Veteran trainer reaches career milestone with his assistant's horse; contest fever set to strike Saturday; Angel Suarez leads parade of promising new jockeys.
Thoroughbred trainer Michael Stidham achieved a career milestone in dramatic fashion on today’s Opening Day card, earning his 2,000th victory with 4-year-old colt Lem Me Tel Ya in the eighth race.
After taking the lead in the stretch of the 6 ½-furlong claiming event under jockey Pablo Morales, Lem Me Tel Ya held off a charging Malio’s by a neck.
Lem Me Tel Ya is owned by Stidham’s Tampa Bay Downs assistant Ben Trask, who claimed the 4-year-old colt from his previous start at Monmouth Park in October for $6,250.
(Left to right) Tampa Bay Downs Vice President of Marketing and Publicity Margo Flynn, owner-assistant trainer Ben Trask, jockey Pablo Morales and track Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube recognize trainer Michael Stidham's career milestone in the eighth race with Lem Me Tel Ya. Stidham is in New Orleans with his Fair Grounds string.
“It’s great to get to 2,000,” Stidham said via text message from New Orleans, where he is based with his Fair Grounds string of horses. “I’ve had a lot of great support all the way from solid clients.”
Trask was grateful to be part of Stidham’s celebration.
“I’ve been with him for almost four years, and 2,000 wins is a great accomplishment for anyone,” Trask said. “He has been in the game a long time and surely deserves it.”
Stidham, who began training in 1979, has trained such outstanding graded-stakes winners as Synchrony, Zipessa, Her Emmynency, Istanford, Willcox Inn and Two Altazano. His horses have earned more than $3-million in purses in six consecutive years and nine of the last 10.
Contest fever strikes Saturday. Following the Thanksgiving holiday and Friday’s nine-race card, the Tampa Bay Downs promotional calendar shifts into full gear Saturday with a pair of contests certain to whet the competitive appetites of racing fans and sports lovers.
Serious handicappers, $2 bettors and relative novices alike can test their skills in the annual “10 Days of Festivus Challenge Online Handicapping Contest,” which begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 21.
There is no charge to enter. All wagers are mythical and players make a single selection each day from one of two “Challenge Races.” The contest employs a “Survivor” format, enabling players to purchase lifelines to keep progressing. The first-place prize is $1,000 and second place is worth $500.
For details and to register, go to www.festivuschallenge.com on the Internet.
In addition to the racing excitement, Saturday’s fun includes the first-ever “Tampa Bay Sport Day” contest. Fans can win tickets for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lightning, the Rays, the Outback Bowl, the Gasparilla Bowl, University of South Florida men’s and women’s basketball and the Valspar Championship golf tournament.
Upon entering the track through the main Grandstand entrance, fans will receive a list of sports trivia multiple-choice questions. Those submitting the correct answers get to spin the prize wheel for a chance to win game tickets for their favorite Tampa Bay area teams..
Around the oval. Fresh faces in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony wasted no time making an impact on today’s Opening Day card, accounting for six victories from nine races.
Angel Suarez led the parade of newcomers by riding three winners in his first-ever day of competition at the Oldsmar oval. The 26-year-old Suarez, who finished fourth at Delaware Park this year with 41 victories and tied for fifth at Monmouth with 31 winners, capped his outstanding debut by capturing the seventh race on the turf on 26-1 shot Little Leo for owner Laurie Drumm and trainer Peter Wasiluk, Jr.
“I thought the race was a little tough, but there was no speed in the race so I just wanted to hustle my horse out of there and get a good position,” Suarez said of his strategy in the mile-and-a-sixteenth claiming event. “Once I saw (Don’s Marsh) on the lead and (Domain) putting pressure on him, I was sitting in heaven because I was on the rail and I really liked the No. 2 horse (Don’s Marsh, who finished second).
“Everything worked out the way I expected.”
Little Leo, a 5-year-old gelding, is owned by Laurie Drumm and trained by Peter Wasiluk, Jr.
Naturally, Suarez was excited about getting off to a strong start in his bid to be recognized by Oldsmar horsemen. “When word was spreading that I was coming here, I heard people talking about how tough Tampa is, and I know it’s a really tough colony,” he said. “You have a lot of leading riders from other racetracks here I admire, and I’m still learning.
“I just look at it as I want to learn as much as I can from all these great riders, and a day like this feels amazing,” he said.
Suarez also swept the early daily double, winning the first race on 4-year-old colt Hey Big Guy and the second on 5-year-old Florida-bred mare G Q Girl.
Jose Batista, a 22-year-old jockey from Panama who had been based in south Florida, rode two winners. He captured the fifth race on the turf on 3-year-old gelding Hope Again for owner Dylan Fazio and trainer Jose Delgado and added the sixth on 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Jophiel for owner Terese Dear and trainer Rory Miller.
Batista rode three races at Tampa Bay Downs last season.
Journeyman Alonso Quinonez, a 36-year-old Mexican previously based in southern California, whose career accomplishments include five Grade I victories, also found the winner’s circle in his first-ever day in Oldsmar. He won the third race on the turf on 2-year-old Florida-bred gelding Maspero for owner-trainer Michael Laurato.
Tampa Bay Downs mainstay Jesus Castanon posted two victories, including the fourth race, the Happy Thanksgiving purse, on 3-year-old gelding Cave Run, who finished third in last winter’s Pasco Stakes. Cave Run is a homebred racing for Godolphin and trained by Eoin Harty.
Castanon added the ninth on the turf with 3-year-old filly Unabridged, owned by Metro Thoroughbreds and trained by Derek Ryan.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.