For Kentucky-bred colt West Saratoga, the path to Louisville on May 4 could wind through Tampa Bay Downs.
The gray son of Exaggerator, who earned 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points by winning the Grade III Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 16 at Churchill Downs, is the likely favorite for Saturday’s $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes.
The Pasco, which has attracted a field of seven 3-year-old colts and geldings, is one of three stakes on the track’s 10-race Skyway Festival Day card, which begins at 12:34 p.m. The others are the $125,000, 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the $50,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward.
West Saratoga, who breezed 3 furlongs here on Tuesday, drew the No. 1 post position for the Pasco. Owned by Harry L. Veruchi and trained by Larry Demeritte, he will be ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Samy Camacho while making his first start since a fifth-place finish on Oct. 7 in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Also vying for the Pasco favorite’s role will be Book’em Danno, a two-time stakes-winning gelding trained by Derek Ryan. Samuel Marin is the jockey. Book’em Danno is 3-for-4, with a second-place finish in the Nashua on Nov. 5 at Aqueduct in his most recent start.
Book’em Danno and Marin will break from the No. 3 post. Another expected contender is trainer Gregg Sacco’s colt Crazy Mason, who finished second here on Dec. 2 in the Inaugural Stakes and will again be ridden by Mychel Sanchez.
The Pasco is the ninth race on the card. Although it is not a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, it is considered the main local prep for the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on Feb. 10. The Sam F. Davis awards 20-10-6-4-2 to the first five finishers.
And as long-time Tampa Bay Downs followers know, the Sam F. Davis is the major prep for the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay, also a 1 1/16-mile contest, on March 9, offering 50-25-15-10-5 points to the top five.
The Gasparilla Stakes is Saturday’s seventh race. Eight have been entered, with Florida-bred Mystic Lake expected to draw plenty of interest from bettors. Trained by Saffie A. Joseph, Jr., and to be ridden by Edgard Zayas, she is twice stakes-placed, including a third in the Grade III Mazarine on Nov. 4 at Woodbine.
Other top contenders include a pair from the Sacco barn: Gorgeous Girl, to be ridden by Camacho, and Copper Bound, with Antonio Gallardo in the irons.
Kicking off Saturday’s stakes trifecta is the Wayward Lass, scheduled as the sixth race. Heading the competitive six-horse field are trainer Arnaud Delacour’s 4-year-old filly Opus Forty Two, to be ridden by Daniel Centeno, and Libban, a 4-year-old trained by Joseph, with Zayas aboard. Opus Forty Two won last year’s Gasparilla Stakes and is Grade III-placed, while Libban has won her last three starts.
Oldsmar regulars may be drawn to trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s 4-year-old Florida-bred Dream Concert, who has been first or second in three of four Tampa Bay Downs starts.
Hiraldo dedicates victory to deceased friend. In the minutes before today’s third race, jockey John Hiraldo was focused on giving his mount, 4-year-old filly Vicious Moves, a good warmup while formulating a plan based on the likely pace of the mile-and-40-yard contest.
After the 11-1 shot came from behind to win, a length ahead of Gladiatora, Hiraldo’s thoughts shifted to his friend and fellow jockey Luis Yamil Marcano, who died Sunday night from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in Puerto Rico.
Marcano, 19, was scheduled to ride at Tampa Bay Downs for the first time in Friday’s third race.
“He’s been on my mind since (the accident) happened,” said Hiraldo, who earned his first victory of the meet on Vicious Moves, trained by his fiancé, Chelsey Moysey. “A lot of the jockeys have been thinking about it, even the guys who didn’t know him.”
Hiraldo dedicated the victory on Vicious Moves to Marcano’s memory. “We had a good friendship,” said the 22-year-old Hiraldo, who met Marcano last summer at Delaware Park. “He was a humble person who liked to crack jokes and make you laugh. Everybody he met got along with him.”
Hiraldo, who is also from Puerto Rico, was an Eclipse Award finalist for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey of 2021.
Marcano was riding a motorbike when he was struck by a Ford F-150 truck, according to reports, and died on impact. The driver of the truck fled the scene.
The 19-year-old Marcano had learned the day before the accident his girlfriend was expecting their child. “It sucks,” Hiraldo said. “You gotta keep going, but it’s going to be hard to forget the good friendship we had.
“I was thinking a lot about him when I learned what happened and this morning, but before the race I was thinking about my horse and what I thought was going to happen in the race.
“He was a happy kid who was learning every day and I think he had it in him to have a good career if he stayed dedicated,” Hiraldo added.
Marcano was the leading apprentice jockey at Belterra Park in Ohio last year, riding 40 winners to tie for seventh in the standings.
Around the oval. Apprentice jockey Gabriel Maldonado rode two winners today. He scored in the second race on Worlds On High, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Winner Circle Stables and trained by Gregg Sacco. Maldonado added the ninth and final race with Tiz Herself, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Barry and Manfred Roos and trained by John Rigattieri.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:34 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule. 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.