Having earned career victory No. 2,000 on Opening Day, Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of Month shows no signs of slowing; Samy Camacho wins three consecutive races; fifth race Friday switched to main track.
In recent years, trainer Michael Stidham has talked about scaling back his involvement in racing. He and his partner and main assistant, Hilary Pridham, have no intention of leaving racing entirely, but managing a 100-horse stable doesn’t leave much time for other pursuits.
Yet, when a year such as 2019 comes along, the 62-year-old Stidham figures: why rush things? With 109 winners and more than $4.5-million in earnings – both career bests – the future seems every bit as distant as the horizon in an Andrew Wyeth painting.
“I certainly don’t plan on training forever,” said Stidham, selected as the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month. “(But) after 40 years, to have our best year in terms of winners and money won, it’s a great accomplishment.
“Racing is a challenging and competitive business, and I’m very proud to be in it at the level that we are.”
That level has produced 10 graded-stakes victories in the last two years. Synchrony, a 6-year-old homebred racing for Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stable, has six of those, including this year’s Grade II King Edward Stakes at Woodbine and the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap.
Alms, a 2-year-old filly bred and owned by Godolphin, is 3-for-3 in her brief career, including victories in the Grade III Matron Stakes on the grass at Belmont and the Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes on the turf at Del Mar.
Stidham had a sole graded winner in 2017: Zipessa, who captured the Grade I First Lady Stakes at Keeneland. The conditioner has sent out at least one graded winner in 11 consecutive years.
Besides Pin Oak and Godolphin, Stidham trains for the likes of Mt. Brilliant Farm, Stone Farm, Dare To Dream Stable and Feel The Thunder Stable.
“That’s what makes a trainer – having clients like that to supply you with good quality horses,” Stidham said. “That, and all of the help I’ve had over the years, are the keys to my success.”
While Stidham and Pridham oversee about 55 Thoroughbreds at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, assistant Ben Trask, who turns 27 Saturday, is in charge of the stable’s 40 or so horses on the Tampa Bay Downs backside.
Trask is also the owner of Lem Me Tel Ya, a 4-year-old colt who rewarded Stidham with career victory No. 2,000 on the Nov. 27 Opening Day card. Stidham, who has added five Tampa Bay Downs victories since, knows his Tampa Bay Downs horses are in capable hands with the conscientious Trask in charge.
“I can’t say enough good things about the job Ben has done in the short time he’s been with us, both in Tampa and at Monmouth Park during the summer,” Stidham said. “He’s very smart and talented and has a good feel for doing the right thing for the horses.”
The most indispensable member of the Stidham team is Pridham. They have been together 20 years, and Stidham credits her with handling every detail that might escape his discerning eye.
“Without her, my operation wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is,” Stidham said. “Twenty years ago, she was galloping and breezing most of our better horses. She has basically retired from galloping, but she’s out on the pony and is my go-to person for just about anything in the barn.”
In addition to Alms, Stidham is high on Godolphin’s 2-year-old homebred fillies Embossed, who broke her maiden here on Dec. 4, and recent allowance/optional claiming winner Micheline. Each of the three is a potential candidate for the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf here on March 7.
Another current Stidham 2-year-old to watch is Dare To Dream’s stakes-winning colt Embolden, recently third in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes.
Now in his third consecutive season at Tampa Bay Downs, Stidham can enjoy the best of both worlds, from a distance. “There are a lot of things we like about coming to Tampa, especially having two good, safe racing surfaces,” Stidham said. “We have a lot of nice, quality turf horses, so Tampa fits into our program well.”
Around the oval. Samy Camacho rode three consecutive winners today. His streak began in the second race on Steady Earner, a 3-year-old colt owned by Juan Arriagada and W. Mike Anderson and trained by Arriagada.
Camacho won the third race on Sweet Blossom, a 3-year-old filly owned by Partner Stable and trained by Antonio Machado. The rider added the fourth race on Tale of V K, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Karla V. Ochoa-Faria and trained by Javier Negrete.
Daniel Centeno rode back-to-back winners in the seventh and eighth races. He won the seventh on Bourbon Extension, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Colebrook Farms and trained by Michael W. Wright. Centeno added the eighth aboard Speedy Vanessa, a 2-year-old filly owned by Alex G. Campbell, Jr., and trained by H. Graham Motion.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:46 p.m. Friday’s fifth race has been switched from the turf course to the main track, with the seventh and ninth races remaining on the turf.
Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule. Patrons can pick up their copy of the free 2020 Tampa Bay Downs calendar through the weekend, while supplies last.
Track announcer Richard Grunder plays host to his first “Morning Glory Club” show at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the first floor of the Grandstand. His special guest is jockey Angel Suarez. Admission is free and patrons receive free coffee and donuts.
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.