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April 01, 2020


by Mike Henry
Defending jockey champ narrows the gap between himself and four-time champion Antonio Gallardo; "Live It Up Challenge" top finishers plan to come here in January for High Rollers Handicapping Contest.

Defending Tampa Bay Downs jockey champion Samy Camacho rode four winners today, gaining ground on four-time champion Antonio Gallardo in the 2019-2020 Oldsmar standings.

Camacho, who won the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, trails Gallardo 85-80 entering Friday’s scheduled eight-race card. Camacho captured the second race on the turf on Hubba Bubba, a 4-year-old colt bred and owned by Richard Sherman and trained by Johnny Collins.


Samy Camacho

In the third race, Camacho guided first-time starter Cliffy, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding, to victory for owner Ballybrit Stable and trainer Mike Dini. Camacho added the sixth race on the turf with Syzygy, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Cheryl and James McGuire and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr.

Camacho capped his big day with a textbook performance aboard Me and Mr. C in the eighth race on the turf, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going a mile-and-a-sixteenth. He rallied the 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding from mid-pack to edge 36-1 shot Tabled by a head.

Me and Mr. C is a homebred racing for owner Stonehedge and trained by Ned Allard.

Gallardo won the fourth race on the turf on 7-year-old mare Marmalade, owned by Sabal Racing Stable and trained by Darien Rodriguez. Marmalade was claimed from the race for $10,000 by owner-trainer M. Anthony Ferraro.

Racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with an eight-race card beginning at 12:24 p.m. The track is conducting 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, . Race replays are also available on the website.

Zvara, Gruss finish 1-2 in “Live It Up Challenge.” After the first day of the “Live It Up Challenge” online handicapping contest on Feb. 8, Bill Zvara of Canfield, Ohio found himself trailing the leaders by $55.40.

But Zvara, who won a “Beat the Champions” contest and $12,800 in 2015 at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and finished 15th in the 2014 National Horseplayers Championship at Treasure Island Las Vegas, avoided the temptation to select a series of long shots and try to play catch-up.

“It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together,” Zvara said of his method of handicapping, “and if I told you all the pieces I use, we’d be on the phone for a long time. I knew the Live It Up Challenge contest isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you just need to keep grinding away.”

By Sunday’s finale, Zvara’s strategy enabled him to move into second place, behind Henry Gruss of Park Ridge, Ill. Zvara selected 6-1 shot No Cents Left in the third race, and when that runner rallied for second, a neck ahead of Gruss’ pick, Pure Luck, Zvara’s $11 profit enabled him to edge Gruss $212.40-$209.50 in the 597-player field.

“He (No Cents Left) had had a rough trip two starts back, and I liked his post position (No. 9, outside all but one horse). I needed a horse to win or finish second, and it was kind of like what (track announcer) Richard Grunder says – I won (the contest) in the shadow of the wire,” added Zvara, a six-time NHC qualifier.

Both players emerged as winners, with Zvara capturing two seats at next season’s High Rollers Handicapping Contest in January at Tampa Bay Downs and Gruss winning one seat. The High Rollers event features a potential first-place prize of $20,000 and is also a qualifying event for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas.

“It means a lot to beat that many people, knowing a lot of them are NHC people who do very well,” said Zvara, a Thoroughbred owner from 1989-2005. “There are really two kinds of horseplayers – those who are humble and those who are about to be humbled. It’s very rewarding and humbling to do something like this.”

Zvara, who owns and operates a designer sunglass website, Big Joes Sunglasses, on ebay, said the turning point may have been his selection of 8-1 shot Capoeira to win the fourth race on March 13. That pick profited him $29.20 (combined win, place and show) when Capoeira beat the favorite by five lengths.

“It was ‘game on’ after that,” Zvara said.

Zvara said he has been to most major Thoroughbred tracks in the United States, but next January will be his first trip to Tampa Bay Downs.

By contrast, Gruss, a trail lawyer in Chicago, owns a condominium in Clearwater Beach and has been a Tampa Bay Downs devotee for 30 years. He was thrilled to take second place after running out of lifelines, which meant his selection Sunday had to finish in the money or he would be disqualified from the contest.

Pure Luck did so, but just barely, finishing a neck behind No Cents Left and a neck ahead of the fourth-place finisher.

Survival, by an eyelash.

“Saratoga and Tampa Bay Downs are my two favorite tracks,” Gruss said. “Tampa Bay Downs has a great turf course, the people are friendly and the staff is very accommodating. I was there in December, January and February and I was scheduled to be there the last week of the tournament, but the flight had to be cancelled.”

Gruss said the courts are closed in Chicago during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis, making the “Live It Up Challenge” a welcome diversion. “It gave us horseplayers something to do online, and I love handicapping horse racing,” Gruss said. “Four of us are going to have our own online handicapping tournament using Tampa’s races, and may the best man win.”

This date in Tampa Bay Downs history – April 1, 2003: In a coincidence suitable for April Fool’s Day (or, perhaps, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!), full siblings win back-to-back races at the Oldsmar oval. In the third race, 6-year-old mare Shesanoactor airs by 6 ¾ lengths at odds of 4-5 under jockey Jose J. Delgado. Perhaps mystically inspired, her 3-year-old brother, He’sanoactor, wins the next race on the turf (at odds of 19-1, because these things never happen in real life!) with Russell Woolsey aboard. Both horses were Florida-bred offspring of Noactor, out of Cuz She’s Noactor, by Big Mukora.