When Hard Not to Like won the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland last April, trainer Christophe Clement was forced to admire her from a distance.
Clement trained the Jenny Wiley runner-up Discreet Marq, who fell victim by a half-length to Hard Not to Like’s frenetic rally. But in a stroke of good fortune, Hard Not to Like joined the Clement barn in November after she was purchased by Speedway Stable LLC for $1.5-million at the Keeneland Breeding Stock Sale.
The Ontario-bred mare is set to make her 6-year-old debut in Saturday’s Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf event for older fillies and mares.
“I am absolutely thrilled at the way she has been training,” said Clement, who has put Hard Not to Like through a string of five-furlong workouts at his Payson Park Training Center base in Indiantown, Fla. “She looks good, she is sound and I think she will be very competitive.”
The 16th edition of the Lambholm South Endeavour is one of two graded stakes on Tampa Bay Downs’ Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, a 12-race extravaganza beginning at 12:20 p.m. The Lambholm South Endeavour is the 10th race on the program.
Gates open at 10:30 a.m. Track announcer Richard Grunder’s guests on the 10 a.m. “Morning Glory Club” Show are breeder-owner Bill Casner and trainer Eoin Harty, the connections of Sam F. Davis starter My Johnny Be Good.
There will be a Super High-5 carryover pool of $7,514.12 entering the day.
The centerpiece of Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South is, indeed, the 11th race, the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main dirt track. The Sam F. Davis, which is the major prep for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in 10 of the last 11 years.
While Tampa Bay Downs track and stakes-record holder Catalina Red is the local favorite for the Sam F. Davis, the official morning-line choice at 5-2 is Ocean Knight, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
Preceding the Lambholm South Endeavour is the ninth race, the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track. The morning-line favorite at 7-2 is the Derek Ryan-trained Irish Jasper, who set a stakes record of 1:22.41 while winning the $100,000, seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes here on Dec. 27 in her final start as a 2-year-old.
Back to Hard Not to Like, who is 6-for-16 with career earnings of $721,671 but has not raced since the Jenny Wiley. She is the second morning-line choice for the Lambholm South Endeavour at odds of 7-2 and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
“I wish we had a better draw (Hard Not to Like was assigned the No. 11 post in the 14-horse field, which could be reduced by the likely scratch of Rosalind),” Clement said. “But all we can do is try our best. We’ve got a wonderful jockey and it’s exciting to send her to Tampa.”
Also excited about the Lambholm South Endeavour is Chad Brown, the trainer of 3-1 morning-line favorite Testa Rossi, who won last year’s Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. The 4-year-old Testa Rossi, who will break from the No. 1 post, is owned by James Covello, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr.
In her most recent start, the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs in November, Testa Rossi never threatened, finishing seventh. Brown said she did not handle the Churchill turf well, but believes the French-bred lass is ready to step up on her return to Oldsmar.
“She has put in a nice series of workouts and is coming into the race in good shape,” said Brown, who won three Breeders’ Cup races last fall. “I feel like she has been ready to run since she arrived in Florida. This race should give us an indication if she can come back to her old self.”
Brown has enjoyed a wealth of success at Tampa Bay Downs in recent years. He won the Endeavour and the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in 2012 with Zagora, who went on that year to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Turf Female.
“Tampa has a terrific turf course, and the timing of both of these races usually works out well for my good fillies and mares to kick off the season,” Brown said.
Another Endeavour entrant who could vie for the role of betting favorite is 5-year-old I’m Already Sexy, owned by Hit The Board Stables and trained by Wayne Catalano. She will break from the No. 6 post and be ridden by Miguel Mena.
I’m Already Sexy is a two-time Grade III winner, most recently the Modesty Handicap at Arlington in July. She won the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes in September in dominant fashion.
