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March 27, 2020

TAMPA TURF TEST HIGHLIGHTS SATURDAY CARD; SPIETH IS JOCKEY OF MONTH

by Mike Henry
Full fields are the order of the weekend; Scott Spieth, who leads all Oldsmar jockeys with 4,825 career victories, is Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month; Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream includes three Tampa Bay Downs performers.

Full fields are likely to offer an abundance of money-making opportunities for Tampa Bay Downs bettors Saturday, with all but one of eight races drawing 11 or more entries. Post time for the first race is 12:20 p.m.

The feature is the eighth race, which is the fourth and final leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series for males 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2019-2020. The purse is $23,000, with a field of 10 set to tackle the mile-and-three-eighths distance on the grass (three other horses are listed as “also-eligible” to draw into the field if any scratches occur).

The fourth leg of the Tampa Turf Test series for females will be contested Sunday.

Tampa Bay Downs is racing without spectators for the foreseeable future because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis. Fans are encouraged to wager on the races through various account-wagering sites such as NYRA Bets, DRF Bets and TVG, and they can watch the races on the track’s website, www.tampabaydowns.com . Race replays are also available on the website.

Hope Again, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Dylan A. Fazio and trained by Jose H. Delgado, is the morning-line, 3-1 favorite for Saturday’s Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test. He will be ridden by Samy Camacho. Hope Again has competed in two of the three legs of the series, winning the third leg on Feb. 29 at a distance of 1 1/8-mile with a strong closing kick under Camacho. He is 7-for-14 lifetime.

The second, third and fourth-place finishers from the Feb. 29 race – Bourbon Extension, Onarock and Fast Fire – also return, each carrying the same jockey. Daniel Centeno will ride Bourbon Extension, Jesus Castanon is aboard Onarock and Antonio Gallardo rides Fast Fire.

For all the attention paid to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Breeders’ Cup, claiming horses are, and long have been, the backbone of the Thoroughbred racing industry. Series such as the Tampa Turf Test give them a chance to compete for decent purses while displaying their competitive instincts.

Spieth is Jockey of Month. Scott Spieth seems to have been born with a passion for race-riding.

“I did it through high school and college, and I’m still doing it,” said the 53-year-old Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month. “Any day can have its challenges, but when I get on a horse, that goes away. I have a connection. I love riding horses, and to me there is nothing better than competition.”

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Scott Spieth

A recent hot streak enabled Spieth to climb into a tie for seventh place in the track standings with 19 victories. Spieth leads all Tampa Bay Downs jockeys with 4,825 career triumphs, which is 17th most among active North American jockeys and 41st all-time.

Spieth, who rode War Story in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, has every expectation of reaching 5,000, “but that doesn’t mean I’m done. I’m going to keep riding until my body says it’s time to do something else,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed physically in that while I’ve had plenty of spills, I’ve had no major injuries. I’ve been athletic my whole life and I’m very flexible, and that helps with me staying as healthy as I have.”

Like every racing participant in a time when the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic affects their livelihood, Spieth and his wife, trainer Aldana Gonzalez, need to remain flexible going forward. Gonzalez plans to split her stable between Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Penn., and Woodbine in Toronto after the Oldsmar meeting, but it’s anyone’s guess how track schedules will be altered.

Spieth and his fellow jockeys at Tampa Bay Downs, as well as track management, are committed to keeping working conditions as safe as possible. “Everyone is having their temperature taken before they’re allowed into the jockeys’ room or the paddock,” Spieth noted. “Disinfecting measures are being followed, and we’re trying to keep a safe distance within the room. The track has (changed the scale of jockey weights) so that nobody has to use the hot box.

“I’ve talked to a lot of riders, and we feel the track is doing as much as they can as far as precautionary measures. In the meantime, we’re outside 90 percent of the time. I think it’s good that we’re continuing to race,” Spieth added. “A lot of small owners and trainers need that money coming in, or at least a chance to win that money.

“Hopefully we can get through the meet and get things going back in the right direction.”

One thing seems certain: Spieth will keep embracing his opportunities to compete.

Around the oval. Large fields will also entice Sunday bettors, with each of the eight races sporting 10 or more entries. The Females Division of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series is slated as the fourth race. Sunday’s first post time is 12:25 p.m.

Jesus Castanon and Samy Camacho each rode two winners today. Castanon’s victories came on the turf: on 3-year-old filly Volador in the third race for owners Rags Racing Stable and James Bredin and trainer Michael Stidham, and in the sixth on 3-year-old Florida-bred filly Sugar Fix for breeder-owner Ballybrit Stable and trainer Mike Dini.

Camacho swept the late daily double. He won the seventh race with Malio’s, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by J.P.G. 2 and trained by Gerald Bennett. Camacho added the eighth race on the turf with Parish Poet, a 4-year-old filly owned by Delehanty Stock Farm and trained by Christophe Clement.

The victory boosted Clement’s career total to 1,999.

Three horses that competed at Tampa Bay Downs this season – Independence Hall, Gouverneur Morris and Ajaaweed – are entered in Saturday’s $750,000, 1 1/8-mile Curlin Florida Derby for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park. It is the 14th race on the card, with an approximate post time of 6:36 p.m.

The 6-5 morning-line favorite is Tiz the Law.

Independence Hall, who has not raced since finishing second to Sole Volante on Feb. 8 at Tampa Bay Downs in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, is the 9-2 morning-line third choice. He is trained by Michael Trombetta and will be ridden by Joel Rosario.

Gouverneur Morris, trained by Todd Pletcher and to be ridden by John Velazquez, will be making his first start since winning an allowance/optional claiming event here on Feb. 14. He is 8-1. Ajaaweed, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and to be ridden by Luis Saez, is 20-1. He finished third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in his most recent start.

The Grade II, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Park Oaks is the 11th race on the card. The field includes Lucrezia, who won the Sandpiper Stakes here in December as a 2-year-old and the Suncoast Stakes on Feb. 8 in her most recent start. Lucrezia is trained by Arnaud Delacour and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.

Also entered is trainer Ken McPeek’s Swiss Skydiver, who finished fifth here on Jan. 18 in the Gasparilla Stakes. Paco Lopez is the jockey.