Promising 2-year-olds of both sexes and turf-loving fillies and mares are set to grab the Tampa Bay Downs spotlight Saturday during the track’s annual Cotillion Festival Day program. The 10-race card begins at 12:28 p.m.
The card is primarily devoted to 2-year-olds, all of which turn 3 for record-keeping purposes on Jan. 1. The exception is the 12th edition of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, a five-furlong turf sprint that has drawn an overflow field of 14 Thoroughbred females ages 3-and-upward. Only 12 are permitted to start.
On today’s card, leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo rode four winners for the second consecutive performance, raising his meeting-leading total to 19. Gallardo has ridden 306 winners in 2015, second in North America to Gulfstream Park-based Javier Castellano’s 332 at press time.
More on Gallardo below. The Lightning City is scheduled as Saturday’s ninth race, and is one of three scheduled turf races on a day expected to be cool with plenty of sunshine. The morning-line favorite for the Lightning City at 7-2 is the 6-year-old mare Joya Real, who is trained by Kathleen Demasi and will be ridden by Jose Ferrer.
Joya Real won her Oldsmar debut in the Lightning City Prep at the same distance on Nov. 28 and has finished in the money in 11 consecutive starts, including a stakes victory at Monmouth Park in August. In her next start, the $200,000 Turf Amazon Handicap at Parx on Sept. 7, Joya Real’s late charge left her two lengths shy of catching 4-year-old Lightning City entrant Richies Sweetheart, who is expected to be on or near the lead from the outset.
The winner of 12 of 25 career starts is trained by Larry Rivelli and will be ridden by E.T. Baird. Richies Sweetheart is the second morning-line choice at 4-1.
Other top contenders include the second and fourth-place finishers in the Lightning City Prep, You Bought Her and Double Secret. They finished 1-2 in last season’s Lightning City Stakes (run in January), with Double Secret winning in gate-to-wire fashion at odds of 30-1 and You Bought Her rallying for second as a 37-1 shot.
The 4-year-old Double Secret is trained by Adolfo Exposito and will be ridden by Erick Rodriguez, while the 5-year-old Florida-bred mare You Bought Her is trained by David Hinsley and will be ridden by Brian Pedroza.
Several others have the credentials to merit serious consideration from bettors, and if 12 start the outcome could be determined as much by which jockey makes the right maneuvers at the right time as by which horses possess the most quality.
Saturday’s stakes offerings begin with the third race, the 37th edition of the $100,000, six-furlong Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The event has attracted nine entrants, with Old Valyria accorded morning-line favorite’s status at odds of 5-2.
Trained by Jamie Attard, with Ronnie Allen, Jr., named to ride, Old Valyria broke her maiden at Woodbine in Toronto by seven lengths in October and was a determined second in her next start. Both races were on Woodbine’s synthetic Polytrack surface and how that form will translate to the Tampa Bay Downs main track is the big question, but she went well in her Dec. 12 four-furlong dirt workout at Gulfstream in Hallandale.
The second morning-line choice at 3-1 for the Sandpiper is Florida-bred Kandoo, trained by Ralph Nicks and to be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione. She is 2-for-4 lifetime and was freshened following a victory in a five-furlong turf race at Gulfstream Park West on Oct. 21.
Juvenile boys chase glory and the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse in the eighth race, the 31st edition of the Inaugural Stakes at six furlongs. Based in large measure on his impressive debut performance here Nov. 28 in a five-and-a-half furlong maiden special weight race that resulted in a 10 ¼-length victory, the Efren Loza, Jr.-trained Ishaq is the morning-line favorite at 5-2. Ishaq again will be ridden by Pedro Cotto, Jr.
The second choice among the 11 entrants, the Florida-bred Formal Summation, brings an extra dose of seasoning to the Inaugural. He is 2-for-4, including a victory in the Laurel Futurity in September in a race that was taken off the turf and run on a sloppy track. Trained by Kathleen O’Connell, he will be ridden by Allen.
Down the stretch. Trainer Gerald Bennett won with both starters on today’s card, giving him four consecutive winners over the last two racing days. Bennett leads the early-meeting standings with seven victories. He sent out 6-year-old gelding Thunder Harbor, owned by his Winning Stables and La Marca Stable and ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr., to win today’s first race. Bennett also won the third race with 4-year-old gelding Substraight, owned by Equels Marro Racing and ridden by Antonio Gallardo.
That kicked off another big day for the 28-year-old Spaniard, who captured the fifth race on first-time starter Citali, a 3-year-old colt owned by Randy Bradshaw and Cheyenne Stables and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Citali paid $29.80 to win.
Gallardo added the sixth race aboard 5-year-old mare Millpoint Creek for owner Ruman Stable and trainer Michael Dini. In the eighth race, Gallardo scored on 4-year-old filly Traipse in Utopia, owned by Jagger, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness.
In the seventh race, Ness saddled 6-year-old gelding Jarrod’s Commando for a victory for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds. Jarrod’s Commando was ridden by Daniel Centeno, who was celebrating his 44th birthday. Jarrod’s Commando was claimed from the race by trainer Joe Woodard for new owners Billy, Donna and Justin Hays.
Four-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners. In addition to riding Thunder Harbor in the first, Allen won the 10th on 4-year-old filly Adorabold for owner Stephen Fosman and trainer John Simms.
The track’s 2016 calendars will be given away beginning Saturday, Dec. 26 and continuing while supplies last.
Tampa Bay Downs is currently racing on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Christmas, Dec. 25, when the track is closed.
Otherwise, 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.