Forget about triskaidekaphobia: trainer Arnaud Delacour enters Festival Preview weekend on a streak of 13 consecutive in-the-money finishes.
A month of Sundays has passed, and then some, since a horse trained by Arnaud Delacour finished out of the money at Tampa Bay Downs.
Of course, that could change when his 6-year-old-gelding, Grade III winner No Dozing, competes in today’s fifth race, or during Saturday’s Festival Preview Day, when three Delacour horses vie for a slice of $750,000 in stakes purse money. But his record of success during the last seven years makes the notion of an extended dry spell almost inconceivable.
Simply put, Delacour and his owners, starting with the Lael Stables operation of Roy and Gretchen Jackson, are on the same wavelength when it comes to devising a plan to get the best performances from their horses.
Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Arnaud Delacour with wife Leigh Delacour
“I feel very fortunate to have terrific owners who have given me the opportunity to bring along some very good horses,” Delacour said. “Most of them are very patient, and it pays off on the track.
“We take a progressive approach. We’ll take a shot in a big race when we think a horse can be competitive, but we like our horses to bring us there step by step,” he said. “We want them to fit where we enter them. We don’t want to go somewhere just to run.”
Delacour’s methods have been wildly successful during the current Oldsmar meeting. He has nine victories and 23 in-the-money finishes from 26 starts, including stakes victories with (then)-2-year-old filly Lucrezia in the Sandpiper Stakes on Dec. 7 and 5-year-old mare Jehozacat in the Wayward Lass Stakes on Jan. 18.
If that weren’t enough, Delacour’s last 13 starters (including one at Gulfstream Park) have finished in the money, with five victories, four seconds and four thirds.
That hot streak has resulted in his selection as the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month.
Delacour horses are entered in three stakes Saturday, including the 40th running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track. He’s sending out Edward A. Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s homebred colt Chapalu, who won the Grade III Grey Stakes on Oct. 27 on the Woodbine synthetic surface in his most recent start.
Daniel Centeno will ride Chapalu, who will break from the outside No. 8 post. Now 2-for-3, he will be making his first start on dirt, but has worked out eight times at Tampa Bay Downs since Dec. 17, including a 4-furlong breeze Sunday in 49 1/5 seconds.
The Sam F. Davis, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, is the 11th race on Saturday’s card.
“We’ve always had it in the back of our minds that Chapalu could be efficient on dirt, but you’ll never know until you try,” Delacour said. “He broke his maiden nicely (on the turf at Keeneland on Oct. 6), and after he won at Woodbine we decided to bring him here and see where he fits with these nice 3-year-olds.”
Chapalu is the co-fourth choice on the morning line at odds of 8-1, with unbeaten (3-for-3) Independence Hall the 6-5 favorite. Delacour finished second in the 2015 Sam F. Davis with Divining Rod, who went on to win the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes and finish third in the Xpressbet.com Preakness, won by eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Delacour’s other Festival Preview Day entrants are his two stakes winners at the meeting. The 5-year-old mare Jehozacat, a Lael Stables homebred, is among seven intrepid distaffers set to take on 4-5 favorite Got Stormy in the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, slated as the eighth race.
Centeno will ride Jehozacat, the duo having teamed up for a 5 ½-length victory on Jan. 18 in the Wayward Lass Stakes on the main track. The co-fourth choice at 10-1, Jehozacat will break from the No. 3 post.
“We thought about running her in the (Grade III Royal Delta Stakes) at Gulfstream (on Feb. 15), but she came back from the Wayward Lass very well and has always run well at Tampa (3-for-4, including 2-for-3 on the turf),” Delacour said. “So she’s coming into it with a good race under her belt, and I hope she can run to her best form.”
Jehozacat’s only setback on the Oldsmar lawn came as a 3-year-old in the Grade III Florida Oaks two years ago, when she was eased by Centeno after bolting to the outside.
Seltzer and Anderson’s 3-year-old filly Lucrezia will make her first start since her Sandpiper victory in the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, to be run on the main track at a distance of a mile-and-40 yards. Centeno has the riding assignment. The Suncoast, a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race, is the ninth race on the card.
Lucrezia, who is 2-for-4 with one second, will be making her first start around two turns. She is the 5-1 fourth choice in the nine-horse field, with the Steve Asmussen-trained Comical the 3-1 favorite. Lucrezia will break from the No. 1 post.
“She might be up against it a little, but she’s had some nice breezes (since the 6-furlong Sandpiper),” Delacour said. “She was able to relax off the pace last time and come with a big run, so that gives us some encouragement she can go a distance.”
The 44-year-old Delacour could not recall having previously sent out 13 consecutive in-the-money performers. “Usually there are one or two horses that don’t make it up (to third),” he said. “Winning is always nice, but sometimes being placed is also an achievement.”
Each morning, his operation runs like clockwork, with Delacour observing workouts from a Grandstand box seat. His wife Leigh, a former trainer, is among the stable’s exercise riders, and a crew of 35 employees helps to ensure that the horses come to work fit, healthy and happy.
“What we accomplish is a credit to everyone on my team,” Delacour said. He also values the help of the track’s Claims Clerk, Brenda Jones, in caring for his three boys – ages 7, 5 and (almost) 2 – while he and Leigh are at the barns.
For the Jacksons, Delacour has trained graded-stakes winners Divining Rod, Hawksmoor, No Dozing, Ageless, I’m So Fancy and The Great Day. He also trained A.P. Indian to a pair of Grade I victories at Saratoga in 2016 and is the conditioner of 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint runner-up Chalon.
Delacour also trains for Tampa Bay Downs owner Stella F. Thayer, having won a maiden special weight contest here with her 3-year-old colt Commence on Jan. 29.
The trainer has about 35 horses stabled at Tampa Bay Downs and another 20 at Classic Mile Training Center in Ocala. His operation will expand in the summer, when he takes on 2-year-olds at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland while competing in the mid-Atlantic region and New York.