A runner from the Jason DaCosta stable prepares to step off the van outside Barn 28 this morning.
Early arrivals began flooding the backside at Tampa Bay Downs this morning as the stable area opened at 8 a.m. in preparation for the continuation of the Thoroughbred track’s 2015-2016 meeting.
Sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s greeted horses and their handlers, who had no difficulty acclimating to their new surroundings. “This is my kind of weather,” said Kingsley Beckford, an assistant who accompanied 12 horses trained by Jason DaCosta on their 19 ½-hour van ride from ThistleDown Racino outside Cleveland.
“It’s a good environment all-around here. The barn area is clean, the track surfaces are good and the horses enjoy being here.”
The main track will open for training at 6 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 9. The 90th anniversary meeting is set to resume on Saturday, Nov. 28.
Creech Horse Transportation drivers Mike LoPiano and Tom Kauffman timed it to arrive with DaCosta’s horses at 8 a.m. sharp, and under normal circumstances, they would have been the first on the grounds.
But when a truck hauling the unraced 2-year-old filly Miss Adara reached the stable gate shortly after 7 a.m. from Innfields Training Center in nearby Odessa, allowances were made to permit her to report early to her new home in Barn 21, where she will be trained by Charles Harvatt.
An unraced 2-year-old daughter of 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava and broodmare Change of Mind, Miss Adara is the only horse owned by retired horse trainer and homebuilder Charles Ciaio and retired police officer Harold Kemnitz, who purchased her privately during the June Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age Sale in Ocala.
Ciaio and Kemnitz became friends three years ago when they worked for the track’s Security Department and discovered they both were from the Rochester, N.Y., area.
“This is going to be my first stakes winner right here,” said Ciaio, admiring Miss Adara from outside her stall. “She has done everything we’ve asked – she’s great in the starting gate, she’s good around other horses and nothing seems to bother her on the track. She’s a sweetheart.”
“She likes to run. That is a big thing for her,” Kemnitz said. “And she is fun to be around. She’s like a big baby – you can go up and pet her, play with her, anything.”
The partners, both in their 70s, plan to spend as much time as possible with Miss Adara, at least until Harvatt asks them to move over. “It’s something to look forward to every morning,” Ciaio said. “We are going to have fun with her, and hopefully she will run a little like her dad.”
DaCosta’s 12-horse contingent, consisting of seven fillies, four geldings and a colt, included his 2-year-old gelding Unbridled Trick, who won the recent $150,000 Best of Ohio Juvenile Stakes at ThistleDown. The up-and-coming conditioner finished fifth in last season’s Tampa Bay Downs standings with 23 victories.
Transporting valuable race horses long distance is what LoPiano and Kauffman do for a living, and they are always alert for the unexpected to happen (which apparently did not on this trip, except for heavy rain throughout Tennessee and north Georgia).
“I haul horses the way I would want my horses hauled if I was an owner,” LoPiano said. “But just when you think you know a lot of this stuff, something new always happens. There are no two horses that haul the same. It’s a job where No. 1, you need to like driving trucks, and No. 2, you need to like horses.
“But it really isn’t too stressful, except when a four-wheeler cuts in front of you and doesn’t leave any space.”
The 2015-2016 Tampa Bay Downs meeting began on July 1 and runs through June 30. Beginning Nov. 28, racing will be conducted on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 20.