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February 28, 2020


by Mike Henry
Maximum Security, Tacitus vie for winner's share of $20-million Saudi Cup purse; Imperial Hint favored in Saudia Sprint Cup; third legs of Tampa Turf Test on tap on what promises to be a sunny afternoon; Jesus Castanon is the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.

Tampa Bay Downs has an action-packed Saturday in store for racing fans, a week before the Festival Day program featuring the 40th running of the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

The Oldsmar oval will simulcast two races from King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before its 10-race card: the $1.5-million Saudia Sprint Cup at a distance of 6 furlongs and the world’s richest race, the $20,781,500 Saudi Cup, at a mile-and-an-eighth, both on the dirt.

Wagering will be accepted here on both races. The approximate post times are 11:50 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Four-time Grade I winner Imperial Hint, a two-time stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs, is the 4-5 morning-line favorite for the 13-horse Saudia Sprint Cup. Owned by Raymond Mamone and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr., the 7-year-old Florida-bred will be ridden by Joel Rosario.

The field also includes 4-year-old colt Gladiator King, who won the Inaugural Stakes here as a 2-year-old. He will be ridden by Mickael Barzalona.

The main event on the eight-race card features last year’s Eclipse Award Champion 3-Year-Old Male, Maximum Security, taking on 14 foes. Best remembered for his controversial disqualification after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Maximum Security is owned by Gary and Mary West and trained by Jason Servis. He will be ridden by Luis Saez.

Maximum Security’s Saudi Cup challengers include last year’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner, Tacitus, from the barn of Bill Mott and with Jose Lezcano riding; 2019 Eclipse Champion Older Dirt Female Midnight Bisou, trained by Steve Asmussen, with Mike Smith aboard; and McKinzie, trained by Bob Baffert, with Rosario in the irons.

Post time for Saturday’s first race at Tampa Bay Downs is 12:41 p.m. The card includes the third legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, with older fillies and mares competing in the sixth race and geldings 4-years-old-and-upward contesting the eighth race. Both races are at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf course.

The 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Fillies and Mares Division is 5-year-old Moonlight Rain, trained by Mark Casse. Antonio Gallardo is the jockey. Hope Again, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Jose H. Delgado, is the 7-2 morning-line choice for the Males Division and will be ridden by Samy Camacho.

Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with the “Morning Glory Club” show hosted by track announcer Richard Grunder on the first floor of the Grandstand. The special guest is trainer Gerald Bennett, who is well on his way to a fifth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title with 30 victories, 14 more than his closest pursuers.

Fans will receive free donuts and coffee and Grandstand admission.

Tampa Bay Downs will also simulcast racing from Gulfstream Park, with 10 stakes on tap. The 14th race, scheduled for 6:04 p.m., is the Grade II, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth, with a field of 12 3-year-old colts and geldings vying for “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points.

The 2-1 morning-line favorite is Dennis’ Moment, trained by Dale Romans and to be ridden by Flavien Prat.

Castanon is Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month. Jesus Castanon jumped into the deep end of the pool when he moved his tack from Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico to Hollywood Park as a 16-year-old apprentice jockey in 1989.

He rode 102 winners that year, stamping himself as an up-and-coming star at Hollywood, Santa Anita and Del Mar. More important than the victories, though, was the knowledge he acquired from the legends who were part of what then was the world’s most competitive jockey colony.

“Laffit Pincay, Jr., and Pat Day were there, Alex Solis. I got to learn from them and ask a lot of questions,” said Castanon. “Corey Nakatani was there, too. To start at a place like that and win a lot of races helped me build a solid foundation for my career. From there, I knew I could go basically anywhere I wanted.”


Jesus Castanon

More than three decades later, Castanon has reached the stage where he’s happy to still be competing and sharing his insights with younger riders who seek his wisdom. He wants to win as much as ever, but the two-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion (2003-2004 and 2004-2005) has put the mental grind of his profession behind him.

“As long as I’m healthy and able to ride, I’m going to keep going,” said Castanon, selected as the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month after winning 15 races from 54 mounts over a four-week stretch. “I don’t know if I’m riding better than ever, but I feel good. I feel strong.

“I’ve still got (3,000 career victories) in my head, and if I hit that, I’m done. But if I retire before then, I want to be happy with what I’ve accomplished.”

Castanon, who has 2,561 victories, has achieved more than most jockeys dream of. He won the 2011 Preakness aboard Shackleford, six months after his father, former trainer Jesus Castanon, Sr., died of kidney disease. The rider’s emotional post-race tribute to his father remains a shining moment in racing lore.

He also won the 2012 Grade I Clark Handicap on Shackleford and has ridden such other graded-stakes winners as Burning Roma, Demarcation, Paddy O’Prado, Tizdejavu, Yara and Carve.

Castanon is sixth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 30 victories. Yet aside from occasional comments about his expertise on the turf, the soft-spoken Mexico City product – who will celebrate his 47th birthday on Wednesday – is sometimes forgotten when commentators and fans discuss the track’s top jockeys.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Castanon, whose three brothers are also involved in horse racing. His two older brothers, Antonio and Jose, were jockeys; Antonio now gallops horses for WinStar Farm in Kentucky and Jose trains horses at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The youngest brother, Alex, is a valet at Fair Grounds.

“I take everything as it comes,” said Castanon, whose satisfaction comes from giving his best effort for each horse’s connections and backers. “I don’t get too excited. When things get slow, I take it day by day, knowing it’s going to be changing.

“I’m very thankful and blessed to be able to do what I enjoy,” said Castanon, who is married to former jockey Rolanda Simpson and has four children – three sons and a daughter – and one granddaughter. “If it wasn’t for all the help I get from everybody – the trainers, my agent, Steve Worsley, and the valets in the jockeys room – I don’t think I would be here.”

Around the oval. Trainer Tom Proctor sent out two winners today, then watched as both horses were claimed by new connections. He won the first race with first-time starter Graycliff, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Glen Hill Farm and ridden by Keiber Coa. Graycliff was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Maria Bowersock for new owner Jerry Campbell.

Proctor added the eighth race with 4-year-old filly Don’t Fight, owned by Brereton C. Jones and ridden by Jesus Castanon. Don’t Fight was claimed for $12,500 by owner-trainer Juan Arriagada.

Leading jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners, both on the turf. He captured the third race on Pioneerof New York, a 4-year-old filly owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse. Gallardo added the ninth aboard Classy Lynn, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Ca Sal Stables and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

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