With the traditional closing weekend of the 89th anniversary season at Tampa Bay Downs two weeks away, horsemen, jockeys and stable personnel are preparing to move their base of operations for the next six months.
And while much remains undecided in terms of meeting-end honors, Saturday’s simulcast offerings are an indication many trainers and riders are already shifting their focus north.
Entering Saturday’s 10-race card at the Oldsmar oval, the only question surrounding the jockeys’ race is whether defending track champion Antonio Gallardo will surpass the single-season record of 144 victories, set during the 2007-2008 meeting by Daniel Centeno.
Gallardo has ridden 129 winners at the meeting and is third in North America for the 2015 calendar year with 96, behind Javier Castellano with 111 and T.D. Houghton with 99.
The competition for leading apprentice jockey could go down to the wire, with Janelle Campbell leading Luis Figueroa, 11-10 (both rode winners today).
Also up for grabs is the trainers’ race, in which eight-time track champion Jamie Ness leads Gerald Bennett, 39-37, with Kathleen O’Connell on the fringe of contention with 31. The owners’ title is also undecided, with the Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., operation of Rich and Karen Papiese (bidding for a sixth consecutive track crown) leading Dennis Amaty’s Amaty Racing Stables, 21-18.
While the May 2 and 3 cards represent the final weekend of Thoroughbred action for the meeting, the track’s June 30 card – which is the first day of the annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing – is the official final day of the 2014-2015 campaign.
In the case of Gallardo, who is named to ride in all 10 races Saturday, statistical experts might deduce not having Centeno to contend against today could be worth another victory or two on Gallardo’s ledger.
Centeno, a five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading rider, will be at Pimlico in Baltimore to ride in a pair of stakes. In the 10th race at “Old Hilltop,” the $100,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes at a mile on the turf, Centeno has been named by trainer Arnaud Delacour to ride 4-year-old gelding Special Envoy. The duo teamed to set the Tampa Bay Downs mile-and-an-eighth turf course record of 1:46.55 on March 18.
Delacour will also saddle the 4-year-old colt Captain’s Affair in the Henry S. Clark, with Luis Garcia named to ride. Captain’s Affair ran four times at the current Oldsmar meeting, with a pair of victories, a second and a third.
Centeno also has the assignment on 5-year-old mare Fasnacloich in Pimlico’s eighth race, the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes on the grass. She is trained by Hamilton Smith. That field includes two 4-year-old fillies familiar to Oldsmar bettors: Principessa Ava, who competed in the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour and Grade III Hillsborough Stakes this season, and Istanford, second in last year’s Grade III Florida Oaks and a subsequent multiple graded-stakes winner.
Pimlico’s sixth race is the $100,000 Stormy Blues Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going five furlongs on the turf. The Derek Ryan-trained Irish Jasper, who won the Gasparilla Stakes here in December as a 2-year-old, is making her first turf start. Also in the 10-horse field is the 9-5 morning-line favorite, Lady Shipman, a stakes winner trained by past Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer O’Connell.
Tampa Bay Downs connections abound in Saturday’s Grade II, $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn at a mile-and-a-half on the turf, the ninth race on Keeneland’s card.
The 11-horse field includes trainer Mark Casse’s 5-year-old Dynamic Sky, who won the 2013 Pasco Stakes here and was recently honored with a 2014 Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Turf Male; Roger Attfield’s Java’s War, who was second in the 2013 Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Toyota Blue Grass; 6-year-old Dramedy, who won a turf allowance here in February for trainer Gerry Aschinger; and Holiday Star, H. Graham Motion’s 5-year-old graded stakes-winning gelding who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in December of 2012 as a 2-year-old.
Three other horses will attempt to transfer their stakes-winning form at Tampa Bay Downs to other locales on Saturday. At Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, 4-year-old colt General a Rod, who won the Challenger Stakes here on March 7, takes on presumptive world No. 1 Shared Belief and seven others in the Grade II, $1.5-million Charles Town Classic, slated as the 12th race. General a Rod is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velazquez.
A race earlier, in the $150,000 Sugar Maple Stakes Presented by Canter Mid-Atlantic, Tampa Bay Downs trainer Sandino R. Hernandez, Jr., will send out his 4-year-old filly Nesso, who won the Gasparilla Stakes here in January of 2014.
Additionally, at Hawthorne, Wayward Lass Stakes winner Awesome Flower – a 6-year-old mare trained by Michael Maker – vies for her first graded-stakes triumph in the Grade III, $150,000 Sixty Sails Stakes, which is the fifth race on the card.
The Tampa Bay Downs feature on Saturday is the eighth race, a $24,000 allowance/optional claiming event for horses 3-years-old-and-upward at a mile on the turf. The morning-line favorite at 3-1 is Voodoomon Racing’s 6-year-old gelding Doimakeyahappy, who won here on Jan. 31. He is trained by Dale Bennett and will be ridden by Victor Lebron.
On today’s card, owner-trainer Jason DaCosta’s $4,500 2-year-old purchase, the Arkansas-bred Beach Splash, improved to 3-for-3 by flashing her heels to seven rivals in the seventh race, a six-furlong, starter/$25,000 optional claiming event for 3-year-old fillies.
Fernando De La Cruz rode Beach Splash, who staved off a late challenge from Thealkascraftygirl by a length in 1:10.90.
Trainer Mike Dini sent out two winners on today’s card. He won the fifth race with Pot Roast, a 5-year-old gelding he owns with Richard Fontana. Olaf Hernandez was the jockey. Dini won the 10th on the turf with 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Benny Is a Jet, bred and owned by Mary Jean Bonfili. Pablo Morales was the jockey.
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.