by Mike Henry

A lot of serious handicappers were still scratching their heads late into the night Saturday, trying to make sense of the third-place finish by 76-1 shot Lots o’ Lex in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf.

The Tampa Bay Downs-based 4-year-old filly was the only one of the 11 entrants not to have competed in a stakes race, and her record of two Oldsmar turf victories from five starts – a maiden special weight and a conditional allowance – did little to inspire confidence among bettors, who made her the longest shot in the race.

But the two women closest to Lots o’ Lex, assistant trainer Sandra Adkins and jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., knew better.

And while both were delighted by the Kentucky-bred’s third-place finish behind 2014 Grade III Florida Oaks winner Testa Rossi, from the powerhouse Chad Brown barn, and Grade I winner Hard Not to Like (who was disqualified from first for interference), Adkins and Homeister are confident Lots o’ Lex’s best days are ahead of her – perhaps in the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on March 7.

“In both of her wins (Dec. 5 and Jan. 10, both under Homeister), she didn’t even get tired. So you know you have more horse when that happens,” said Adkins, who gallops Lots o’ Lex. “She came out of those races like she had just galloped. Those races she won, she was just cruising.”

Homeister had won the race before the Lambholm South Endeavour, the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, on 18-1 shot Include Betty. After being interviewed by the media and sharing high-fives and hugs with appreciative fans along the rail, Homeister got back to business in a hurry.

“It doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time between races, but it’s enough time to get prepared,” Homeister said of her quick turnaround to ride Lots o’ Lex. “I mark all of my (past-performance) charts and watch the replays of the horses I’m going to ride the day before, but I don’t focus on the next race until the last race is over and I get back to the room.”

Looking at the Lambholm South Endeavour, and based on her previous experience on Lots o’ Lex, Homeister was confident her filly would be comfortable on the lead or just off the pace.

“”I don’t look at the odds board, because horses don’t know their odds,” she said. “My expectations were high because I feel like she is getting stronger with each race, and she shows how happy she is in her morning work.”

Adkins watched the Lambholm South Endeavour by the grandstand rail, just inside the eighth pole. “That’s my lucky spot,” she said. She was joined by three visitors from the clubhouse: the filly’s trainer and co-breeder, Gerry Aschinger; his wife, Dana; and Dana’s sister, Lisa Lex, the filly’s owner and a doctor from Ohio.

The Aschingers, who used to play tournament polo across the globe, own War Horse Place in Lexington, Ky., a full-service broodmare, foaling and sales-prep facility, and have a winter residence in Sarasota, Fla. They bred Lots o’ Lex under their Kitalpha LLC banner in partnership with Paradise Productions, LLC.

Lots o’ Lex is a daughter of the Aschinger’s late sire, Kitalpha, who succumbed to cancer in 2012 at age 13. Lots o’ Lex was in Oldsmar last year but did not start locally; she was sent back to Kentucky with an injury later diagnosed as a small fracture in her shoulder.

She made her debut at Keeneland in October, finishing fourth and third in a pair of high-level maiden special weight events, then was switched to turf upon her arrival at Tampa Bay Downs. In addition to her two victories and Lambholm South Endeavour third, she finished second here by a neck on Dec. 21.

Although Gerry Aschinger is listed as his stable’s trainer, Adkins runs the operation on a day-to-day basis. “She takes sole responsibility for Lots o’ Lex,” he said.

Gerry Aschinger concedes he might not have been as optimistic about Lots o’ Lex’s chances as Adkins and Homeister. “I knew that for her to be on the board, she would have to improve, but I wasn’t quite sure how much,” he said. “She improved immensely.”

After breaking well from the No. 10 post, Lots o’ Lex and Homeister were in tight quarters entering the clubhouse turn, and Lots o’ Lex brushed heels when Homeister tried to extricate her from the squeeze. They caught a break when long-shot leader Naughty Holiday bolted to the outside; Homeister took advantage by dropping Lots o’ Lex to the rail and grabbing the lead.

“I inherited the lead in hand and had such an easy pace with her,” Homeister said. “When I was coming around the turn, I knew they had to run to catch her.”

“When they were getting to where we were watching from, I thought she might win it. We were going crazy,” Adkins said.

Ultimately, Lots o’ Lex was unable to stave off the top two but was beaten about a length for all the money. “When they started to pass her, she really tried to dig in again,” Homeister said.

To Adkins, the main sign her inexperienced filly gave her utmost came the next morning, when she found Lots o’ Lex napping in her stall. “After her other races, she just came back to the barn bouncing,” Adkins said.

The next engagement on Lots o’ Lex’s dance card could be the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on March 7.

Rest assured, she will not be 76-1.

“I think everyone thought it was a little stretch to run her (in the Lambholm South Endeavour), but we knew better,” Adkins said. “You gotta take a shot every now and then. The most exciting thing is, I think she is going to keep getting better because she has kept getting better.”

Adkins got to the winner’s circle today after 5-year-old gelding Spark Kit broke his maiden in the seventh race (taken off the turf) for owner Aschinger Bloodstock, LLC. Spark Kit is also an offspring of Kitalpha.

Jose Angel Garcia rode Spark Kit, earning his second victory on the card. He won the fourth race on 8-year-old gelding Ultrapassando for owner William Rivera and trainer Victor Carrasco, Jr.

Ultrapassando was claimed from that victory by trainer Robert R. O’Connor, II for new owner Steve Zeehandelar.

Trainer Dale Bennett saddled two winners today. In the second race, Bennett sent out 3-year-old colt Mr Lightning Boy for breeder-owner Vegso Racing Stable. Luis Garcia was the jockey. Mr Lightning Boy was claimed from that victory by owner-trainer Brenda McCarthy.

Bennett also won the eighth race with 8-year-old gelding Gimmeadrink, owned by Savoy Stable, LLC. Antonio Gallardo was the rider. Gallardo also won the ninth race aboard 4-year-old filly Jojalais for owner Donat J. Ferland and trainer Hernan Parra.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. Saturday’s 11-race program includes the second round of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, with a mile-and-a-sixteenth division for older fillies and mares and another for older horses and geldings.

Owner-trainer Jamie Ness, who won both races of the first round of the Tampa Turf Test at a distance of a mile on Jan. 17, will attempt a repeat in each division with horses he owns with his wife Mandy under their Jagger, Inc., banner.

In the fillies and mares division, which is the fifth race, Ness will send out 8-year-old mare Two Wonders, who defeated Cuppy Cake in the first round by a half-length. Cuppy Cake is back for another try. Two Wonders, who will be ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr., carries an 18-for-52 lifetime record into Saturday.

The male division is the seventh race, in which Jagger, Inc., and Ness will be represented by 6-year-old gelding Brother Pat, who won on Jan. 17 by two-and-three-quarter lengths from Awesome Attack. Brother Pat will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo and break from the No. 9 post, directly inside of Awesome Attack.

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.