by Mike Henry

A pair of first-time starters grabbed the spotlight on a windy, sunny afternoon that gave Tampa Bay Downs race goers a filtered-down taste of the extreme cold fans at Northern tracks have been forced to endure.

In the fifth race, a $16-$15,000 maiden claiming race for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs, Arkansas-bred Beach Splash set a lively pace and had enough in reserve to defeat 13-10 favorite Harumi, also making her career debut, by a length-and-a-half. Fernando De La Cruz rode Beach Splash, who is owned and trained by Jason DaCosta.

The winner’s time was 1:12.71. She paid $16 to win.

Perhaps the day’s most visually impressive winner was 3-year-old colt Fancy Man, who rolled to a four-and-a-quarter length victory from Muggs in the sixth, a six-furlong, maiden special weight affair. The Florida-bred son of Wildcat Heir toured the distance in 1:12.79 in his first start. He was ridden by Pablo Morales.

Dale Bennett trains Fancy Man for owner John D. Santina.

Morales continued his recent hot streak, adding the ninth race aboard 5-year-old mare Rmilliondollarbaby for owner Janis K. Maitlen and trainer Gerald Bennett.

Veteran jockey Erick Rodriguez swept the early daily double, winning on his only mounts on the card. In the first race, Rodriguez piloted 4-year-old colt Silent Scream to a gate-to-wire victory for owner Sabal Racing Stable and trainer Darien Rodriguez.

Rodriguez returned to the winner’s circle after the second race on 6-year-old gelding Moving Style for owners John Rigattieri and T&C Stable, LLC. Rigattieri was the trainer. Moving Style was claimed from the race for $12,500 by trainer Gerald Bennett for new owner Winning Stables, Inc.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. There will be a Pick-5 carryover pool of $27,221.47.

Saturday’s 11-race card, which also starts at 12:40 p.m., includes the 34th edition of the $50,000 Minaret Stakes for older fillies and mares sprinting six furlongs.

The Minaret, which is the 10th race on the card, has drawn a field of 14. The 5-2 morning-line favorite is 5-year-old R Free Roll, who won the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga last summer. She is owned by Averill Racing, LLC and Silver Oak Stable, LLC and trained by Kirk Ziadie and will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo.

If all 14 start, R Free Roll will break from the No. 7 post position.

Also entered is 8-year-old Risky Rachel, who won both the Minaret and Manatee Stakes last year at Tampa Bay Downs. She is owned by her breeder, Sanford Bacon, and trained by George Weaver and will be ridden by Victor Lebron. She is assigned the No. 5 post.

A full day of Saturday fun begins at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Grandstand with track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” Show, this week featuring the track’s leading apprentice jockey, Janelle Campbell.

The 30-year-old Massachusetts native has won on a series of long shots this meeting, including today’s winner of the seventh race, 5-year-old mare Ecstatic Miss. Campbell and Ecstatic Miss rallied to defeat Pyrite Blues by a length in the mile-and-40-yard, allowance/$62,500 optional claiming event, paying $46.60 as the longest shot in the field of six older fillies and mares.

Ecstatic Miss is owned by Jack Cannon and trained by Luis Dominguez.

Racing fans can hear Campbell’s views on breaking into the competitive Oldsmar jockey colony while enjoying free coffee and donuts. All attendees receive free Grandstand passes.

Looking ahead. Reserved seats are available for the March 7 Festival Day celebration, featuring the 35th edition of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds. The race is part of Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands points series.

Also on tap are a pair of graded turf stakes – the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares – and the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses.

For information on seating, call the Admissions Department at (813) 855-4401.

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.