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February 09, 2020


by Mike Henry
Saturday's outstanding Festival Preview Day program was a testament to the efforts of many dedicated professionals.

Tampa Bay Downs put its best foot forward on a record-setting Festival Preview Day on Saturday, but perhaps the main takeaway for the 5,360 fans, horsemen and track employees was a refreshing reminder of the sport’s international scope and widespread appeal.

Jockeys from Venezuela (Daniel Centeno and Samy Camacho); Puerto Rico (Hall of Famer John Velazquez and Harry Hernandez); Mexico (Jesus Castanon); Florida (Tyler Gaffalione, a graduate of nearby Sunlake High School in Land O’ Lakes); Italy (Luca Panici); and Peru (Huber Villa-Gomez) all won races, with Centeno, the track’s six-time champion rider, visiting the winner’s circle four times.

On the training front, the “French Connection” reigned supreme. Arnaud Delacour teamed with Centeno to win the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf with 5-year-old mare Jehozacat and the Suncoast Stakes with 3-year-old filly Lucrezia. Patrick Biancone and Panici took the day’s big prize, the Grade II Sam F. Davis, with 3-year-old gelding Sole Volante (by the way, that’s Italian for “Flying Sun”) and Rodolphe Brisset won a maiden special weight race with first-time starter Saratogian.

The winning conditioner of Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes turf winner Admiralty Pier, Barbara Minshall, was born in Montreal and competes mainly in Canada. She teamed with Camacho for that triumph with her 5-year-old gelding.

Festival Preview Day proved a feast for long-shot players, in particular one off-track Twinspires account customer who hit the late Pick-5, collecting $435,029.40 for their perspicacity in selecting five consecutive winners with an average win payoff of $26.80.

The day’s biggest long-shot winner, 4-year-old filly Surprise Again, returned $50.80 after winning the sixth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf. Trained by Kent Sweezey, Surprise Again was ridden by Velazquez and is owned by Tampa Bay Downs President-Treasurer Stella F. Thayer.

Total all-sources wagering handle was $11,092,482, an all-time record for a Sam F. Davis/Festival Preview Day card. And, not wanting to get too technical, it’s worth mentioning that the same percentage of wagering dollars is paid back to the betting public each day, regardless of how many favorites and/or long shots win.

When and where the winners and the beaten favorites compete next will be determined over the succeeding days and weeks as their trainers determine what Saturday’s competition took out of them while mapping out a plan with their owners designed to experience the thrill of victory.

Saturday’s results may have been wildly unpredictable, but the performance of the professionals who love horse racing and love Tampa Bay Downs was as reliable as ever. First-time visitors came away impressed not only by the beauty and talent of the horses, but by the skill and professionalism of horsemen, riders, starting-gate workers, paddock officials, grooms and track employees.

They’re back at it today, putting on a show folks not hopelessly jaded by cynicism will take to their hearts while planning a return trip.

Around the oval. Angel Suarez rode two winners today. In the featured eighth race, the Cody’s original Roadhouse Race of the Week on the turf, Suarez triumphed aboard 4-year-old gelding Journeyman for breeder-owner Godolphin and trainer Eoin Harty. Suarez also won the first race on Tactical Quality, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Wayne Spalding and trained by Tim Glyshaw.

Tactical Quality was claimed from the race for $8,000 by trainer Gary Johnson for new owner Irish Charm Thoroughbreds.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The feature is the seventh race, a $22,500 allowance/optional claiming event for older horses sprinting 5 furlongs on the turf. The race has attracted an overflow field of 14, headed by Illinois-bred 7-year-old gelding Midnight Blue Note. Antonio Gallardo will ride for owner-trainer Anthony Granitz.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 3, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 12, when the track is closed. Otherwise, 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.