Racing News


by Mike Henry

When the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series originated during the 2002-2003 meeting, horsemen acknowledged the unlikelihood of any horse winning all four legs in a span of 11 weeks.

Generally speaking, horses that have run for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in the past year (one of the conditions of entry) lack the consistency to win four races in a row. Throw in the vagaries of winter and early-spring weather along Florida’s Gulf Coast, which can result in races being taken off the turf, and the task becomes more difficult.

Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding Brother Pat will be in position to set a standard of excellence by becoming the first Thoroughbred of either sex to sweep the series. Brother Pat is the 6-5 morning-line favorite in the final leg of the Male Division of the Tampa Turf Test, scheduled as the ninth race on an 11-race program.

Trained by Jamie Ness and owned by the Jagger, Inc., operation of Jamie and wife Mandy, Brother Pat will face nine rivals in the mile-and-three-eighths (11 furlongs) contest, still scheduled for the turf at press time.

The son of Any Given Saturday-Anyhow, by Tiznow, will be ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo.

The fourth leg of the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test is the seventh race. The morning-line favorite at 2-1 is 5-year-old mare Rhythm Queen, owned by La Marca Stable and trained by Jane Cibelli. Gallardo has been named to ride. Rhythm Queen won the third leg of the distaff division on a sloppy main track in her first-ever race at Tampa Bay Downs.

Ness claimed Brother Pat for $16,000 from a Nov. 29 victory in a one-mile turf event. After a third-place finish in an allowance/optional claiming race on Jan. 7, Brother Pat has won three in a row to kick off the series at lengthening distances, while racing on firm turf, good turf and a sloppy main track on Feb. 28.

More remarkably, he has led each and every step of the way in all three races.

“He is just a good horse. I really can’t tell you much more than that,” Ness said. “It has gotten a little tougher each time with more distance and more weight, but I expect a good effort Saturday.”

Ness said Brother Pat’s versatility has been a pleasant surprise. “The first race (of the Tampa Turf Test) they had hard, fast turf, and he liked that,” Ness said. “In the second race, there was a lot of give in the ground, and he liked that. And he liked a sloppy track last time. It shows that a good horse can run on anything.”

Brother Pat has been assigned to carry 124 pounds, giving up between 5-9 pounds to his rivals, including 9-2 second-choice Skiffs Brewmeister (116) from the barn of trainer Kathleen O’Connell.

“Weight means more the longer you go, but it is what it is. It would be great to say your horse is the first to do something, whatever that is,” Ness said. “I didn’t change his training for Saturday; he is as fit as he is going to be, and I wanted to keep him kind of fresh.

“With the weight he is toting and the added distance (a quarter-mile longer than the previous leg), he looks like a vulnerable favorite, and they are all taking their shots,” Ness added. “But if he gets beat, it won’t be for any other reason than he gets beat.”

Dubai World Cup to be simulcast. The $10-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, featuring the return to action of 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner and Horse of the Year California Chrome, will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

The Dubai World Cup is one of three races being simulcast from the Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates. It will be preceded by the simulcast of the Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World and the Dubai Sheema Classic Presented by Longines.

The wagering windows at Tampa Bay Downs will open at 11:25 a.m. for the Dubai races. Entered in the UAE Derby Sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (which is not being simulcast) is My Johnny Be Good, who won an allowance/optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs before a third-place finish in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Jan. 31.

My Johnny Be Good faded to last in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7 after prompting the early pace. The homebred races for Bill and Susan Casner’s Casner Racing, LP and is trained by Eoin Harty, the connections who won the 2009 Dubai World Cup with Well Armed (at the time, Casner was a partner with WinStar Farm LLC owner Kenny Troutt).

Luis Garcia is Jockey of the Month. Patience and aggressiveness are admirable traits for a jockey. Employing each at the right time in a race is the never-ending challenge.

The Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month, Luis Garcia, has learned that no matter the outcome of his choices in a race, the ability to look forward is also a valuable characteristic.

“Patience is about paying attention, and sometimes I don’t want to be patient and I move up a little early and make a mistake,” said the 30-year-old product of the El Comandante Jockeys’ School in Puerto Rico. “So I try to ride the way I always ride every time, and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, there is always next time.”

Year-in and year-out, Garcia’s skills are in demand by some of the top trainers at Tampa Bay Downs. In recent weeks, he has ridden winners for such notable conditioners as Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard; H. Graham Motion; William “Buff” Bradley; Dale Bennett; and Lonnie Arterburn.

Garcia was also the pilot on the Arnaud Delacour-trained 3-year-old Divining Rod, who finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and third in the Tampa Bay Derby.

“I’m happy to get those kind of opportunities, and it’s exciting any time you get to ride a nice horse like Divining Rod,” said Garcia, who in 2011 rode both reigning Belmont Stakes champion (and eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner) Drosselmeyer and Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go. “We were hoping for a little better luck, but I was still happy about how he ran and hopefully he keeps growing up and learning.”

After a slow start to the meeting, Garcia has climbed into a tie for ninth in the track’s jockey standings with 20 victories and is sixth in purse earnings with more than $440,000. While he is equally productive on both track surfaces, it is his uncanny ability to make late winning moves on the turf course that has endeared him to scores of bettors.

“This turf course is a little different. It’s a real nice course, but it’s a little tricky because it has a short stretch,” he said. “Sometimes riders are a little more aggressive about making their move early, so you have to keep your position. And Arnaud (Delacour) has helped me a lot about learning this turf course.”

His younger brother Geovany Garcia was an early-meeting sensation here, riding a string of winners for trainer Joe Woodard. Luis was his biggest booster, even during his own struggles. “If I’m on the bottom and he’s on top, I feel like I’m on top, too,” said Luis. “He is a strong rider who never gets tired. If I was a trainer with all kinds of horses, I would ride him.”

Luis and his wife Elizabel have a 7-year-old daughter, Brithany, and a 4-year-old son, Justin Joel. They are expecting another son in May, giving Dad – who will soon be heading back to the mid-Atlantic region to ride – all the more reason to keep smiling.

“Even if I have a bad day, I stay upbeat and keep hoping tomorrow will be better,” said Garcia, who has ridden more than 1,400 career winners. “If you bring your personal business out to the track, you don’t do well. It’s better to go out there and look at it like another day, another race, and hopefully all for the best.”

Today’s action. Fernando De La Cruz and Antonio Gallardo each rode two winners on today’s card. De La Cruz won the fourth race on 5-year-old gelding Funnystori for owner-trainer Cindy Huber. In the sixth race, he was aboard Alabaster for owner Godolphin Racing, LLC and trainer Eoin Harty.

Gallardo won the third race on 3-year-old gelding Hundacareo for breeder-owner St. George Stable, LLC and trainer Efren Loza, Jr. He added the eighth on 8-year-old gelding Gimmeadrink, who notched his third consecutive victory for owner Savoy Stable, LLC and trainer Dale Bennett.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.