With his record seventh Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer in North America safely tucked away, Todd Pletcher can turn his attention to the Triple Crown trail.
And what better place to start than the 35th renewal of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of Tampa Bay Downs’ Jan. 31 Festival Preview Day card Presented by Lambholm South, which offers $500,000 in stakes purses.
Pletcher, who has won five of the last nine editions of the Sam F. Davis, has nominated 11 3-year-olds to the mile-and-a-sixteenth contest, which has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter from 10 of its last 11 runnings. The Pletcher contingent is among a group of 48 sophomores to meet the Saturday nominations deadline.
The Sam F. Davis will headline a program that includes the 16th renewal of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course and the 35th running of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track.
While the majority of Pletcher’s nominees are relatively untested (certainly no impediment to him contending for the money), the most-accomplished nominee is Zayat Stables, LLC’s 3-year-old colt El Kabeir, who won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29 and followed that up with a victory in the Grade III Jerome at Aqueduct on Jan. 3 in his 3-year-old debut.
El Kabeir is trained by John P. Terranova, II, who won the 2013 Sam F. Davis with Falling Sky.
Another notable nominee is Ralph M. Evans’ Upstart, trained by Richard Violette, Jr. The ridgling finished second in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont before a strong third-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Local fans have their hopes pinned on Anthony A. Lenci’s Florida-bred colt Catalina Red, who has been nothing short of spectacular in his two Tampa Bay Downs starts for trainer Chad Stewart and jockey Daniel Centeno.
Catalina Red broke his maiden on Dec. 6 in the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes in stakes-record time of 1:09.32 for the six furlongs. He proved that effort was not a fluke three weeks later in the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes, winning in track-record time of 1:21.40 by a neck from X Y Jet, who is also among the Sam F. Davis nominees.
The Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, which produced the Eclipse Award-winning Turf Female in Zagora in 2012, has attracted 47 nominees. Included are two outstanding grass distaffers from the barn of trainer Christophe Clement: Speedway Stable, LLC’s 6-year-old Hard Not to Like, who won the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland last spring in her most recent start, and China Horse Club’s 6-year-old Parranda, whose career ledger includes four graded stakes victories and almost $900,000 in earnings.
Also nominated to the Lambholm South Endeavour are the last two winners of Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade III Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies: Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables’ 5-year-old Tapicat, who won the 2013 Florida Oaks for Hall of Fame trainer William Mott, and 4-year-old filly Testa Rossi, last year’s Florida Oaks winner owned by Thomas Coleman and James Covello and trained by 2014 Eclipse Award runner-up trainer Chad Brown.
The Suncoast closed Saturday with 24 nominations. The group of promising sophomore fillies includes Metro Thoroughbreds, LLC’s Irish Jasper, the Derek Ryan-trainee who set a stakes record of 1:22.41 while winning the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes here on Dec. 27, and Donegal Racing and Mott’s Puca, who broke her maiden by 16 lengths last October at Belmont before being beaten only three lengths while finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.
Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Gerald Bennett saddled two winners today from three starters, giving him 14 for the meeting and five over the last four racing days. Bennett won the first race with 3-year-old filly Roma’s Sister, a daughter of 2001 Tampa Bay Derby winner Burning Roma. Daniel Centeno rode Roma’s Sister for her co-owners, Bennett’s Winning Stables, Inc., and Midnight Rider Racing Stable.
The veteran conditioner also won the third race with 3-year-old gelding Inaswagger for owner Averill Racing, LLC. Antonio Gallardo was the jockey.
Pablo Morales rode two winners, both on the turf course. He won the seventh race on 5-year-old gelding Mr. America for owner Maccabee Farm, LLC and trainer Wayne Mogge and returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth – the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week – aboard 4-year-old filly Candy Crush for breeder-owners G. Watts Humphrey, Jr., John P. Cline, II and Robin P. Cline and trainer Victoria Oliver.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. Neither the Super High-5 nor the Pick-5 was hit today. As a result, on Wednesday there will be a Super High-5 carryover of $46,991.80 and a Pick-5 carryover of $14,176.81.
