by Mike Henry

The countdown has begun to discovering if Tampa Bay Downs track and multiple stakes-record holder Catalina Red can continue to excel while going around two turns against 3-year-olds from some of the country’s top stables.

After a recent workout that his trainer, Chad Stewart, described as “just what we wanted,” Catalina Red heads the list of likely entrants for Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of the track’s Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card.

The lucrative afternoon of Thoroughbred racing will also feature the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf course and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the main dirt track.

Catalina Red and the Stewart-trained Bandages, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt owned by World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc., are among a group of about 10 “strongly possible” Sam F. Davis starters released today by Tampa Bay Downs Stakes Coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk.

The Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes could draw a full field of 12 distaff runners, headed by a pair of Grade I winners: Speedway Stable, LLC’s 6-year-old mare Hard Not to Like, trained by Christophe Clement, and Michael Dubb’s 4-year-old filly Rosalind, trained by Chad C. Brown. The race could also include the past two winners of Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade III Florida Oaks: 2013 winner Tapicat, trained by William Mott, and 2014 winner Testa Rossi, trained by Brown.

Owner Anthony A. Lenci’s Florida-bred Catalina Red, meanwhile, owned a pair of thirds and a second entering the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 6, His first two starts had been on the turf in south Florida before Stewart switched him to the dirt for his runner-up effort Nov. 8 at Gulfstream Park West.

In the Inaugural, he transformed into a horse to be reckoned with, drawing off to a seven-and-a-quarter length victory under jockey Daniel Centeno in stakes-record time of 1:09.32 for six furlongs.

As it turned out, that effort was merely an appetizer for his next start on Dec. 27 in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes. With Centeno again in the irons, Catalina Red won by a neck from X Y Jet – turning the tables on his Nov. 8 conqueror and becoming the first horse in Tampa Bay Downs’ 89-year history to run seven furlongs in under 1:22 (1:21.40).

X Y Jet finished second Saturday in the Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream.

Stewart, who trains Catalina Red at his Grace Full Oaks Training Center in Ocala – a 94-acre tract within the Hunter Farm Training Complex – believes the rapidly improving son of Munnings-Lovely Dream, by Freud, is capable of handling the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis distance.

The Sam F. Davis, which has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in 10 of the last 11 years, is the major prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Festival Day, March 7.

“He came out of the Pasco in good shape, and he’s ready to go,” said Stewart, who is also planning to start World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc.’s Kentucky-bred colt Bandages in the Sam F. Davis. “I thought Catalina Red had a great workout Wednesday (a five-furlong breeze at Hunter Farm in 1:05.27). He finished strong and galloped out nice.

“He is just a very smart horse,” said Stewart. “He stays relaxed, he doesn’t show a lot of emotion and he likes his job. And I don’t think it hurts him any to train (at Hunter Farm). It’s a much calmer atmosphere than being at the track, and while some horses may need the racetrack environment, (Catalina Red) does well shipping in.”

Other likely Sam F. Davis starters at this point include G Five from the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has sent out the Sam F. Davis winner in five of the last nine years; Ocean Knight, a well-regarded son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; and allowance winners My Johnny Be Good and Crittenden, both from the barn of trainer Eoin Harty.

Also, stakes-placed Brother Bobo, trained by Jason Servis; Divining Rod, trained by Arnaud Delacour; and Canadian invader Bears Personality, trained by Reade Baker.

Stewart said Lenci has turned down six-figure offers to buy Catalina Red following his record-breaking performances. “The offers got to be real good, but Mr. Lenci loves to race,” Stewart said.

Stewart knows the biggest question surrounding Catalina Red is his ability to stretch out in distance. Munnings, his sire, was a multiple-Grade II winner, all at the seven-furlong distance. Munnings is by 2004 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter Speightstown, who never won a race past seven furlongs in his exceptional career.


“You  look at Catalina Red’s broodmare side, and Freud is known for throwing a lot of sprinters, but he also throws a lot of quality distance horses,” Stewart said. “And Freud is a full brother to (champion sire) Giant’s Causeway, and when you think of Giant’s Causeway you think of offspring who win at the classic distances.”

Stewart is also optimistic about the chances of likely Sam F. Davis starter Bandages, who broke his maiden here in a six-furlong race on Dec. 27 for owner Gene Phelps’ World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc. The homebred Bandages is by Grade I winner Any Given Saturday (winner of the 2007 Sam F. Davis and runner-up to Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby), out of the Personal Flag mare Beauty Is.

Bandages is a half-brother to Wayzata Bay, Phelps’ outstanding performer who won the 2008 Grade II Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap at odds of 38-1.

“(The Sam F. Davis) is going to be a huge step up for Bandages, but he acts like he wants to go two turns,” Stewart said.

The Pick-5, which requires bettors to correctly select the winners of the last five races, was hit today. The $1 combination of 9-1-7-5-4 paid $73,813.60. The Pick-5 offers a minimum wager of 50 cents, and there were seven winning 50-cent tickets sold.

Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Antonio Gallardo and Pablo Morales each rode two winners on today’s card. Gallardo, who has 54 victories here, won the fourth race on 4-year-old gelding Al’s Jubalee for owner-trainer Frank Langdon, III. He added the sixth on the turf on 3-year-old colt Frontier Force for owners Team Block and Princess Kathy Stable and trainer Chris Block.

Morales won the seventh and eighth races back-to-back. He won the seventh on 4-year-old gelding Wedding Savior, who has now won three in a row, for owner Tommy G. Ligon and trainer Anthony Granitz.

Morales added the eighth on the turf – the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week – aboard 5-year-old mare Gulf Coast Breeze for owner Richard H. Bosshard, Jr., and trainer Kenneth M. Cox.

Thoroughbred racing returns to Tampa Bay Downs with a 10-race card Wednesday beginning at 12:40 p.m. 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.

Please note that on Sunday, Feb. 1, the Skye Terrade Dining Room will offer its regular menu only because of that day’s Super Bowl. The Sunday Buffet will return on Sunday, Feb. 8.

“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 – 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 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 Saturday, the first day of the contest.