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May 05, 2019


by Mike Henry
Heavy rain, accompanied by widespread lightning and high winds, force the cancellation of the remainder of the May 5 card after the first race.

Heavy rain, accompanied by widespread lightning and high winds, forced the cancellation of the remainder of the May 5 card after the first race.

Officially, the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Downs season concludes on Sunday, June 30, which is also the first day of the track’s annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing. The July 1 card kicks off the 2019-2020 meeting, which is then expected to resume in late November.

But the sole race on May 5 brought down the curtain on a season in which mostly familiar faces finished atop the standings in their respective categories.

Here is a look at the meeting’s top owner, trainer, jockey, apprentice jockey and equines.


As the owner of Rich Averill Masonry in Bradenton, the track’s leading owner feels ideally situated to enjoy the state’s year-round racing program.

“I love Florida racing,” said the 43-year-old Averill, who successfully defended last year’s title with 23 victories, 14 under his Averill Racing banner and nine in various partnerships. “I love the fact that I can get up and drive an hour to go to the races (at Tampa Bay Downs), or drive three hours to go to (Gulfstream Park, in south Florida) to watch my horses compete.

“It’s taken time, but I feel I have a good mix of trainers (Gerald Bennett and Georgina Baxter) and a good bloodstock agent to pick out my horses (Barry Berkelhammer). I have some nice horses, and to finish the season with the most wins is very satisfying.”

Averill said his partnerships enable him to spread the risk and share the excitement that derives from winning races. His partners include Duke and Paul Matties (Matties Racing Stable), Clark Freeman (CCF Racing Stable), Jim Tipps (Silver Oaks) and Gregg Gagliardi.

“It’s just friends, really, guys I can go out with to have fun and enjoy the races,” Averill said. “I own maybe 10 horses by myself, and I can own more by having partners. You have a lot more fun that way and it gives you a better chance to get that big horse, whether it’s at the sales, through a private purchase or by claiming a horse.”

Averill has also ventured into the breeding aspect of the sport, keeping three broodmares at Abracadabra Farm in Ocala.

Married with three children, Averill has won four Tampa Bay Downs owners’ titles and two at Calder (now Gulfstream Park West). He burst into the spotlight with the filly R Lady Joy, who won the 2005 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs and Grade II Delaware Oaks, and he has campaigned such stakes winners as Grade III winner Paradise Dancer, R Free Roll, Rgirldoesn’tbluff and R Angel Katelyn.

In partnership with Matties Racing Stable, Averill also owns Pay Any Price, a 9-year-old gelding who won the Turf Dash Stakes here in 2017 and has won 16 of 27 starts, with earnings of $587,808. Averill claimed Pay Any Price in the summer of 2016 for $25,000, and the Florida-bred son of Wildcat Heir has since won seven stakes.

Leading trainer Gerald Bennett, who campaigns horses under his Winning Stables banner, finished second with 15 victories, alone and in partnership with the late Raymond Rech.

Averill was in Louisville for Kentucky Derby weekend.



Like a running back who hands the football to an official after scoring a touchdown, Gerald Bennett seemed to take winning four races on Feb. 17 in stride. Which wasn’t that surprising, considering he had done it twice before.

It was a different story for owner Angenee Persaud, whose 4-year-old colt Soul of the Hero – Bennett’s fourth winner on the card – marked her first career victory. “It makes me feel like a million dollars,” she said.

The 75-year-old Bennett has had that effect on owners for a long time. With 3,819 career victories since he began training in 1974, Bennett is 15th in the all-time North America standings.

With 69 victories, the second-highest single-season total in Tampa Bay Downs history, Bennett won his fourth consecutive Oldsmar training crown and fifth overall. He trails only Jamie Ness (nine titles) and the late Don Rice (eight).

Celebration plans? None, really. Bennett has about 50 horses to ship to Delaware Park, and the demands of the profession make it difficult to extend his focus much beyond the care and nurturing of the horses.

“Just keep on working and keep on winning races,” said Bennett, the father of trainer Dale Bennett. “We have a bunch of nice 2-year-olds, so we’re going to try to get them started. One is a Big Drama filly we bred out of Bucky’s Prayer, and we have a 2-year-old colt by Drill out of Smokin Mary who is doing well.”

Bennett, who campaigns some of his horses under Winning Stables banner, also forms partnerships in an effort to share the sport’s excitement and rewards with as many investors as possible.

The only way to keep bringing them in is by closely monitoring the day-to-day progress and setbacks of every horse in his stable, which requires diligence, determination and teamwork.

“It’s a lot of hard work, getting up early in the morning and staying at it,” said Bennett, whose wife Mary is an integral part of the operation. “Wanting to be a winner is what it is. You have to stay on top of every little thing with every horse and go from there.