The stakes schedule picks up Saturday with a tripleheader of outstanding races, headlined by the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.
Also on tap are the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-up at five furlongs on the turf and the $100,000 Pelican Stakes for horses 4-and-up going six furlongs on the main track.
Campbell’s upsets produce happy bettors. Long-shot winner by long-shot winner, 7-pound apprentice jockey Janelle Campbell is building quite a fan club at the Oldsmar oval.
“When I was signing autographs Saturday (during the track’s Cap Giveaway Day), a man tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said ‘I just want to thank you. I won the (10 Days of Festivus) handicapping contest because I used the horse you rode that paid $106,’ ” Campbell said.
The 30-year-old redhead from Amesbury, Mass., has vaulted to the top of the track’s apprentice jockey standings with five victories, with the average winning mutuel slightly above $61 – and that includes 7-year-old mare Learn the Lingo, a 7-5 favorite Campbell won on for Jagger, Inc., and trainer Mandy Ness on Jan. 3.
If a bettor had done nothing to date during the current meeting except wager $2 to win on each of Campbell’s 41 mounts, they would be ahead $224.80.
“I try not to pay attention to the odds, but I feel less pressure when I go out there on a long shot,” Campbell said. “I go out there very relaxed, and it works out.”
Campbell’s astounding run of long-shot victories includes the M.C. Reardon-owned and trained Three Timer, a then-3-year-old filly who paid $106 to win on Dec. 10.
Next up on her upset parade were Kaiser’s d’Light, a 7-year-old mare that paid $77 on Jan. 2, for owner Lee Loebelenz and trainer Reardon on Jan. 2; and 5-year-old gelding Travel Required, who paid a “meager” $33.60 to win on Jan. 11 for owners Auglyn Stables and Caroline Mansour and trainer Michele Boyce.
On Saturday, Campbell teamed for victory with first-time starter Lady Lucilla, a 3-year-old filly that paid $85.40 in winning the 10th race for owner Laurine Fuller-Vargas and trainer Alan Lockhart.
“Alan told me she might be a little over her head and that I should just try to steal the race on the front end,” Campbell said. “When I got back to the winner’s circle, I said ‘How’s that for stealing it?’ ”
Campbell, who has ridden at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts for four years, acquired her love of horses from her late grandmother Suzanne Campbell, who owned Thoroughbreds and show horses. Campbell’s aunt is successful jockey Tammi Piermarini (currently inactive), who has ridden 2,360 winners.
Although this is her first year competing at Tampa Bay Downs, Campbell has spent several years here galloping horses and doing pony work. She also absorbed a wealth of knowledge watching Piermarini over the years.
“Janelle has a lot of talent. She stays out of a horse’s way, and that’s why they run for her,” said veteran jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr. “She tries to break on top and gets her horses in good position, which is a big part of winning races.
“What I really like is that she always asks questions. She has confidence in herself, but she is always thinking, what can I do better? She has a good head on her shoulders, and she is only going to keep improving,” Homeister said.
“Live It Up Challenge.” Registration has begun for the second annual, free online “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, with players vying for the grand prize of a seat at the 2016 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Championship and $1,000 in cash.
Also at stake are additional prizes of $1,000 for second place, $500 for third and $500 for most winners selected throughout the contest, which runs from Saturday, Jan. 31 – which is Festival Preview Day at Tampa Bay Downs – through Saturday, April 4, which is Florida Cup Day.
Players can register online and get the complete set of rules at www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet. All wagers are mythical. Players must make a selection every day; those skipping a day incur a strike, with three strikes ending their participation. Players also incur a strike when their selection in one of that day’s “Challenge Races” does not finish first, second or third.
All players begin the competition with two life lines. A new feature will give players the opportunity to purchase two additional life lines before the contest and extra life lines at two specified times during the competition. The deadline to register is 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, the first day of the contest.
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.