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Published Jan 13, 2024
by Mike Henry
Book ‘em Danno runs away and hides in the Pasco Stakes, winning by 12 ½ lengths from West Saratoga (SV Photography)

OLDSMAR, FL. – As the field turned for home in the 26th running of the $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with five of the six horses virtually abreast, an enthusiastic crowd braced for a fantastic finish.

They got it, but maybe not the sort most were expecting.

Three-year-old gelding Book’em Danno, the 1-10 betting favorite, overpowered his rivals through the lane, drawing away under jockey Samuel Marin to a 12 ½-length victory. West Saratoga fought gamely to finish second, a neck ahead of Rathmore.

Book’em Danno’s time for the 7-furlong distance on a fast (but perhaps still drying out) track was 1:23.26. He paid $2.20 to win, a price usually seen here only in show pools and candy lines, and the $2 3-1 exacta paid $4.40.

“That was perfect. I was so confident before the race – when I got out of the jockeys’ room, I knew I was going to win,” said Marin. “I’ve won on him twice before (including the Smoke Glacken Stakes on Sept. 9 at Monmouth) and I’ve been working on him almost every morning and teaching him.”

The victory was the fourth in five starts for the New Jersey-bred son of Bucchero-Adorabella, by Ghostzapper, who is owned by Atlantic Six Racing (Jim Scappi and brothers Jim and Mark Rubenstein among the partners) and trained by Derek Ryan, who won the 2009 Pasco Stakes with Musket Man.

“This was just what I wanted,” said Ryan, who thinks Book’em Danno could be undefeated had he not been forced to set the pace in the Nashua Stakes on Nov. 5 at Aqueduct in his most recent start, finishing second. “Put an easy race into him and move forward. That’s the way he likes to run.

“I could have ridden him myself today.”

Both Samy Camacho, the jockey on West Saratoga, and Gabriel Maldonado, the rider on fourth-place finisher El Principito, claimed foul against the winner, but there was little doubt the result would be allowed to stand. Nitpickers might have seen interference on the turn, but no one in the field was getting close to Book’em Danno today.

Larry Demeritte, the trainer of Grade III stakes winner West Saratoga, said his horse got checked into the turn, but he didn’t dispute the stewards’ verdict. “I thought my horse made a fight of it and ran a great race to get second,” Demeritte said. “Our plan is to keep him here and train up to the (Grade III Sam F.) Davis (on Feb. 10).”

The Book’em Danno team has numerous options, including a possible overseas venture for the $1.5-million Saudi Cup on Feb. 24. But for now, allow them to enjoy this tour de force.

The Pasco was one of three stakes races on a Skyway Festival day card held under partly cloudy skies, with strong winds that made it feel a bit colder than 57 degrees.

In the 40th edition of the $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Florida-bred Mystic Lake took the lead at the outset and was never headed, holding on for a ¾-length victory over an onrushing Gorgeous Girl. Corinth, an 87-1 shot, finished third.

Mystic Lake leads from gate to wire under Edgard Zayas to win the Gasparilla Stakes, staving off a belated rally by Gorgeous Girl   (SV Photography)

Winning jockey Edgard Zayas was delighted by Mystic Lake’s performance, which came a race after he was unseated by Libban, his mount in the Wayward Lass Stakes, in the starting gate. Libban pinched Zayas’s right ankle against the side of the starting gate, and the incident caused a delay of several minutes as Zayas was attended to. But jockeys are a gritty bunch, and Zayas said after the Gasparilla it was going to take more for him to surrender the mount on Mystic Lake.

“I feel a little sore, but we’re hanging on,” he said with a smile.

The victory was the second in five starts for Mystic Lake, a daughter of Mo Town out of Salty Soul, by Itsmyluckyday. Her time for the 7-furlong distance was 1:24.69. She paid $3.60 to win as the heavy betting favorite. The 87-1 shot Corinth finished third in the seven-horse field.

Mystic Lake is owned by C2 Racing Stable and Stefania Farms and trained by Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.

Joseph said Mystic Lake’s career debut last August at Gulfstream was a mystery, as she was never in contention after training well leading to the race. Her form turned around on the Tapeta surface at Woodbine, with a maiden victory, a second in the Glorious Song Stakes and a third in the Mazarine Stakes.

