by Mike Henry



Fernando De La Cruz and Ademar Santos reaffirmed the depth of the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony, riding three winners apiece on a warm, sunny afternoon with enough of a breeze to keep fans comfortable.

Also on today’s card, Mr. & Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone’s 4-year-old gelding Special Envoy set a turf course record for the mile-and-an-eighth distance, winning the sixth race in 1:46.55 under jockey Daniel Centeno.

More on Special Envoy soon.

De La Cruz raised his meeting total to 43 victories with his hat trick, strengthening his hold on third place in the standings. He won the first race aboard the 5-year-old mare Tax Breaker for owner Norris Scott and trainer Barbara McBride. He scored next in the fourth race, helping 4-year-old filly Dream Hunter break her maiden after 13 non-successful efforts, for owner Cindy Patrick and trainer R.G. Patrick.

The 28-year-old De La Cruz made his third trip to the winner’s circle after the eighth race on the turf on 5-year-old mare Showersofblessings for owners Cherrywood Racing Stables, II, Terry Biondo and Michael Bojarski and trainer Michele Boyce.

Santos, 39, kept pace with his rival throughout the afternoon, while moving into 12th place in the standings with 16 victories. Santos captured the second race on 4-year-old gelding Vestibule for owner Ricardo Romo and trainer Javier Negrete.

In the fifth race, Santos delivered a strong performance aboard 4-year-old gelding Duty Proper for owner-trainer Christos Gatis. His triumph in the ninth race was on Godiva’s Queen, a 6-year-old mare bred and owned by Marco A. Castaneda and trained by Lynne Scace.

Special Envoy’s victory in the sixth race, an allowance/$32,000 optional claiming contest on the turf, unveiled a potential stakes-quality runner whose attitude toward his job has improved greatly since being gelded.

The Virginia-bred rallied from mid-pack to defeat Tattenham by a length-and-a-half, touring the nine furlongs in a record 1:46.55 (before this season, nine-furlong turf races at Tampa Bay Downs were carded at the “about” distance; the mare Zagora, who won the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes in 2012, is still listed as the Tampa Bay Downs record-holder for the “about” nine-furlong distance on grass with a time of 1:46.97).

Special Envoy is 3-for-7 lifetime and 3-for-4 on the Oldsmar lawn, the last two under Centeno this winter since being gelded and outfitted with blinkers.

“I think he is an improving horse,” trainer Arnaud Delacour said. “I liked him last year, too, but he was really immature – he would throw his head up, stuff like that. We needed to stop on him because he had a little bit of a health issue, nothing serious. When we gelded him and put a pair of blinkers on it seemed to do the trick, because he came back much more professional.”

Delacour said he could try Special Envoy next in an overnight turf stakes at Pimlico in Maryland. “I think between a mile and a mile-and-an-eighth, he can be very competitive,” Delacour said of the son of Stroll-Diplomacy, by Cozzene.

Centeno rode two winners today, adding the seventh race to his haul aboard 4-year-old gelding Uno Concerto for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Sandino R. Hernandez, Jr.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The third race – a $25,500 allowance event for older fillies and mares at a distance of six furlongs – features a showdown between Florida-bred 4-year-old Nesso, who won the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes here as a 3-year-old, and Size, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old who captured the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows last summer, defeating 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia.

Nesso, the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the field of six, is owned by Amaty Racing Stables and trained by Sandino R. Hernandez, Jr. Daniel Centeno has been named to ride. Size, considered at 5-2, is owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider and trained by William Mott. The jockey is Fernando De La Cruz.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 3, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 5, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.