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February 02, 2020


by Mike Henry
Final breeze for unbeaten 3-year-old everything his trainer asked for; jockey Jose A. Batista under observation after being thrown in sixth race.

Perfection is difficult to achieve on the racetrack, so trainer Michael Trombetta settled for the next-best thing this morning in Independence Hall’s final workout for Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.

“He kicked on nice. I’m very happy with the breeze,” Trombetta said after his assistant, Sarah Shaffer, worked the 3-year-old colt in 48 3/5 seconds on the fast Tampa Bay Downs main track. “The way he started off (an opening eighth of a mile in about 13 seconds), you wouldn’t have thought he’d breeze in 48 and change.

“The ‘ask’ was somewhere in the 48-49 range and out in 1:01 range, and he galloped out in 1:00 4/5. So if you’re choosier than that, you’ll never be happy.”

independence hall

Leading Sam F. Davis Stakes candidate Independence Hall is shown with trainer Michael Trombetta, background; the trainer's assistant and exercise rider, Sarah Shaffer; and groom Jose Zarco

With the exception of some pre-race shenanigans in the paddock before his victory in the Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1 at Aqueduct, Independence Hall has done nothing to cause his connections to fret. He’ll likely be a heavy favorite when he goes in search of his fourth victory in four starts in the 40th running of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race for 3-year-olds.

Jose Ortiz will be in town to ride Independence Hall, who is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, Kathleen Verratti and Robert Verratti.

The atmosphere at Tampa Bay Downs turned somber mid-afternoon when jockey Jose A. Batista was thrown from his horse shortly after the start of the sixth race. The 22-year-old rider was taken immediately from the track to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, where he was reported to be alert and was being examined for signs of a concussion.

Batista’s mount, 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Malio’s, had several cuts and scrapes but otherwise was reported to be fine by trainer Gerald Bennett.

The race was declared a “no-contest” and wagers were refunded.

Saturday’s upcoming Festival Preview Day (so named because it leads to the March 7 Festival Day, featuring the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby) includes three other stakes races in addition to the Sam F. Davis, two of them graded events on the turf course.

The Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes is for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, while the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes is for fillies and mares 4-and-upward going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass.

The lone non-graded stakes is the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, a mile-and-40-yard main-track event for 3-year-old fillies. The Suncoast is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race.

Independence Hall came to Tampa Bay Downs five days after his Jerome Stakes victory. In addition to breezing four times at the Oldsmar oval, he has “schooled” four times in the paddock, three times during afternoon racing, to acclimate himself to his surroundings in preparation for Saturday’s expected large crowd.

“Knock wood, he’s been good,” said Trombetta, who says Independence Hall “beat the hell out of all of us” before the Jerome. “He gets a little excited, but I think he wants to get out there and do something.”

The long-range objective for Independence Hall is to make the starting gate for the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Independence Hall picked up 10 points for winning the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3 at Aqueduct, and a victory Saturday would add 10 to his total.

The connections had considered making his next start on Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln. That races awards 50 points to the winner, and with the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters, owners and trainers can never be sure what points total they might need to qualify.

But given the manner in which Independence Hall has settled in here, managing partner Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners made the call to contest the Sam F. Davis.

“The (difference in points) was part of the decision process, but the owners feel the points will come if the horse is right,” Trombetta said. “This race is here at the track he’s training on, and the other one is 600 miles away at a track he’s never seen. You weight all these things, then everybody has to be happy with whatever decision is made and you just roll with it.”

Jesus Castanon rode two winners, both on the turf. He won the seventh, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, on Tracy Ann’s Legacy, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned and trained by Juan Arriagada. Castanon added the ninth race with Jack the Cat, a 4-year-old gelding bred and owned by John Dorrian and trained by Kent Sweezey.

Around the oval. Leading jockey Antonio Gallardo won three consecutive races today, giving him 50 victories for the meeting. Gallardo won the third race on the turf on Scar, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding bred and owned by Arindel and trained by Juan Alvarado. Gallardo added the fourth race on Brandt, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Carole Star Stables and trained by Jose H. Delgado, then captured the fifth on the turf aboard Barrel of Stout, a 4-year-old homebred gelding racing for owner Tri County Stables and trained by Anthony Granitz.

Pablo Morales swept the early daily double. He won the first race on Spectacular Road, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Pat Endo, Jay Leppanen, Frank Nicholson and Keith Hoffman and trained by Dale Bennett. Morales added the second with Drinks On Maggie, a 5-year-old mare owned by Bruno Schickedanz and trained by Nick Caruso.

Drinks On Maggie was claimed from the race for $5,000 by owner-trainer Tim Padilla.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The track 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.