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March 15, 2019


by Mike Henry
Emotional first training victory for retired jock David Flores and close friend Jesus Castanon; Arnaud Delacour patient, pragmatic and productive; Gerald Bennett and Daniel Centeno make three trips to winner's circle together; Victor Carrasco, Jr., earns 500th training victory; Imperial Hint works like champion, likely headed to Dubai.

David Flores had planned to accompany his wife Dawn and their two children to LEGOLAND Theme Park in Winter Haven, Fla., today, but when 3-year-old colt Higgins got into the seventh race, Flores decided to enjoy fun of a different sort.

Wise move, as the retired jockey scored his first victory as a trainer with Higgins’ pulsating head victory from Lake Nakuru in the mile-and-a-sixteenth turf event.

“When this horse got in, I said ‘We’ll win this race,’ ” said the 51-year-old Flores, who was making his seventh start as a conditioner. “We’ll go to LEGOLAND again on Sunday.”


Trainer David Flores, left, after his first triumph as a conditioner, with Jesus Castanon, who rode Higgins to victory in the seventh race on the turf. You should have seen how excited they were before being asked to pose.

Higgins and jockey Jesus Castanon withstood a claim of foul for alleged interference against Lake Nakuru in the stretch run. Higgins, who broke his maiden in his fourth start, paid $17.40 to win after touring the distance in 1:41.97.

Crypto Gold stumbled at the start, throwing jockey Samy Camacho. After several anxious momemts, Camacho was able to walk off the course under his own power but was taken off his last two mounts as a precaution.

The victory by Higgins was made more emotional by the longstanding friendship between Flores, a product of Tijuana, Mexico, and Castanon, who is from Mexico City.

“I’ve known Jesus and his family since I was an apprentice at Caliente Racetrack in 1984,” Flores said. “This is a great start to my new career, and it’s special to do it with someone I’ve known since we were kids.”

Castanon was just as fulfilled. “It couldn’t be a better feeling,” he said. “To win this race for someone I’ve known for so many years – there are really no words to describe it.”

Flores tried, for both of them.

“This is what it feels like when I was riding. It reminds me of how exciting our sport is, and I’m grateful to be around good horses and great people on the other side of the game now. I have to thank (owners) Imagine Racing and Margaret Fauber for giving me this opportunity.

“It’s a team effort and everyone had a part in it,” Flores added. “I’m just a passenger in the show.”

Flores rode 3,608 winners in his career as an equine passenger, with more than $150-million in purse earnings, before retiring two years ago at Del Mar. Included among the top horses he rode were Zenyatta, Silver Charm, Siphon, Awesome Gem, Marquetry, Singletary and Street Boss.

Delacour is Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of Month. Throughout most of the current meeting, trainer Arnaud Delacour has kept a string of about 35 horses on the Tampa Bay Downs backside and another 15-20 at the Classic Mile Park Training Center in Ocala, which offers a 1-mile regulation track, a 7-furlong turf course, trail-ride areas and access to several paddocks.

Depending on his athletes’ training schedules, Delacour usually travels to Ocala twice a week to manage that end of his operation. “Some horses like the farm setting a little better than the racetrack, because it’s quieter and they can be turned out,” said Delacour, who employs Pablo Sanchez as his Classic Mile overseer and Emily Castrenze as his Oldsmar assistant. “They can stay in light training and work progressively toward getting fit and racing.”

One such Thoroughbred is Chalon, the Lael Stables-owned 5-year-old multiple-stakes-winning mare who finished second to Shamrock Rose in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs. After a three-month vacation, Chalon is scheduled to breeze 3 furlongs next week, with plans to start her 2019 season in either the Skipat Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico or the Grade III Winning Colors Stakes on May 25 at Churchill Downs.

“She’s started jogging and galloping, and now she’s ready to start going fast,” Delacour said.

The 43-year-old Delacour, who earned the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award after winning five races over a seven-day period, will begin sending horses north in a couple of weeks to prepare for their spring, summer and fall campaigns. He’ll stable about 15 on the racetrack at Delaware Park and the rest at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, providing easy access to any of the mid-Atlantic tracks.

Delacour considers himself fortunate to train for owners with the wherewithal and desire to bring horses to the races at a pace nature and their bodies suggest.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stables; Bert and Diana Firestone; Green Lantern Stables; WinStar Farm (in partnership); Audley Farm; Edward Seltzer; and Stella F. Thayer are among the prominent owners to use Delacour.

The Lisieux, France product, who rarely runs horses where they don’t belong, has a straightforward philosophy of success. “Good horses, to begin with, and a good crew – from the riders to the hot walkers and everyone else. And it’s a huge plus to have owners who give you time to develop horses and allow you to do the right thing at every point during the career of the horse,” he said.

Delacour’s approach has yielded the likes of multiple-Grade I winner A.P. Indian along with graded-stakes winners Divining Rod, No Dozing, Ageless, Dark Nile and Hawksmoor, who finished second in last week’s Grade II Hillsborough Stakes in her final race before being sent to Kentucky to be bred to Kitten’s Joy.

Delacour, who enters the weekend tied for seventh in the Oldsmar standings with 11 victories (he also has 14 seconds) from 55 starters, possesses an abundance of patience and pragmatism when dealing with his charges.

“We always like the horses to bring us there (to big races). They show you something interesting in the morning, and it’s a test in the afternoon,” he said. “Some pass the test successfully and we can move them up to the next level, and some don’t so we just have to go a step below.”

