Racing News

DOWNS WELL-REPRESENTED AT CHURCHILL; DE LA CRUZ WINS THREE

by Mike Henry

Tampa Bay Downs’s 2021-2022 stakes program has produced a half-dozen standouts on this weekend’s lucrative, graded stakes-packed cards at Churchill Downs.

Although 3-year-old Classic Causeway, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, is 30-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve, his early speed and a rider change to Julien Leparoux could make for some interesting moments and. …who knows?

Classic Causeway is bidding to join Street Sense (2007), Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) as horses to compete at Tampa Bay Downs before winning the Run for the Roses.

The 3-year-old filly Nest – who won the Suncoast Stakes here on Feb. 12 in stakes-record time of 1:39.30 for the mile-and-40-yard distance – is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Friday’s Longines Kentucky Oaks. She followed her Suncoast victory with one on April 8 in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes, and her stalking style seems well-suited to reward trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., with another victory.

Friday’s Churchill Downs card also features the return to action of a pair of Oldsmar graded-stakes winners, trainer Chad Brown’s 4-year-old filly Bleecker Street and his 3-year-old filly Dolce Zel.

Bleecker Street, who is a perfect 5-for-5 after winning the Oldsmar oval’s Grade III Endeavour Stakes and Grade II Hillsborough Stakes under jockey Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Grade III Modesty Stakes presented by TwinSpires for older fillies and mares on the turf. Flavien Prat has the riding assignment.

Dolce Zel, who captured the Grade III Florida Oaks here before a second-place finish at Keeneland in the Grade II Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Grade II Edgewood Stakes presented by Forcht Bank for 3-year-old fillies. Irad Ortiz, Jr., is the rider.

The 5-year-old horse Shirl’s Speight, who won the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes here before pulling off an upset at Keeneland in the Grade I Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes, will compete Saturday in the race before the Kentucky Derby, the Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic. He is the 3-1 morning-line favorite for trainer Roger Attfield and jockey Luis Saez.

His 4-year-old stablemate, the filly Lady Speightspeare, was second to Bleecker Street in the Endeavour. Lady Speightspeare is the 5-2 second choice for Saturday’s Grade II Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile for Attfield and Saez.

‘X’ number of years ago, horses arriving at major races from Tampa Bay Downs would carry more attractive odds, even with significant victories to their credit.

But the track and the turf course, especially, are popular proving grounds for such trainers as Pletcher, Brown and Attfield and their stable stars.

This weekend, it’s time to keep that momentum rolling.

Post time for the first race both days at Churchill is 10:30 a.m., and the gates here will open at 10 a.m. to permit fans an opportunity to wager on every race. Patrons will be able to wager on the Kentucky Derby on Friday. On Saturday, “walk-up” wagering will be available outside the main Tampa Bay Downs Grandstand entrance for bettors unable to stay for the action.

Admission is $3 on Friday and $10 on Saturday. Free admission will be available in the Backyard Picnic Area; wagering terminals and restrooms will be available, but the outdoor concession stands will be closed. However, on Saturday, food trucks will be positioned on the Grandstand near the paddock, including one selling donuts.

The Kentucky Derby’s traditional drink, the mint julep, will be on sale Saturday for $9 in the official souvenir glass. Mint julep glasses and other Kentucky Derby merchandise will be on sale throughout in the Gift Shop.

Around the oval. Fernando De La Cruz rode three winners today. He captured the first race on Foolish Heart, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by CCF Racing Stable and trained by Gerald Bennett.

De La Cruz won the fourth race on Stratford, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Seven Gables and trained by Cathy Rountree. The rider also triumphed in the eighth race on 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Catch the Rainbow for owner Volar Corporation and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.

Bennett took another step toward clinching his seventh consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title with a pair of victories. Bennett has saddled 35 winners, eight more than Kathleen O’Connell. O’Connell has eight horses entered the next two days, while Bennett has three, so it’s a virtual lock for Bennett, even factoring in the June 30 opportunity as the official final day of the meet (and the first day of the two-day Summer Festival of Racing).

In addition to his victory with Foolish Heart, Bennett won the ninth race (switched from the turf to the dirt) with first-time starter R Reposado Loca, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Averill Racing and ATM Racing and ridden by David Cardoso.

In today’s third race, 10-year-old gelding Native Hawk was poised to cement his standing as the meet’s top winner. Instead, it appears he will share that spot with 6-year-old gelding Tony Small, who held off Poseiden by a neck for his fourth victory, tying Native Hawk in that category. Native Hawk faded to fourth after dueling with Tony Small for the opening half-mile.

While Native Hawk has raced exclusively this season for owner-trainer Juan Arriagada, Tony Small’s victory today was his first for trainer Maria Bowersock. Apprentice jockey Madeline Rowland has now won three times on Tony Small, who won on Dec. 31 for trainer Dennis Ward, on Jan. 14 for Arriagada and on Jan. 21 for Ward. Mark Hoffman has owned Tony Small for his last three starts.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.