Showing the power and determination of his sire, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, in only his second start, 3-year-old Ocean Knight ran down 28-1 shot Divining Rod by a neck to win the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Tampa Bay Downs’ Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South.
Total all-sources handle was $9,897,713, a Festival Preview Day record.
Ocean Knight improved to 2-for-2 under 22-year-old jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., and the colt’s connections said there is a strong possibility he will return here for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
Ocean Knight’s time of 1:43.74 was a fifth of a second off the stakes record set by General Quarters in 2009. The winner paid $5.20 as the betting favorite in the 12-horse field. My Johnny Be Good was five lengths back in third, followed by Ami’s Flatter and two-time Tampa Bay Downs stakes winner Catalina Red.
Owner Stonestreet Stables, LLC – the owner of Curlin – collected first-place money of $120,000, a healthy return on Ocean Knight’s $320,000 purchase price as a 2-year-old.
Ortiz won both graded stakes races on the card, getting the victory in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on 4-year-old Testa Rossi when apparent winner Hard Not to Like was disqualified for interference in deep stretch.
Stonestreet owner Barbara Banke, whose late husband Jess Stonestreet Jackson, Jr., campaigned Curlin, struggled to contain her emotions after the Sam F. Davis. “He did (bring back memories of Curlin), but it’s hard to say because I was jumping up and down so much,” she said.
“We knew he was fast. He had been hauling everything else around the training center all year long. (On the turn for home), though, we thought he had had it. He was clear, but he was wide and it’s tough to run down speed.”
Neal McLaughlin, assistant to winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, his brother, said Kiaran will confer with Banke but it is likely Ocean Knight will return for the Tampa Bay Derby.
“We are not afraid to go anywhere with him, but if we like the surface here and can have a good experience, why not come back?” Neal said. “Irad rode him great, but he was wide and he had to make a couple of moves to get position. He gutted it out down the stretch. For a lightly raced young horse, it’s very exciting.
“He just took a while to come around last summer; no big problems, just little things to get him to the gate and through the process,” McLaughlin added.
Ortiz had a day to remember, just as he seems to everywhere he rides. “This is the first time I’ve ridden here and to win two stakes today is just wonderful,” he said.
“I had ridden (Ocean Knight) before so I knew he would wait until I asked him. We were good from the gate and I was able to get position just outside the lead group. Mr. McLaughlin told me he had been training up to the race very well and to just relax, wait with him and set him down into the stretch.
“When I asked for run he just went after the horse on the lead a like a good horse should. I really hope I get to ride him back in those big races coming up,” Ortiz added.
Runner-up Divining Rod, owned by Lael Stables, was very impressive in defeat. “I’m very happy,” said trainer Arnaud Delacour. “I thought he ran great and he was much more professional than he had been before. I thought we could get there, but (Ocean Knight) came with a strong run.”
“I thought we were going to win it,” said Divining Rod’s jockey, Luis Garcia. “He relaxed for me on the lead and we were able to set a good pace. I asked him nearing the stretch and we were clear. It wasn't like he tired, but the other one was just too much.
“But he is still learning the game; and he will learn from the race. A second in a graded stakes in just his third start is not so bad!”
My Johnny Be Good’s trainer, Eoin Harty, was not discouraged by the outcome. “For whatever reason, he got a little tired. Maybe I had him a little short,” Harty said. “He was wide, but the winner was wider still. Hats off to him.”
The 16th renewal of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf provided a thrilling finish, with top betting choices Testa Rossi and Hard Not to Like hooking up in deep stretch. With the 4-year-old Testa Rossi and jockey Ortiz launching a whirlwind bid with about a sixteenth of a mile out, however, Hard Not to Like appeared to hop a shadow and swerved out several paths, impeding Testa Rossi’s progress.
Hard Not to Like and jockey John Velazquez finished a length ahead of Testa Rossi, but after brief deliberation the stewards disqualified the 6-year-old mare and declared Testa Rossi the winner.
The French-bred daughter of Dr. Fong-Peggy Lane, by Dancing Spree, is now 2-for-2 at Tampa Bay Downs, having won last year’s Grade III Florida Oaks. The final time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:42.04.
Testa Rossi paid $5.20 to win, and the 1-11 exacta paid $$16.80. With 76-1 shot Lots o’ Lex and jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., holding on for third, the 1-11-12 trifecta paid $466.40.
Testa Rossi improved to 6-for-11 lifetime and the $90,000 winner’s share boosted her career earnings to $562,817. She is owned by James Covello, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable.
Winning trainer Chad Brown, who was watching the race from Gulfstream Park in south Florida, believed Testa Rossi would have won had not Ortiz had to snatch her reins late. “It seemed like she was rolling down the center of the stretch, and I don’t have any doubt she would have won if she hadn’t been impeded,” Brown said.
“Irad gave her a very good trip and had her in good position. She had been training very well and ran to her training today,” Brown said. “It’s nice to see her back in form, and hopefully she can move forward from this race.”