“We’ve thought a lot of her all along, and we figured that first start just wasn’t her day,” Joseph said from his Gulfstream Park base. “She’s a very honest filly and this shows she can get 7 furlongs. I’ll talk it over with Mark (Cornett, the owner of C2 Racing Stable) and come up with a game plan from here. I think she’ll go turf, too.”

Mystic Lake earned a $25,000 winner’s bonus as a Florida-bred, upping her winnings to $55,000, just shy of her career earnings entering the race.

“She took the lead and we never looked back,” Zayas said. “She might have been stopping a little late, but she went quick early and the track was a little deep. All I had to do was hold on, and she kept trying even when (Gorgeous Girl) came up on the outside.”

In the 40th running of the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for older fillies and mares, jockey Daniel Centeno angled Opus Forty Two to the outside with a furlong remaining and the 4-year-old did the rest, speeding past a game Dream Concert, the wagering favorite, by ¾-length. Magical Lute flattened out late, finishing third.

Opus Forty Two, with Daniel Centeno aboard, closes with a rush to defeat Dream Concert in the Wayward Lass Stakes (SV Photography)

The winner’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance was 1:44.90. She improved to 4-for-11 lifetime. It was the fifth Wayward Lass Stakes victory for Centeno, who rode Opus Forty Two to victory in last year’s Gasparilla Stakes.

Opus Forty Two, a Kentucky-bred filly by Mendelssohn out of Laquesta, by Lemon Drop Kid, is owned by Mark B. Grier and trained by Arnaud Delacour.

“She didn’t break very sharp today, so I didn’t want to rush her,” Centeno said. “She relaxed real well behind the pace-setters and I didn’t have to fight her. At the 3/8-mile pole there was nowhere to go, but I got her out at the 1/8-pole and put her way outside and you saw what she did – she just exploded.

“I knew she was better in the clear, but I didn’t expect that kind of response,” said Centeno, who also won the third race on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Misterchilliwilli for owner Robert Deckert, Jr., and trainer Michael Simone.  

Delacour said Opus Forty Two exceeded his expectations. “She’s a pro. She does things the same way every day, and as soon as Danny put her in the clear she dug in and showed a good kick,” Delacour said. “She is quite aggressive in her training, so I don’t have to do much to get her ready.

“That was not an easy field and I would have been happy if she had hit the board,” added Delacour, who won his third Wayward Lass.

Around the oval. Charlie Marquez rode two winners today. He was aboard 3-year-old filly The Goddess Nike in the second race for owner Team Equistaff and trainer Gerald Bennett. Marquez added the fifth on Managing Mischief, a 3-year-old filly owned by America’s Thoroughbred Investors and trained by Tim Hamm.

Bennett won two races. In addition to scoring with The Goddess Nike, Bennett won the eighth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, with Night Cap, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Bennett’s Winning Stables and Averill Racing and ridden by Samy Camacho.

Camacho also won the fourth race on Rita’s Onthe Beach, a 4-year-old filly owned by Frank Penn and trained by Ian Wilkes.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:34 p.m. The sixth race, a $53,000 allowance/optional claiming event for 3-year-olds at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards, features the 2024 debut of Fulmineo, who finished second in the Grade II Pilgrim Stakes on the turf on Oct. 4 at the Belmont At The Big A meet. The colt is owned by Starlight Racing and Mark Grier and trained by Delacour and will be ridden by Centeno.

Also entered is Crazy Mason, who finished second here on Dec. 2 in the Inaugural Stakes. Owned by Donna Wright and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and trained by Gregg Sacco, Crazy Mason will be ridden by Mychel Sanchez.

In Sunday’s fifth race, a $53,000 maiden special weight contest for 3-year-olds going a mile-and-40-yards, trainer Todd Pletcher’s colt Tireless and Christophe Clement’s colt Atrocious have been established as the top morning-line choices in a seven-horse field. Tireless, who will be ridden by Joe Bravo, has two seconds in three starts, while Atrocious, who has the services of Camacho, will be making his career debut.

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.

Book ‘em Danno runs away and hides in the Pasco Stakes, winning by 12 ½ lengths from West Saratoga (SV Photography)

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