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March 22, 2019


by Mike Henry
Added distance will test older turf specialists; is Spinoff the next Always Dreaming?; you can call teenage jockey Juan Carlos Rodriguez all wet, today.

The popular Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series comes to a close for the 2018-2019 season on Saturday, with a pair of $25,500 events at a distance of a mile-and-three-eighths highlighting a 10-race card.

Saturday’s action begins at 12:35 p.m. The co-features are the sixth and ninth races, for horses which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2018-19.

The sixth race, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward, has attracted eight runners, with owner-trainer Juan Arriagada’s 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Aquemini the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

Feargal Lynch will ride Aquemini, who has competed in the three previous fillies and mares races of the Tampa Turf Test, posting a pair of seconds and a third. Today’s added distance should suit her come-from-behind style, but backers of the other entrants might be encouraged that Aquemini has won only three of 22 starts (with nine seconds) and is without a victory since June of 2017.

The ninth race, the Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test, drew an overflow field of 11 geldings. The morning-line favorite at 5-2 is Nigel’s Destiny, an 8-year-old who triumphed in the third leg of the series going a mile-and-an-eighth on Feb. 23. He is trained by Niall Saville and will be ridden by Declan Cannon.

The second, third and fourth-place finishers to Nigel’s Destiny last time – Wagon Boss, Whiskey Train and Marksman – return, seeking an upset.

Oldsmar allowance winner in New Orleans. Spinoff, a Todd Pletcher-trained colt who won an allowance/optional claiming event on Feb. 22 at Tampa Bay Downs by 11 ¾ lengths, is part of an 11-horse field for Saturday’s Grade II, $1-million Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

A homebred racing for Wertheimer et Frere, Spinoff will be ridden by John Velazquez, who was aboard for his mile-and-40-yard Oldsmar romp. Spinoff is 8-1 on the morning line and will break from the No. 10 post.

The 6-5 favorite in the mile-and-an-eighth contest is trainer Mark Casse’s colt War of Will, who has won both the Grade III LeComte Stakes and the Grade II Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds this season. Tyler Gaffalione is the jockey.

The Louisiana Derby is the 13th and final race on the Fair Grounds card, which will be simulcast in its entirety at Tampa Bay Downs. Valuable “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying points are at stake, with the top four finishers receiving 100, 40, 20 and 10 points toward qualifying for a spot in the Run for the Roses on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Spinoff is attempting to follow a trail blazed two years ago by Always Dreaming, the Pletcher charge who came to Tampa Bay Downs in January of 2017 to break his maiden going a mile-and-40-yards by 11 ½ lengths (symmetry, while sweet, is not always perfect), also under Velazquez.

After winning rhe Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, Always Dreaming and Velazquez captured the Kentucky Derby.

Also boasting solid Tampa Bay Downs form and set to compete in the Crescent City is 3-year-old filly Sweet Diane, who will tackle Saturday’s Grade II, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks. The Michael Stidham-trained lass finished third here on Feb. 9 in the Suncoast Stakes.

Both the Suncoast and the Fair Grounds Oaks are “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points races, with Saturday’s top four earning 100, 40, 20 and 10 points. Joe Bravo is slated to ride Sweet Diane.

Around the oval. Apprentice jockey Juan Carlos Rodriguez captured his first victory at Tampa Bay Downs in the fourth race, scoring on 30-1 shot Igotsunshine by a length-and-a-quarter from Las Ana.

Igotsunshine, who broke his maiden in his 11th try, is a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned and trained by M. C. Reardon.

Rodriguez improved to 1-for-9 in Oldsmar with three thirds. Before coming to Tampa Bay Downs, he had won four times at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico.

The 18-year-old was initiated by his fellow Oldsmar riders with buckets of ice water, baby powder and shaving cream upon his return to the jockeys’ room. Hr was also initiated after his first victory on Jan. 11 at Camarero; Rodriguez says the water was colder that day, but today’s ceremony was no less refreshing.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who won the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 with Tacitus, collected his second victory of the meeting (from 10 starters) when 3-year-old Ireland-bred filly Aunt Hattie held on gamely by a neck from Warm in the fifth race on the turf. Owned by St. Elias Stables, Aunt Hattie improved to 2-for-5 under jockey Samy Camacho.

That victory was one of two today for the track’s leading jockey, who raised his victory total for the meeting to 106. Camacho also won the seventh race on the turf on Total Tap, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Paradise Farms Corp. and trained by Derek Ryan.

Camacho has ridden eight winners over the last three racing days.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 5, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 21, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, 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.