Christophe Lorieul, the assistant to Hard Not to Like’s trainer Christophe Clement, had a different opinion, but accepted the stewards’ call.
“Johnny said she jumped a shadow. He was sticking to a right-hand stick, but she came out. I don’t think it was enough (for a disqualification), but the head-on showed Ortiz had to slow a couple of strides. The winner never got to us, but it was probably too close to the wire,” Lorieul said.
Ortiz was delighted with Testa Rossi’s performance. “Even after we got pushed out and off-stride, she put in another run,” he said. “Mr. Brown told me she was ready to run and that I should just let her settle and wait for the field to come back to us.
“We were inside every step saving ground, and she was relaxed and ready. She took off and I thought we were going to win it big. But when we were bumped and carried out, she had to show how brave she is.”
Velazquez was clearly disappointed in the outcome. “She ducked out and we bumped the other filly. When I got her straightened out again, she found her stride and finished up like the winner she really is.”
In the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Kentucky-bred Include Betty rallied from far back to catch Huasca in the shadow of the wire and surged on for a determined neck victory under jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr.
Include Betty’s come-from-behind victory style was similar to her maiden victory on Jan. 3 at Tampa Bay Downs at the same distance, albeit for much bigger stakes. The daughter of Include-Betty’s Solutions, by Eltish, improved to 2-for-5 with a second and a third.
Include Betty paid $39.80 to win, setting up a $279.80 exacta and a $1,524.20 trifecta. Her time for the mile-and-40-yard distance was 1:41.49.
Include Betty is owned by former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones and Timothy C. Thornton and trained by Tom Proctor, who watched the race from Santa Anita. It was the second consecutive Suncoast victory for Proctor, who won the 2014 edition with Niall Racing’s Please Explain.
“Wasn’t she just wonderful?’ an exultant Homeister said. “They had me over to work her the other morning, so I knew that she would be able to relax and then run when I asked. That work and what Mr. Proctor and his people told me about what she likes and doesn’t like made all the difference.
“We were well back, but she really turned it on getting into the stretch and she just went after that other filly.”
Ancient Goddess rallied for third, eight-and-a-half lengths behind Huasca, who was also the runner-up here in the Dec. 27 Gasparilla Stakes. The favorite, Whimsicality, faded to fifth.
Under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Huasca edged ahead of 91-1 shot I Zoom to take command approaching the five-sixteenths pole. Huasca pulled away to a five-length lead, but Velazquez knew she was becoming leg-weary.
“I did everything I could do to get her to relax, but with (I Zoom) pressing us on the outside, my filly just wanted to go,” Velazquez said. “Finally, I just let her have her way and she opened up. She ran a game race and nearly won it anyway.”
Homeister also won the 12th race on the card on 4-year-old filly Stock Yard Hen for owner Romar, LLC and trainer Wayne Mogge.
A pair of 3-year-olds turned in impressive performances earlier on the card. In the second race, sophomore colt Alabaster led virtually gate-to-wire to break his maiden under jockey Antonio Gallardo by a length-and-a-half from 11-10 favorite Good Pick Nick. Alabaster, who is by top sire Medaglia d’Oro, paid $15 to win. His time for the mile-and-40-yard distance was a swift 1:40.33.
Alabaster is owned by Godolphin Racing, LLC and trained by Eoin Harty.
The 3-year-old gelding Senor Grits won the third race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event, in 1:09.74 for six furlongs. The son of Elusive Quality, who was staked-placed at Laurel in November, paid $2.40 as the heavy favorite.
Julien Leparoux rode Senor Grits, who is owned by Randall L. Bloch, Phil Milner and Six Column Stables, LLC and trained by Ian Wilkes.
Gallardo and Daniel Centeno rode two winners apiece. In addition to Alabaster, Gallardo won the fifth race on the turf on 6-year-old gelding Momma’s Happy for owner Averill Racing, LLC and trainer Gerald Bennett.
Centeno scored in the first race aboard 8-year-old gelding Backwater Blues for owners Chad Stewart and Tom Gregerson and trainer Stewart. Backwater Blues was claimed out of the race by for $12,500 trainer Jamie Ness for new owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.
Centeno added the seventh race to his ledger on 8-year-old gelding Houston Bull for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Sandino Hernandez, Jr.
Sunday’s nine-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. Sunday also marks the first “Kids and Family Day” celebration of the 2014-2015 meeting. Tampa Bay Downs mascot Mouse the Miniature Horse will make an appearance and be available for pictures with her followers.
There will be games, pony rides, inflatable slides and bounce houses and plenty of good food. “Kids and Family Days” will also be held Feb. 15, March 1, March 15 and Marchy 29; “Family Fiesta Day” outings hosted by Univision Television with a Latin flavor will be held Feb. 8, Feb. 22, March 8 and March 22.
Beginning next week, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct Thoroughbred racing five days a week, adding Thursdays to the mix. The schedule will revert to four days a week in March.
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.