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Racing News

Published Feb 24, 2024
by Mike Henry
No. 3 Smithwick's Spice, under Daniel Centeno, holds off Extendo (inside, obscured) to win the Leinster Turf Dash Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

Few sounds you’ll hear are as joyous, and filled with love and gratitude, or as loud as the high-pitched yells coming from trainer Douglas Nunn after his 8-year-old gelding Smithwick’s Spice hung on under jockey Daniel Centeno to win the 21st running of the $100,000 Leinster Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by a neck from Extendo.

Nunn trained the winner’s dam, Spicy McHaggis, and his siblings. He has always believed in Smithwick’s Spice, but had doubts about entering him against the quality of competition in the Leinster Turf Dash.

“I liked him cutting back in distance today (following a good second going 1 1/16-mile earlier this month at Gulfstream Park), but these were not just New Jersey-bred horses,” Nunn said once his state of near-hysteria subsided. “I was all ready to scratch him, but the owner (New Spice Stable’s Robert Matthies) said let’s take a shot.

“He had never run against the big boys, and I didn’t want to take his heart away. But he showed he can run with the big boys,” added Nunn, who broke Smithwick’s Spice as a yearling.

In the co-feature on the Turf Sprint Showcase Day card, Play the Music overcame early trouble to win the $100,000 Leinster Lightning City Stakes for older fillies and mares under jockey Antonio Gallardo. More on that race soon.

Smithwick’s Spice’s time for the 5 furlongs on the grass was 55.98 seconds. Yes I Am Free, the wagering favorite, flattened out in the stretch and finished third, a half-length behind Extendo and ¾-lengths ahead of Thealligatorhunter.

Storm the Court, the 2019 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was a late scratch.

Smithwick’s Spice paid $14.20 to win. He improved to 10-for-40 lifetime and the winner’s share of $45,000 raised his career earnings to $508,847. His only other stakes victory came in the 2022 Joey P. Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Once Smithwick’s Spice showed Centeno he wanted the lead, the jockey rolled with the veteran campaigner and was richly rewarded. “He fought the entire way. I’ve ridden him before and he’s always run good for me,” Centeno said. “When I turned for home I saw (Antonio) Gallardo (on Yes I Am Free) outside me and I thought, he’s not going to go by me. My horse likes to fight, and he ran big today.”

The victory was the first for Nunn at the meet from 15 starts. Forgive him for celebrating as if it was his 16th.

“The reason I’m still here doing this is this horse,” Nunn said after rejoicing with his wife, Maria Claire Van Sant. “When this horse retires, I’ll retire. He doesn’t want to retire yet, so I guess I’m going to keep on going.

“When you hang a bridle on some horses, it’s hard because they don’t always give you what they have. This horse has given everything he has from Day 1,” Nunn added, tears flowing freely.

In the 21st running of the Leinster Lightning City Stakes, supplemental entry Play the Music launched an impressive stretch rally under Gallardo and rolled to a 2 ½-length victory from the other supplemental entry in the race, Howboutdemapples.

Pace-setter Jordi’s Dream, a 50-1 shot, held on well for third. Covenant Lady closed well to be fourth.

A scary moment occurred earlier in the stretch run when betting favorite Just a Care bumped with Howboutdemapples while trying to angle between rivals, causing Just a Care’s jockey Samy Camacho to lose his balance and fall from his mount. Camacho, the track’s leading jockey, walked back to the jockeys’ room after laying on the turf for about 2-3 minutes and was able to return to ride Sky’s Not Falling in the Leinster Turf Dash.

Earlier in the race at about the 3/8-mile pole, Just a Care and Camacho came over on Play the Music while seeking position on the turn, forcing Gallardo to check sharply. But he was able to swing Play the Music outside, and from there the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred made quick work of her rivals en route to her fourth victory and first stakes triumph from 10 starts.

Play the Music is owned by Glassman Racing and trained by Mark Casse. Her time for the 5-furlong distance was 55.98 seconds, .89 seconds off Jean Elizabeth’s 2020 stakes record.

The 4-year-old Just a Care finished with good energy while riderless and was reported to be in good shape after returning to the backside. But her difficulties didn’t detract from the quality of Play the Music’s victory.

“(Casse’s assistant Jimmy Miranda) told me this filly was ready, and that’s what she showed,” Gallardo said. “Thank God I could put her in gear again after getting checked. She gave me everything and I was able to get her in the clear and into the race.”

Play the Music had won her previous race, a 7 ½-furlong turf event on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park, but this may have been her best career performance. “Antonio had her tucked inside early, which was perfect,” Miranda said. “Then he was able to swing her outside and get her in the clear to make her run. If you read Chapter 7, that’s what it says to do.”

Around the oval. In today’s third race, the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, 5-year-old mare Paper Mansion won in gate-to-wire style despite carrying 124 pounds, 4-to-8 more than her eight rivals. Paper Mansion is 3-for-3 in the series and has won five races in a row overall. Her time for the 1 1/18-mile was 1:49.76.

Kevin Gomez rode Paper Mansion for owners Jagger Inc. and Longball Stables and trainer Jamie Ness, the head of Jagger Inc. The Kentucky-bred, who is 10-for-22 lifetime, has amassed $214,595 in career earnings despite never competing in stakes company.

Jagger Inc. and Ness also claimed a piece of the fifth race, which was the third leg of the Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test series. His 6-year-old gelding American Unity, owned by Jagger in partnership with Morris E. Kernan, Jr., dead-heated for the victory with 5-year-old horse Irwani, who is owned by Volver al Futuro and trained by Jose Francisco D’Angelo. The Peninsula finished a head back in third.

Mychel Sanchez rode American Unity and Gallardo was aboard the Argentine-bred Irwani. Their time for the mile-and-an-eighth distance was 1:49.54. American Unity improved to 12-for-27 and Irwani is 5-for-12.

Jose Batista rode two winners for the third consecutive racing day. He captured the second race on Grand Valley, a 5-year-old horse owned by Granpollo Stable and Dr. Ricardo R. Vallejo and trained by Victor Barboza, Jr. Batista added the fourth race aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Awesome Prince for owner-trainer Juan Arriagada.

Awesome Prince was claimed from the race for $8,000 by trainer Wayne Potts for new owner Roger B. Sterling.

Marcos Meneses also rode two winners. He was on 3-year-old filly Obstreperous in the sixth race for owner Exclusive Equine and Robert G. Smith. Meneses added the eighth with Mighty Gin Gin, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by M J M Stable and trained by Victor Carrasco, Jr.  

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:18 p.m. In addition to the racing action, families are welcome to visit the Backyard Picnic Area for “Mouse’s Kids & Family Day,” where they can meet the track mascot Mouse the Miniature Horse. There are also pony rides, bounce houses and a variety of games and special activities.

Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and 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.


No. 3 Smithwick's Spice, under Daniel Centeno, holds off Extendo (inside, obscured) to win the Leinster Turf Dash Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

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