a day-by-day approach to his job.

“I thank the man upstairs for all the opportunities he gives me to continue my journey,” Ferrer said. “He keeps opening the doors – it’s unbelievable, really.”

The way Ferrer is going, it might be Brady swinging from that hammock in a couple of years, watching the jockey win more races.

Around the oval. Ademar Santos rode three winners today. He captured the second race on Drill’s Li’l Man, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Winning Stables and trained by Gerald Bennett.

Santos added the third race aboard Josie’s Riddle, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Joey Gee Thoroughbreds and trained by John Simms. He also captured the eighth race on the turf on 12-1 shot Over to You, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Lambholm and trained by Roy S. Lerman.

Sunday presents a chance for fans of all ages to let down their hair and savor the joy of Thoroughbred racing at the season’s first “Kids and Family Days” celebration in the track’s Backyard Picnic Area, located just north of the paddock.

Admission is free, and the atmosphere is suitable for individuals making their first visit to the racetrack as well as established racing fans. Pony rides, bounce houses and games are among the attractions, and party goers can expect a visit from the track’s mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse.

Subsequent “Kids and Family days” events are scheduled Feb. 17, March 3 and March 17.

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.