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February 15, 2019


by Mike Henry
Monday, March 4 is date for popular social event; Imperial Hint seeks to dazzle in Pelican Stakes on Saturday; John Rigattieri is Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of Month.

One of the most popular social events of the Tampa Bay Downs season, the “Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament and Fundraiser,” will be held March 4 at East Lake Woodlands Country Club and Tampa Bay Downs.

The 27th annual, which supports the ongoing efforts of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America – Tampa Bay Downs Division, kicks off the track’s Festival Week, which culminates in Festival Day 39 on March 9, featuring the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, two additional graded stakes and a cool $1-million in stakes purse money.

This year’s Hearts Reaching Out extravaganza features the Triple Crown golf sponsorship package. A $2,500 donation includes a foursome with golfer packages, recognition signs at the event and the sponsor’s name on hole signs.

Other sponsorship opportunities are available.

The tournament, featuring a four-player scramble format, begins at 11 a.m. It is followed at 5:30 p.m. by a dinner on the first floor of the Tampa Bay Downs Grandstand, with a Charity Auction and the awards ceremony at 6 p.m.

Tickets for the dinner and auction only are $20. Among the items to be auctioned are photographs, paintings, whips, halters and other racing and sports memorabilia; gift certificates and gift cards for restaurants, movies, theaters, museums and sporting events; lottery tickets; gift baskets; and numerous other keepers.

The RTCA – Tampa Bay Downs Division, under the guidance of President Sharyn Wasiluk and Chaplain Pete Crisswell, ministers to the needs of the backstretch community by providing computer lessons, English language courses, church services, Bible study, softball, volleyball and soccer events and a March fishing trip.

As at a majority of racetracks, men and women who are in the United States on temporary worker visas are employed at Tampa Bay Downs as grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders and stable hands. The chaplaincy strives to help them achieve a life balance while entrusting them with the care of valuable equine athletes, and any public support is greatly appreciated.

The spiritual component of the RTCA – Tampa Bay Downs Division helps “to bring the word of God to everyone on the back side of the racetrack to bring as many people as possible into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, resulting in a life that is full and abundant in its nature and eternal in its scope.”

For additional details on the “Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament and Fundraiser,” call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 854-1313.

Pelican, Minaret on tap. Imperial Hint has been established as a 2-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $100,000 Pelican Stakes, a 6-furlong sprint for horses 4-years-old-and-upward on the main track. The Pelican is the seventh race on an 11-race card, with post time for the first race at 12:43 p.m.

Saturday’s other stakes is the $50,000 Minaret, also at a distance of 6 furlongs, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward. The Minaret is slated as the ninth race.

Saturday’s fun begins at 10 a.m. with track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” Show on the first floor of the Grandstand. His guest is Heriberto Rivera, Jr., the Jockeys’ Guild Regional Manager who rode more than 3,100 winners and was a two-time leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs.

Admission is free and attendees receive donuts, coffee and Grandstand passes.

Imperial Hint, a two-time Eclipse award finalist in the Male Sprinter category, will be making his 6-year-old debut in the Pelican. Owned by Raymond Mamone and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr., the Florida-bred is a multiple-Grade I winner and earner of almost $1.6-million.

Antonio Gallardo, who rode Imperial Hint in his first three career starts, will be aboard Imperial Hint, who will face five rivals. Carvajal said he is using the Pelican as a prep race for the $2.5-million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

The second choice in the Pelican at 5-1 is 4-year-old Tricks to Doo, who won the Inaugural Stakes here last season as a 2-year-old. Tricks to Doo is trained by Arnaud Delacour and will be ridden by Declan Cannon.

The Minaret has attracted nine runners, with 5-year-old mare Heavenly Score the morning-line favorite at 5-2. She is trained by John P. Terranova, II and will be ridden by Pablo Morales. The Arkansas-bred is making her first start since finishing third in the Shine Again Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 1. In her previous race, she had finished third in the Grade III Intercontinental Stakes on the turf at Belmont.

The second choice at 7-2 is 4-year-old filly Elevenses, a stakes-winning filly who is trained by Tim Hamm and will be ridden by Gallardo while making her first start since June. She finished second in the Grade III Soaring Softly last May at Belmont.

Rigattieri earns Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of Month Award. About six years before Secretariat flashed across the nation’s sporting consciousness, moving like a tremendous machine en route to his historic 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes, Brooklyn teenager John Rigattieri got a chance to work for Lucien Laurin, the trainer who would guide the career of the Triple Crown winner.