Hurry up and wait. That was his and the Jacksons’ game plan with Jehozacat, a full sister to their Divining Rod, a graded-stakes winner who finished third in both the 2015 Preakness and Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.

Jehozacat hadn’t raced since May, and a checkup revealed some minor physical issues. “We sent her to the farm and forgot about her for three months,” Delacour said.

The now-4-year-old filly made her long-awaited return Wednesday in a 1-mile turf allowance/optional claiming race, and the results were just short of scintillating. Under jockey Declan Cannon, Jehozacat sped to a five-and-three-quarter length victory in excellent time of 1:35.18.

“We’ve always been high on her. She showed a lot of talent and promise in the morning, but never really matched it in her races,” Delacour said. “When we ran her in the (Grade III) Florida Oaks here, she bolted, and she did a few other things that were difficult to manage, so we also needed to reboot her mentally.

“We just wanted her to get a good education (Wednesday). I was hoping she could really put it together, and I think she did,” Delacour said of Jehozacat, who breezed six times at Classic Mile Park and three times at Tampa Bay Downs before her comeback.

Delacour hopes to bring her back on April 20 in the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes at a mile on the turf at Laurel.

The conditioner has found a winter Shangri-La in Tampa Bay Downs, where he, his wife Leigh and their three boys have been embraced by competitors and fans. “We really like it here. It’s a great place to race and it’s a little more for us, because it’s where our children are getting most of their education, so we feel very fortunate,” he said.

Imperial Hint Dubai-bound after sharp work. Trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr., liked everything he saw from Imperial Hint this morning, heightening anticipation for his planned trip to the United Arab Emirates for the $2.5-million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse.

The 6-year-old Florida-bred horse, who is owned by Raymond Mamone, breezed 5 furlongs in 59 seconds over the main Tampa Bay Downs track under exercise rider Alejandro Contreras. “He worked fantastic, just the way we wanted, and he cooled off good,” Carvajal said. “Everything looks great.”

Imperial Hint is scheduled to van to Gulfstream Park on Monday, then board a plane from Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. Carvajal will be in Dubai awaiting his arrival.

Among his expected competition in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News are Roy H, the two-time TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and back-to-back Eclipse Award Champion Male Sprinter; X Y Jet, the 7-year-old gelding who won last year’s Pelican Stakes here and has finished second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News twice; and Muarrab, Whitmore, Wild Dude and Promises Fulfilled.

Imperial Hint, who is 12-for-20 lifetime with career earnings of $1,591,655, is 3-for-4 at Tampa Bay Downs. He won the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes as a 3-year-old and the Florida Cup Horse Races NOW Sprint Stakes at 5 and finished third on Feb. 16 in the Pelican Stakes.

The two-time finalist for the Eclipse Award in the male sprinter division and his trainer traveled to Dubai two years ago, but Imperial Hint got sick and was unable to compete. “Hopefully all the horses arrive in good health,” Carvajal said.

Imperial Hint was recently named Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida-bred Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male and Champion Sprinter for 2018 after a year in which he won four of six starts, including the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont and the Grade II True North at Belmont.

Around the oval. Trainer Victor Carrasco, Jr., won back-to-back races today, giving him 500 victories for his career.

Carrasco, a San Juan, Puerto Rico product, won the fourth race with Lobkowicz Palace, a 4-year-old gelding owned by G.L.A. Stable and ridden by Pablo Morales. Carrasco added the fifth race on the turf with Itsagimme’s Girl, a 4-year-old filly owned by K.A.P. Racing Stable and ridden by Antonio Gallardo.

Six-time Oldsmar riding champion Daniel Centeno and four-time leading trainer Gerald Bennett combined on three winners. Bennett has 51 for the meeting, 26 more than runner-up Kathleen O’Connell in the season standings. Bennett is a virtual lock to win his fourth consecutive Oldsmar training title.

Bennett and Centeno won the first race with High Five Cotton, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by his Winning Stables and Ray Rech and ridden by Daniel Centeno. The duo won the second race with 7-year-old gelding Dog Soldier, owned by Averill Racing.

Dog Soldier was claimed from the race for $10,000 by trainer Jacob Palacios Molina for new owner Manuel H. Gonzalez.

Bennett and Centeno added the eighth race with The Kid Rocks, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Midnight Rider.

Morales rode two winners. In addition to his triumph on Lobkowicz Palace, he captured the third race on the turf on Delta Levy, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Edward Seltzer and Kristina Seltzer and trained by Anthony Granitz.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The co-features are the sixth race, a maiden special weight contest for 3-year-olds going 6 furlongs, and the ninth race, an allowance/optional claiming event for horses 4-years-old-and-upward racing 5 furlongs on the turf.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 21 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.

“Kids and Family Days” event is Sunday. The final “Kids and Family Days” celebration of the 2018-2019 meeting takes place Sunday in the Backyard Picnic Area, just north of the paddock. Admission is free.

Pony rides, bounce houses, slides and games are among the numerous activities for the younger set. The gathering spot under the big tent is within easy walking distance of the outside rail, giving everyone a chance to watch the stretch-run action.

Party goers can expect a visit from the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse (FYI, she loves pats on the neck and peppermint candy). For many, “Kids and Family Day” is an ideal way to enjoy a laid-back afternoon of Thoroughbred competition and introduce newcomers to the Sport of Kings.