Racing News


by Mike Henry

Add trainer Kathleen Demasi to the growing list of horse people who find Tampa Bay Downs an outstanding place to winter.

It doesn’t hurt that Demasi trains 6-year-old mare Joya Real, who showed a field of fine turf-sprinting fillies and mares her heels in the track’s Opening Day feature race, the $28,000 Lightning City Prep. With her somewhat-easier-than-it-looked, ¾-length victory from You Bought Her and eight other rivals, Joya Real has established herself as the likely favorite for the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes on Dec. 19.

It was the first start since Sept. 7 for Joya Real, and Demasi has been pointing her for the Tampa Bay Downs meeting since she saw the condition book.

“She shipped in about a week ago, and she settled in great,” Demasi said of her stakes-winning stable star, 9-for-25 lifetime after speeding the five furlongs on the grass in 56.11 seconds under jockey Daniel Centeno. “She loves it here. She acted like she has been here all the time, and she did everything right today.”

Thoroughbred racing made its long-awaited return to Florida’s west coast since the official July 1 2015-2016 opening, as a crowd of 4,194 enjoyed a full card of action on a warm, sun-kissed “Opening Day” at Tampa Bay Downs. And perhaps no one had a better time than Joya Real’s conditioner.

Demasi, who trained here six or seven years ago, decided to come back to Oldsmar since her home track of Parx Racing in Philadelphia will close for a portion of the winter. “It didn’t go that well the last time I was here, so winning today is like getting the monkey off my back,” said Demasi, who manages the ownership group of Pewter Stable with her husband, Greg. “As long as she comes out of the race well, the plan is to go to (the Lightning City Stakes).”

Joya Real paid $4.60 to win. Imperial Secret, a 46-1 shot, rallied for third, a neck ahead of last season’s Lightning City Stakes winner, Double Secret.

Joya Real was claimed by Pewter Stable as a 4-year-old out of her seventh career start for $25,000, while still a maiden. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Eddington-Regal Locket, by Regal Classic, has flourished on the turf, winning five of 11 starts on the grass, including three stakes, while hitting the board this year against the likes of top female sprinters Lady Shipman and Ageless.

“She has turned into a little turf monster, and she’s such an affable mare,” Demasi said. “She touches your heart because she’s the kind who tries every time you take her over.”

The first legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series produced a pair of winning favorites. In the Males Division, 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Cement Clement spurted away from Bonetown Wild in deep stretch for a two-and-a-half length victory in 1:34.94 for the mile distance.

Cement Clement, who is owned by Pat and Ron Scorese and trained by Eduardo Rojas, paid $3 to win. The winning jockey was Ricardo Feliciano.

Two races earlier, in the Fillies and Mares Division, 5-year-old Cara’s Nay Nay rallied from slightly off the pace for an impressive three-and-a-half length victory from Awalkinthemoonlite. Pablo Morales rode the winner, who is owned by David L. Stolle and trained by Wayne Mogge. Cara’s Nay Nay paid $6.20 to win.

Feliciano and Morales each rode two winners on the card. So did Pedro Cotto, Jr., both of his coming for owner St. George Stable, LLC and trainer Efren Loza, Jr.

Those connections unveiled an impressive first-time starter in the sixth race. Ishaq, a homebred 2-year-old, rolled to a 10-and-a-quarter length victory from fellow first-timer Southern Quality in an impressive time of 1:04.26 for the five-and-a-half furlong distance on the main track, despite drifting out a bit on the turn.

Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Chelsey Keiser injected instant electricity into the proceedings in the first race, overcoming a stumble at the break and rallying her mount Category up the rail for a one-and-three-quarter length victory from Out of the Woods.

The winner, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Wendy L. Brown and trained by Luis Dominguez, completed the six furlongs in 1:11.82. He paid $32.20 to win.

“I like staying on more than coming off,” the 23-year-old Keiser said of her mindset at the outset. “I wasn’t expecting to be in that spot (last place early in the 11-horse field), and I was only wearing three pairs of goggles and getting a lot of kickback, but we made it work.”

Keiser said of the opening inside Out of the Woods: “I could see it was enough to get through.”

The victory came in her first race ever at Tampa Bay Downs, and less than two months after she returned to the saddle following a spill at Monmouth Park in May in which she broke her right collarbone, sidelining her four months.

Given those circumstances, it was easy to understand her visible excitement in the winner’s circle. But Keiser said Oldsmar fans can expect more of the same the next time she rides a winner.

“I’ve been competitive all my life, and the thrill of winning is something I don’t get tired of,” she said. “I don’t take it for granted. Knowing all the work everyone puts in to win a race makes it so rewarding.”

Unfortunately, Keiser’s colleague Jonathan Gonzales wasn’t as fortunate in the third race when his mount, 3-year-old gelding Jo Jo Cool, snapped its ankle inside the quarter-mile pole and fell. Gonzales was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa complaining of ankle soreness; he was discharged late this afternoon.

Jo Jo Cool was humanely euthanized because of the severity of his injuries.

Rider Jesus Rios was unseated from his mount, Horn Buckle, when he attemped to avoid the fallen horse. Neither rider nor horse were injured.

Meanwhile, Centeno is looking forward to the possibility of riding Joya Real again in the Lightning City. “I knew she had been training real well, and we were able to break sharp and get a good position and make one run with her,” Centeno said. “She brought me all the way to the wire.”

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Wednesday, with a first-race post time of about 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec., 25, for full-card simulcasting, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.