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February 22, 2019


by Mike Henry
A lightly raced colt trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez makes smashing 3-year-old debut -- sound familiar?; Tampa Turf Test races are Saturday; "Hearts Reaching Out" golf tournament, dinner on March 4; "Generation Z Special" race is Sunday; Gary Wales sweeps late daily double.

Believe it or not, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had a few anxious moments during Triple Crown nominee Spinoff’s 11 ¾-length victory in today’s second race at Tampa Bay Downs.

“He passed the other horses and got to the ¼-mile pole, and then he started waiting. Then he saw the gate (at the top of the stretch, along the outside rail) and he went to pull up and I said ‘Aargh, come on, pay attention,’ ” Velazquez said.

“Once he passed the gate, the other horse (runner-up Cave Run) kind came to him a little bit and he went on again. So it was a good effort.”

It was the first start for the 3-year-old son of Grade I winner and 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun since a third-place finish in the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite on Aug. 12, and also Spinoff’s first race around two turns. His time for the mile-and-40-yard distance in the allowance/optional claiming event was 1:40.25, 1.18 seconds off the track record.

Making the race especially noteworthy is that it marks the third consecutive winter Spinoff’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, has sent a relatively untested 3-year-old here for a mile-and-40-yard race with designs on establishing a foundation for stakes success.

Two years ago, Pletcher and Velazquez teamed to win a maiden special weight event with Always Dreaming on Jan. 25, and they went on to win the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Last year, Pletcher sent Magnum Moon to Oldsmar for an allowance/optional claiming victory on Feb. 15, and that runner went on to win the Grade II Rebel and the Grade I Arkansas Derby.

Watching from south Florida, Pletcher expressed his pleasure with the performance by Spinoff, who is out of Grade I winner Zaftig, herself by Gone West.

“It looked like he was still figuring things out coming down the lane and running a little green, but what was impressive was that he finished well and had something left in the tank,” said the conditioner, who said the six-month layoff resulted from “a little setback” after the Saratoga Special.

“This is a colt we’ve always had high hopes for, and we thought we had him fit enough to go two turns today and that it could benefit him for something bigger and better down the road. Tampa Bay Downs has worked well for us (as a starting point); it’s a good, safe surface, and getting two-turn experience is very important looking ahead.”

Pletcher was unsure what’s next for Spinoff, a homebred racing for owners Wertheimer and Frere. He did not rule out returning for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, although that “probably would be bringing him back a little quicker than what’s ideal.

“Whatever we do next, it probably will be in a graded stakes somewhere,” Pletcher added.

The Gerald Bennett-trained Mercusio led the five-horse field early, then jockey Samy Camacho tried to rein in his early speed that produced an opening quarter-mile of 22.68 seconds.

“I was trying to let (Mercusio) go, but he kind of slowed down around the first turn and got me in a little bit tight,” Velazquez said. “So I forced him to go a little bit faster and then on the backstretch, I took back and went around him just to be in a comfortable position with my horse, and after that it was pretty easy.

“He ran a pretty good race at Saratoga, but obviously he was much better today. He’ll have to step up to the next level next time, but he shows a lot of talent and hopefully he can move forward from here. He’s done everything well for coming off the long layoff.”

Tampa Turf Test. Saturday’s 10-race card begins at 12:43 p.m. Among the highlights are the third legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, with the Fillies and Mares Division scheduled as the seventh race and the Males Division slated as the ninth race.

Both races will be contested at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth on the grass. The Tampa Turf Test races are for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2018-2019.

The morning-line, 5-2 favorite in the nine-horse Fillies and Mares Division is 5-year-old Kool Kate, who has three victories and four seconds in her last seven starts. She is owned by John Wallace and Anthony Granitz, trained by Granitz and will be ridden by Willie Martinez. Kool Kate is a daughter of General Quarters, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in 2009 and developed into a multiple-Grade I winner.

Also in the field is Tearless, who defeated Kool Kate on Jan. 5 in the second leg of the Tampa Turf Test series at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth. The 6-year-old Florida-bred Tearless is owned by Philip Leary and trained by Derek Ryan and will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.

The Males Division has attracted an overflow field of 11. The morning-line, 3-1 favorite is Marksman, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Rob O’Connor, II and to be ridden by Daniel Centeno. Marksman won the first leg of the Tampa Turf Test series at a mile on Nov. 24.

Second choice at 7-2 is the 4-year-old Florida-bred ridgling And Won, trained by Granitz and to be ridden by Antonio Gallardo. And Won scored an impressive allowance victory going a mile on the turf on Feb. 22, and his form could make him formidable Saturday.

In the eighth race, an allowance/optional claiming, 7-furlong main-track event, the popular 9-year-old gelding Twocubanbrothersu will face eight rivals. Owned by Stephen Derany and John Rigattieri and trained by Rigattieri, Twocubanbrothersu is 17-for-32 since being claimed four seasons ago by Rigattieri for $6,250. He won the $110,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse Stakes at Gulfstream in December of 2017.

Saturday’s fun begins at 10 a.m. with an appearance by Irish jockey Declan Cannon at track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” Show. Admission is free and patrons receive donuts, coffee and Grandstand passes.

Hearts Reaching Out. The 27th annual “Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament and Fundraiser,” which benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America – Tampa Bay Downs Division, will be held March 4 at East Lake Woodlands Country Club and Tampa Bay Downs.

The event 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 for 3-year-old Triple Crown prospects.

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.

The chaplaincy strives to help grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and stable hands 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.

Generation Z Special. Sunday’s seventh race is the “Generation Z Special,” with fans 25-and-under holding a ticket on the winner invited to the winner’s-circle ceremony to join in the picture with the winning horse and its connections.

The “Generation Z Special” race is an offshoot of the track’s “College Days” contest, in which students submitted essays with ideas for marketing horse racing to a new generation of fans. Five students were chosen by a panel of judges to receive $2,000 scholarships through the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation based on their essays.

Credit goes to Basia Kuehn, with track officials agreeing an event such as the “Generation Z Special” promises to create publicity through social-media postings of the winner’s-circle celebration.

Around the oval. Gary Wales won both halves of the late daily double on a pair of 9-1 shots. In the eighth race, Wales rode winner Winter’s Grace, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly, to victory for owner Glorious Uncertainty Stable and trainer Brenda McCarthy. Wales stole the ninth and final race on the turf on the front end with Locano, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Arnoud Dobber and trained by Rick Creel.

The late 8-3 daily double paid $218.80.

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.