In the 12-horse Sam F. Davis field, Catalina Red is the only stakes winner. The Chad Stewart-trainee, who will be ridden by Daniel Centeno and break from the No. 1 post, won the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes here in stakes-record time of 1:09.32 on Dec. 6; three weeks later, he captured the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes in track-record time of 1:22.40.
Stewart will also saddle Bandages, who will break from the No. 6 post with Ronnie Allen, Jr., in the irons.
Both of Catalina Red’s local victories earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 89. The only horse in the field with a better number is Ocean Knight, who garnered a 93 Beyer in his lone start, a six-furlong victory at Aqueduct on Dec. 13.
Ocean Knight, who will break from the No. 11 post if all 12 start, is owned by Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables LLC and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. Stonestreet purchased the Kentucky-bred last March in Ocala for $320,000.
“Provided he runs well and handles the track, he could be back there for the (Tampa Bay Derby),” McLaughlin said. “The surface is a little different than what he is used to training over and the post is not great, but hopefully he can overcome that.
“He is a very talented colt. We like him a lot,” McLaughlin said.
The third morning-line choice at 9-2 is Ami’s Flatter, who turned in a strong runner-up effort in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 3 after breaking his maiden at Woodbine in November.
My Johnny Be Good is one of two entrants for trainer Eoin Harty and turned in an eye-popping six-furlong time of 1:09.33 in a 14 ½-length victory here on Dec. 28. My Johnny Be Good will break from the No. 9 post and be ridden by Antonio Gallardo. The other Harty entrant is Crittenden, the only gelding in the field, who will break from the No. 4 post and be ridden by Fernando De La Cruz. Crittenden has won both of his local starts on the turf course.
Not to be overlooked are the two Todd Pletcher-trained entrants, Royal Son and G Five. Pletcher has sent out the Sam F. Davis winner in five of the last nine renewals.
Royal Son, who drew the No. 2 post, is a homebred racing for WinStar Farm LLC and will be ridden by John Velazquez. G Five, who breaks from the No. 8 post, is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh.
The WinStar/Pletcher/Velazquez team has combined to win the Sam F. Davis three times: with Bluegrass Cat in 2006, Any Given Saturday in 2007 and Rule in 2010.
On today’s card, trainer William “Buff” Bradley accounted for a $268 exacta when his 4-year-olds Major Darby and Closing Prize ran 1-2 in the fifth race on the turf. Major Darby was ridden by Luis Garcia. His breeder and owner is Danny Thornsbury.
Closing Prize’s breeder-owner is Bradley’s father, Fred Bradley.
The track’s 1-2 jockeys in victories, Antonio Gallardo and Daniel Centeno, each rode two winners today. Gallardo was aboard 6-year-old mare Turnout in the sixth race for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness. Gallardo also won the ninth and final race on the turf on 8-year-old mare Kings Tuesday for owner-trainer Kathleen A. Guciardo.
In the seventh race on the turf, Centeno was aboard the impressive 3-year-old filly Royal Jewely, now 2-for-2, for owners Shamrock Thoroughbreds and Anthony J. Piarulli and trainer Gerald Bennett.
Centeno returned to the winner’s circle after the eighth race on 5-year-old gelding Papiamento for owner-trainer Carla Christoffersen.
“Live It Up Challenge.” Registration is underway for the second annual, free online “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, with players vying for the grand prize of $1,000 in cash and a seat at the 2016 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Championship.
Also at stake are additional prizes of $1,000 for second place, $500 for third and $500 for most winners selected throughout the contest, which runs from Saturday through April 4, which is Florida Cup Day. The deadline to register today is 10:30 a.m.
Players can register online and get the complete set of rules at www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet. All wagers are mythical. Players must make a selection every day; those skipping a day incur a strike, with three strikes ending their participation. Players also incur a strike when their selection in one of that day’s “Challenge Races” does not finish first, second or third.
All players begin the competition with two life lines. A new feature will give players the opportunity to purchase two additional life lines before the contest and extra life lines at two specified times during the competition.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.