“You have to have a good system and a good group of employees,” added Bennett, who employs Juan Cacho Castro as his assistant. “They know what we want done and take pride in their work. It’s an accomplishment to keep going, and it makes you work harder the next year.”

Bennett adds with a grin that Mary has asked him to consider reducing the size of his stable and only training a handful of horses. The chances of that happening?

“After you have the horses, they are tough to get away from,” Bennett said.



Samy Camacho is looking forward to taking time off from the demands of race-riding. But it’s not because he needs a break.

He is planning to stay at home for a week (or two) after his wife Kismar gives birth to their fourth child, a son, who is expected in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s not every day you get a son, and you have to be there for your wife and your family. They always come first,” Camacho said.

His fans will forgive his absence. After finishing second in the Tampa Bay Downs standings last season, the 30-year-old Camacho got off to a quick start in the 2018-2019 standings and never looked back, riding 123 winners to capture his first Oldsmar title.

Included in his haul were three stakes victories: on Silver Bay in the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association City of Ocala Stakes, Killybegs Captain in the Pelican Stakes and Jackson in the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes.

Along the way, Camacho made scores of friends among the fans who enjoyed his youthful displays of exuberance after a victory.

“When I finish a race and walk back to the jockeys’ room, I like to talk to the people, sign their programs, take a picture with them,” Camacho said recently. “It’s a great feeling whenever that happens.”

Camacho has moved his tack to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, where he finished third in last year’s summer/early fall meeting. He’s already shown he could be a force there this year, winning the Powder Break Stakes on April 27 on the 5-year-old mare Quebec.

Camacho’s climb the last two seasons could make him a candidate to spread his wings outside Florida before too long, but for now he and his agent, Steve Elzey, are thriving in an environment where his services are in demand and he’s acquiring vast experience against older jockeys who have been around the block many more times.

“I don’t think I’m ready to go to New York or Kentucky or California,” Camacho said. “I’m leading jockey, but I want to keep learning here and keep improving my English so I’ll be comfortable when the time comes.

“There are a lot of good jockeys here to learn from. I give thanks to Tampa Bay Downs for the opportunity, and thanks to God always for everything.”



Juan C. Rodriguez might have seemed an unlikely candidate for jockeys’ school when he enrolled a little more than two years ago. The simple fact was that the Carolina, Puerto Rico product was afraid of horses, intimidated by their size and baffled by their unpredictability.

But as time went on, he found himself attracted to their physical skills and willingness to compete. It didn’t hurt that his father, also Juan C. Rodriguez, is an owner.

After completing the two-year curriculum, the 18-year-old Rodriguez rode his first race on Jan. 1 at Camarero Race Track. He won four races there before moving his tack to Oldsmar, riding his first race at Tampa Bay Downs on March 6.

Rodriguez got to the winner’s circle on March 22 on 4-year-old gelding Igotsunshine, a 30-1 shot. Although he had won at Camarero,  his fellow Tampa Bay Downs jockeys initiated Rodriguez by pouring buckets of ice water over his head and covering him with baby powder and shaving cream.

Nothing to be afraid of.

Rodriguez, who has moved his tack to Delaware Park, earned the Tampa Bay Downs Leading Apprentice trophy by riding five winners from 64 mounts. He can’t wait to expand his knowledge of race-riding and his appreciation for Thoroughbreds.

“I had never ridden on the turf until I got to Tampa, so that was a good experience,” he said. “And I learned to be more aggressive and do a better job of saving ground and keeping in touch with the rail.”

Rodriguez was like a sponge throughout his brief time here, absorbing as much knowledge as possible from the veteran Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony.

“They gave me a lot of good advice that I was able to use the next time I rode,” he said. “I’m thankful to them and to the trainers who gave me some good opportunities.”



Four horses tied for the top spot with four victories each.

Tiger Blood, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding who won the Pelican Stakes and the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn and Suites back-to-back as a 4-year-old, was 4-for-7 with two seconds. He is owned and trained by Juan Arriagada. Tiger Blood is 11-for-34 in his career.

Another Florida-bred, 5-year-old mare J’s Indian Charm, was 4-for-7 and is now 10-for-31 in her career. She is owned by Janis K. Maitlen and trained by Maria Bowersock.

The 4-year-old filly Malkia was 4-for-5, with one second. She was claimed from her second victory of the meeting on Jan. 19 by trainer Laura Cazares for her New World Thoroughbreds enterprise and co-owner Ashrad Mohamed. One of Malkia’s subsequent victories came in a leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series.

Completely Bonkers tied for the top spot with his victory on April 28. The Florida-bred 6-year-old gelding was 4-for-6 with one second and is 9-for-31 lifetime. He is owned by Matties Racing Stable and Averill Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett.