by Mike Henry

It might sound crass to describe the 6-year-old mare Awesome Flower as a lunch-bucket type of racehorse.

But her workmanlike consistency has been something to marvel at since she was claimed for $30,000 in December of 2012 by her current connections, Eclipse Award-winning breeders and owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker.

Awesome Flower put her determined, grind-it-out style on full display in today’s 31st running of the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and it resulted in a ¾-length victory from hard-charging long shot Elusive Fate, who nipped pace-setter Swinger’s Party by a nose for second in the seven-horse field.

Awesome Flower’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was a stakes-record 1:43.87, bettering the former standard of 1:43.94 set by Win’s Fair Lady in 2003. The Maryland-bred Awesome Flower – by Flower Alley, out of Formalities Aside, by Awesome Again – is 9-for-21 since moving to Maker’s barn, including all six of her stakes victories.

First-place money of $30,000 raised Awesome Flower’s career earnings to $503,343. In addition to her stakes triumphs, she finished third in the Grade II Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2013 and third in the Grade III Arlington Matron last spring.

Also today, no one hit the Super High-5 and there is a carryover pool of $31,866.37 into Sunday.

“She (Awesome Flower) has always been a real honest filly, and she trained real well coming up to this race,” said assistant trainer Dave Kueffner, who brought Awesome Flower to Oldsmar this morning from her south Florida base. “Mike (Maker) is very good at picking the right spots for her, and she has fared well in these type of races.

“Mike is an excellent horseman, and fortunately she has really responded for him,” Kueffner added.

Awesome Flower paid $4.80 to win as the betting favorite.

Winning jockey Fernando De La Cruz kept Awesome Flower in excellent stalking position early, a couple of lengths behind the moderate fractions set by Swinger’s Party. Approaching the far turn, De La Cruz asked his mount for her best, and she gradually wore down a gutsy Swinger’s Party down the stretch.

“It wasn’t easy,” De La Cruz said. “We had good position early and the pace was comfortable. I set her down, but we didn’t pull even with the leader until mid-stretch, and then (Swinger’s Party) fought back. I had to keep riding hard to get past, and it wasn’t until we got near the finish line that I knew we had it won.

“She is a fighter and she had to be today,” De La Cruz added.

The 5-year-old Elusive Fate, out of the barn of trainer George “Rusty” Arnold, II, posted her sixth runner-up finish in 21 starts. As a 3-year-old, she finished third in the Grade III Dogwood Stakes at Churchill.

De La Cruz and Kueffner had a final anxious moment with the wire approaching, as Awesome Flower appeared to wait on others after taking the lead.

“She got to the lead and with blinkers on, she probably didn’t know the other horse (Elusive Fate) was coming after her. When a horse runs that far and gets by the leader, they tend to relax a bit,” Kueffner said. “Fernando did a great job today.”

De La Cruz also won the 11th race on the turf on the 5-year-old mare Showersofblessings for owners Cherrywood Racing Stables, II, Terry Biondo and Michael Bojarski and trainer Michele Boyce.

Morales wins three. Jockey Pablo Morales wasn’t sure what Saturday held in store after he was dumped from two horses during morning workouts and had to scramble to honor his obligation to appear on the track’s “Morning Glory Club” Show.

What lay ahead for the 26-year-old Peruvian: three victories. Morales won the second race on 7-year-old gelding Big Reward for owners Irene Hock and Equiforce, Inc., and trainer Dale Bennett.

Morales next won the fifth race, the “All You Need Is Love” Lambholm South Race of the Week, on 4-year-old filly Harp N Halo for owner Curragh Stables and trainer John Terranova, II. Morales had helped the filly break her maiden here on Jan. 16 by 10 ½ lengths. Her time for the six furlongs today was 1:11.40.

Morales completed his hat trick in the 10th race, winning aboard 4-year-old gelding Wedding Savior, who paid $32.20. It was the fourth consecutive victory at the meeting for the son of Brother Derek, who was claimed from his previous start for $10,000 by trainer Michael Dini for new owner Mark Howell.

Today’s third race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event, brought together a field of seven promising 3-year-old colts and geldings traveling a mile-and-40-yards on the main surface.

Tam O’Shanter, a Kentucky-bred gelding competing for his breeder, Dr. Catherine Wills, edged This Boy’s Sharp by a neck after a stretch-long duel in an excellent time of 1:41.06. Victor Lebron rode Tam O’Shanter, who was saddled by Oldsmar conditioner Arnaud Delacour for the winner’s trainer, Christophe Clement.

Tam O’Shanter improved to 2-for-2, having won his career debut going seven furlongs on Jan. 16.

“He’s a small horse, but he seems to handle everything fine,” Delacour said.

This Boy’s Sharp stuck his head in front at the sixteenth pole, but Tam O’Shanter responded to Lebron’s urgings to wrest control. “He had that extra in him, but I kind of had to help him out to get that confidence,” Lebron said. “When I did, he went on and put his head in front.”

Alabaster rallied from last to finish third. Tam O’Shanter paid $11 to win as the third betting choice.

Triple Crown nominee Hashtag Bourbon, who was making his first start since having a chip removed from his ankle following a ninth-place finish in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October, finished last after prompting the pace. The son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver had finished third last September in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Kellyn Gorder, Hashtag Bourbon’s trainer, was disappointed in the outcome, but he said the colt came back to the barn in good shape. Gorder said the addition of blinkers might have made him too aggressive early, and by the time jockey Antonio Gallardo wrested control after vying for the lead early, Hashtag Bourbon lacked the energy to challenge the top two.

“He didn’t like being taken hold of the first quarter-mile, and I think that cost us quite a bit,” Gorder said. “Maybe he was a workout or too short of being 100 percent fit, but he didn’t finish well. Now we go back to the drawing board and regroup.”

Delacour won the ninth race, a $23,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance on the turf, with 4-year-old gelding Special Envoy, who was making his first start since May and his first start since being gelded. The Virginia homebred races for Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone and was ridden by Daniel Centeno.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Sunday is also Kids & Family Day in the Picnic Pavilion Area, with games, pony rides, inflatable slides, bounce houses and an appearance by the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse.

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.

Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship. The fifth annual golf expo and demo continues Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. at The Downs Golf Practice Facility. Admission for adults is $10 and children 14-and-under get in free. There is no charge for parking.

Main-stage events include a trick-shot exhibition at 10 a.m. by Brad Denton; a putting clinic at 11 a.m. by guru Mike Shannon; a long-drive demonstration at noon by Mike Zeigler; and a 1 p.m. clinic by North Florida PGA Teacher of the Year Rick Sopka.

Numerous fun activities for golfers of all ages are also on tap, as well as the “Back 9 Challenge” and the “Golfest 50-50 Raffle.” Also on the grounds are golf-lifestyle booths, a PGA Golf Shop offering special prices and discounts and a variety of food trucks.