by Mike Henry

After watching 2-year-old filly Irish Jasper set a stakes record in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes, a festive Tampa Bay Downs crowd of 4,525 questioned what the Pasco Stakes field could do for an encore.

Catalina Red didn’t let them down.

Seemingly defeated at the sixteenth pole, the 2-year-old Florida-bred colt – owned by Anthony Lenci and trained by Chad Stewart – wore down determined pace-setter X Y Jet by a neck in track and stakes-record time of 1:21.40 for seven furlongs in the $100,000 event. Charlie’s Brother finished a distant third in the six-horse field.

Catalina Red, who entered the Inaugural Stakes three weeks ago still a maiden, became the first horse since Manicero in 2010-2011 to win both races (the Pasco was contested that season in January).

“(X Y Jet) was going fast up front and I had to use my horse a little sooner than I wanted,” said winning jockey Daniel Centeno. “We were really in stride getting into the stretch and I expected to get past easily, but he battled with us every step and it was only at the wire we edged clear.

“My horse had to be game to win today, and he can only get better.”

The previous stakes record of 1:22.55 was set in 2006 by R Loyal Man, while the former track record of 1:22.03 was established by Good Lord in the 2013 Super Stakes. Catalina Red paid $3.20 to win as the wagering favorite.

Stewart, who believed Catalina Red was sitting on a big effort, never felt comfortable at any point in the race. “I was very concerned because (X Y Jet) had an easy lead and no one was pushing him,” Stewart said. “I had faith in my horse and a lot of faith in Danny, but I almost thought he was sitting too chilly. But Danny can really pick one up and carry him on down and that’s what happened.”

X Y Jet, who set fractions of 44.54 seconds for the half-mile and 1:08.81 for six furlongs, scooted clear again at about the eighth pole, but Catalina Red – by Munnings, out of Lovely Dream, by Freud – refused to be denied. “He showed a lot of heart today,” added Stewart, who will huddle with Lenci before deciding on their next move.  

Stewart also saddled the winner of the second race, 2-year-old colt Bandages (more on him below).

In the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Kentucky-bred Irish Jasper wore down pace-setter Huasca through the stretch to post a half-length victory in stakes-record time of 1:22.41 for the seven furlongs. Coco’s Wildcat was a distant third, with the 3-2 favorite, A. P.’s Glory, fourth in the eight-horse field.

Irish Jasper paid $16.80 as the fifth betting choice. The 6-2 exacta paid $73.80. Victor Lebron rode the winner.

The old stakes record of 1:23.78 was set in 2006 by Kinsman Stable’s Sweet Fervor.

“I was afraid of the favorite, but other than that I was pretty confident,” said winning trainer Derek Ryan after Irish Jasper’s third victory in four career starts. “Victor worked her a week ago (four furlongs in 49.40 seconds, breezing from the gate) and she came into this race really good. She is a very honest filly and we were hoping to get some black type with her, so we’re in business.”

Lebron was happy for the chance to ride Irish Jasper and delighted for her connections after she proved she has a very bright future. “I had ridden this filly in her last two works, so I was confident she would run well today,” Lebron said. “We broke well and she was relaxed behind the lead group, who really seemed to be moving (22.33 for the quarter-mile and 45.45 for the half).

“Getting into the turn, I asked her for run and she responded and took off. I asked her again in the stretch and she quickened nicely and got past the leader. She was still going strong at the finish,” Lebron added.

Ryan said Irish Jasper’s tail got wrapped in the starting gate in her only defeat, a third-place finish at Aqueduct on Nov. 20. “She should really be undefeated, but it’s a good result today so we’re very happy,” he said.

Ryan owns Irish Jasper in partnership under his Metro Thoroughbreds, LLC banner. He purchased the daughter of First Defence-Irish Connection, by Mr. Greeley, privately after she did not meet her reserve at the June Two-Year-Old Sale in Ocala.

Ryan said Irish Jasper’s next start could come in the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the Jan. 31 Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card.