This was the late 1960s, an era when Saturday racing cards in New York routinely drew 40,000-50,000 fans, and racing took a back seat only to baseball and the NFL, maybe college football. A decade when Kelso was Horse of the Year five years in a row and Damascus, Buckpasser and Dr. Fager all entered the starting gate in the 1967 Woodward Stakes because it was the sporting thing to do and competition meant more than trying to hit a late Pick-3.



John Rigattieri

Anyway, Rigattieri got a job walking hots at Laurin’s Belmont barn in a roundabout fashion: His father, who was a mailman, knew the son of Laurin’s assistant trainer, who helped Rigattieri land the job.

The break of a lifetime. “What did I learn from Lucien Laurin? Everything,” Rigattieri said in December of 2014, soon after arriving at Tampa Bay Downs. “The training techniques, being consistent. Not to abuse the horse. He used to say horses gave him everything, and he wouldn’t drill them too hard.

“Being consistent is the biggest thing. If you’re going on a bad streak, you can’t change (your approach).

“I just loved everything about the track,” recalls Rigattieri, who won six races from 13 starts over a recent span to earn the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award. He jumped at the chance to gallop horses at Laurin’s training center in Holly Hill, S.C.; that’s where he met Eddie Sweat, who would achieve fame as the groom of both Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, and Riva Ridge, who won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont.

One winter, Rigattieri rode with Sweat and a few of Laurin’s racehorses from Holly Hill to Gulfstream. “He taught me a lot about horses, about the legs,” Rigattieri says. It was a long time ago, but it was a beginning, and even though horses were never his thing as a boy, the seeds were planted and the roots took hold.

Rigattieri has trained his share of stakes winners – Collegian counted the 1990 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes at Pimlico and the 1991 Rockingham Sprint Handicap among his 12 victories, and Jessethemarine won stakes at Laurel and Delaware as a 2-year-old in 2013 – but he has been primarily a claiming trainer, someone who tries to move up horses for new owners and risks losing them to another outfit for the chance to win a race.

Claiming trainers constantly emphasize the importance of entering their horses in the right “spots” (races). As he has been so often throughout his career, Rigattieri was spot-on in his placements on Sunday, winning two races to wrest the Salt Rock Tavern honor from a pair of two other worthy candidates.

Rigattieri won the fourth race at Tampa Bay Downs that day with 5-year-old mare Miss Krivoruchka and the ninth race with 4-year-old Florida-bred filly All Good Times, both 5-1 shots. With a relatively small stable of 12 horses, Rigattieri is tied for seventh in the trainer standings with eight victories.

“Getting them into the right races is big, but my job is a lot easier because my help does a great job,” Rigattieri said. “Joe Amico, who also works on the gate crew, does an excellent job galloping my horses. My grooms, Juan and Pena, and D.J., who also works in the barn, are second to none in their care of the horses.”

Rigattieri also receives help from his partner, Jeri Vieira, who works in the test barn at Delaware Park during the summer, and he credits such owners as Manfred Roos and Stephen Derany for their contributions.

One of Rigattieri’s most popular horses is the 9-year-old gelding Twocubanbrothersu, whom he claimed here four years ago for $6,250 and owns in partnership with Derany. He has won 17 of 32 starts since, including the $110,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse Stakes in 2017 at Gulfstream, and won his most recent start here on Jan. 16 at odds of 10-1.

“I still enjoy the competition and the challenge of claiming horses and moving them up,” said Rigattieri, who sent out at least 122 winners each year from 2004-2009. “I study videos, I clock them when I can and we treat all of them well.”

Rigattieri is 41st all-time among North American trainers with 2,723 victories and 27th among active trainers. But numbers don’t drive him; it’s the sport’s timeless rhythms and the allure of the noble, willing Thoroughbred, which he first discovered more than 50 years ago, which seems like forever to today’s breed of horseplayer but is only a few yesterdays ago to guys like him.

“Winning is still fun, and I love coming to Tampa every winter,” said Rigattieri, who started on his own at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire in 1972. “I always wanted to come here, but better late than never.”

Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo and Declan Cannon each rode two winners on today’s card. Gallardo won the second race on 3-year-old Florida-bred colt He Iz Gone, who finished in a dead-heat with Jack B Winkle. Owned by Steve Ballou and Lucio Tucci, He Iz Gone was trained by Joan Scott. He Iz Gone was, aptly, claimed from the race for $25,000 by trainer Teresa Connelly for new owner Kathy Wallace.

Gallardo also won the ninth race on I Am too Wild, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Savoy Stable and trained by Michele Boyce.

Cannon was victorious in the third race on Spender, a 5-year-old mare owned by Oksana Mishura and trained by Gennadi Dorochenko. Cannon added the eighth race on the turf aboard first-time starter Fashion Decree, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Andrew Rosen and trained by Ignacio Correas, IV.

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.