Huasca’s chances may have been compromised when she hopped a shadow at the 3/8-mile pole while on the lead. “She just lost her motion,” said jockey Fernando Jara. “I was able to pick her up and get her running again and even in deep stretch I thought we would be good enough, but we just missed.”

Saturday’s card was quality-laden, with several other winners offering the promise of bigger success ahead. In the second race, Bandages – a 2-year-old colt bred and owned by World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc., and trained by Chad Stewart – held off a stern challenge from first-time starter Caged to triumph by two-and-a-quarter lengths in the maiden special weight contest in solid time of 1:11.07 for six furlongs.

Antonio Gallardo rode the winner, a son of Grade I winner Any Given Saturday, who won the 2007 Sam F. Davis Stakes and finished second by a nose to Street Sense in that year’s then-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby. Bandages’ dam is Beauty Is, making him a half-brother to Grade II winner and 2008 Challenger Stakes winner Wayzata Bay.

The third race, the Endeavour Prep/Lambholm South Race of the Week for fillies and mares at a mile on the turf, featured a ding-dong stretch battle between Maria Maria and Lori’s Store, with the former prevailing by a neck in 1:35.78. Christopher Emigh rode Maria Maria for the jockey’s first career victory at Tampa Bay Downs. The 3-year-old winner is owned by her breeder, Curtis C. Green, and trained by James DiVito.

In the sixth race, a maiden special weight affair for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs, I Zoom rebounded from an off-the-board performance in the Sandpiper Stakes on Dec. 6 for a resounding four-and-a-half length victory from Sweet Sandy.

Owned by Gene Gilmore, who bred I Zoom in partnership with Phyllis Gilmore, and trained by Gerald Bennett, I Zoom was ridden by Dean Butler. She is by Grade I winner Burning Roma – the winner of the 2001 Tampa Bay Derby – out of Lake Louise, by multiple-Grade Iwinner Devil His Due. I Zoom’s time was 1:11.36.

Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month Kathleen O’Connell showed timing is everything. She accepted the award in the winner’s circle from Zerillo’s owner Dan Demeo minutes after saddling 11-1 shot Lake Drive South to win the fifth race, a six-furlong claiming event. The winning 3-year-old colt is owned by his breeder, Dierdre Marsh, and was ridden by Luis Garcia.

Lake Drive South’s triumph was No. 100 for O’Connell in 2014.

Thoroughbred racing returns at the Oldsmar oval Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday racing schedule through the end of January, adding Thursdays to the mix in February.

The track 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.

“10 Days of Festivus Challenge” handicapping contest. The results have been finalized from Tampa Bay Downs’ “10 Days of Festivus Challenge online handicapping contest, which drew 777 participants from across the country.

The overall winner, with a final mythical Festivus Wallet total of $6,228, was John Kudlo of Tampa. He earned the first-place prize of $1,000. Second was Neil Moran, who won $300 based on his final wallet total of $5,949. Third went to Lloyd Yazbek, who won $100 with a final aggregate of $5,920.

Each of the contest’s individual day winners earned $100 (in cases of ties, the $100 prize was equally divided). The list of winners is as follows:

Day 1 – Thomas Casolo. Day 2 (tie) – Mark Larocca, Robert Tait, George Tokarz, Richard Koepke. Day 3 – Tom Gydus. Day 4 (tie) – Thomas Curry, Frank Petrino, Eddie Kaz, John Kudlo, Neil Moran, Paul Casolo, Timothy Tabala. Day 5 (tie) – George Lanzo, Claggett Allen. Day 6 – Robert Godbold. Day 7 – Ruth Tolson. Day  – George Lanzo, Thomas Casolo. Day 9 – Steve Crocker. Day 10 (tie) – Catherine Hartsock, Tina Hausler.

Tampa Bay Downs thanks all who participated and reminds everyone that the track’s second annual “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest will begin on Jan. 31, which is Festival Preview Day.