OK, no fair looking up the answer: Which jockey who called Tampa Bay Downs home during the 2014-2015 meeting has the most career victories?
Harry Vega (4,125), Jose Ferrer (3,929), Chris Emigh (3,560) and Ronnie Allen, Jr. (3,237) are all good guesses. But the correct answer is Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month Scott Spieth, whose six victories since the March 29 cutoff are the most for any rider who has not previously won the award.
More staggering than the 48-year-old’s total of 4,416 victories is his unwavering belief he will hit 5,000 before he hangs up his tack. “I don’t see any problem accomplishing that,” said Spieth, who plans to leave for Cleveland on Sunday to ride at ThistleDown Racino beginning Monday before the start of the Presque Isle Downs meeting in Erie, Pa., on May 17.
“I figure I still have quite a few years left," said Spieth, who rode his first winner in 1981 as a Quarter Horse jockey. "I’ve had very few accidents, which has been beneficial in lengthening my career. But the big thing is I love what I do. I have a lot of friends from high school who say ‘You’re still riding the horses?’ and I say yeah, because I love it. It has some danger to it, but if you really love it and are focused on it, it’s a great way to make a living.”
Spieth has often flown beneath the radar while riding at mid-level tracks such as Tampa Bay Downs, Presque Isle Downs, ThistleDown, Mountaineer and the old Detroit Race Course. But when it comes to dedication, the Michigan native knows whereof he speaks. From 2000-2008, he rode two cards a day, competing at ThistleDown during the day and crossing the West Virginia state line to ride at Mountaineer under the lights.
During that span, Spieth put up some incredible numbers, topping out at 307 victories in 2005 – sixth-best in the nation – and averaging 269 a year from 2005-2007.
In 2009, Spieth recorded perhaps the most memorable victory of his career in the $500,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town aboard 3-year-old filly My Sister Margaret, for trainer Wayne Mogge, at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in a downpour.
Proving again that he may be easy to overlook (especially splattered with mud), but he knows how to bring home the bacon.
He joined the 4,000 club three years ago at Tampa Bay Downs aboard the 4-year-old filly Ula.
Spieth is in a serious relationship with Tampa Bay Downs trainer Aldana Gonzalez. “We have a lot of respect for one another, and that is the basis of a great relationship,” said Spieth, who is in the process of finalizing a divorce. “I think we work well together and we keep each other motivated and going in the right direction.
“It’s important to have someone you can get advice from and know you’re going to get an honest answer,” he added.
Spieth credits his parents, Lavern and Gearldine, as well as his brothers, former Quarter Horse trainer Tony and equine dentist and blacksmith Jason, for their lifelong support.
Spieth’s daughter, Kirsten Swan, is a 24-year-old jockey who recently won a Darley Award as the 2014 Champion Jockey of Arabian-bred horses. He has two other daughters – Victoria, 16, and Valerie, 9 – and two sons: Austin, 20, and Bruin, 8.
“Valerie will probably be the next jockey,” he said. “She has been riding since she was 3 and is very talented on her horses.”
So, maybe watching Valerie come up is contributing to Spieth feeling young, but it would seem foolhardy to bet against him hitting his ultimate goal of five-grand under any circumstances.
“I’ve put in my time, that’s for sure. I’ve had spills that could have been major problems, but haven’t been, so I’ve been lucky,” Spieth said. “But I conduct my business a certain way in that I know the horses I’m getting on, either by riding them in the mornings or having good communication with the trainers.
“I guess I would describe myself as being very dedicated toward the business. I try to help in any way I can, either with the younger riders or with trainers who are going through a bad spell. I’ve tried to help out a lot of underdogs during my career.”
Today’s action. Most of the connections of fifth-race winner Advantage Please are familiar to Tampa Bay Downs fans: owner Averill Racing, LLC, trainer Gerald Bennett and jockey Daniel Centeno.
But it is the 5-year-old mare’s breeder, Yolande Seremba, who deserves special mention. She and her husband, Frank Seremba, watched the race from their favorite spot in the south section of the grandstand, thrilling as the Florida-bred daughter of Gaff-Advantage Plus, by Tactical Advantage, got the job done and earning her fourth career victory (to go with six seconds) in 17 starts.
Now in their 80s, Yolande and Frank have been together more than 75 years, since they met in their hometown of Montreal as schoolchildren. Their Circle Y Stable accounted for more than 1,300 victories in their heyday.
The Serembas have been married 61 years, and they’ve never had a bad day together, nor a bad day at the track. They are an inspiration to all who know them.
Advantage Please was claimed from the race for $5,000 by trainer Victor Carrasco, Jr., for new owner William Rivera.
Centeno added a victory in the ninth race on 8-year-old gelding Houston Bull for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Sandino R. Hernandez, Jr. Amaty now has 20 victories at the meeting, one fewer than leader Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.
Thoroughbred racing resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. In the second race, seven 3-year-old colts and geldings will vie for the winner’s share of a $23,000 purse in an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards.
The morning-line favorite at 9-5 is W. Kenan Rand, Jr.’s This Boy’s Sharp, who has failed to finish out of the money in only one of five local starts. Centeno is set to ride for trainer Gerald Bennett. The second choice at 2-1 is World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc.’s Bandages, trained by Chad Stewart and scheduled to be ridden by Antonio Gallardo.
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.
All eyes on Louisville. The focus of the Thoroughbred racing world is about to shift to Churchill Downs in Louisville, site of the 141st edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 2.
Tampa Bay Downs management, staff and horsemen are dedicated to putting on the best show possible for those who can’t make it to the Bluegrass State.
A festive party atmosphere is sure to prevail at the Oldsmar oval, featuring beautiful women bedecked in their spring dresses and finest hats; would-be Nicely-Nicelys, Bennys and Rusty Charlies angling for a big score; and Kentucky pie and mint juleps, the traditional beverage of the Kentucky Derby, in souvenir glasses, all contributing to the excitement and sense of nostalgia and wonderment.
Carpe Diem, who won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 7 by five lengths, is ranked third on a variety of current Run for the Roses contenders lists, behind last year’s 2-Year-Old Champion, American Pharoah, and unbeaten Dortmund.
Todd Pletcher trains Carpe Diem, while Bob Baffert trains American Pharoah and Dortmund. Carpe Diem is owned by WinStar Farm LLC and Stonestreet Stables LLC and was ridden to victory in the Tampa Bay Derby and his subsequent Grade I Toyota Blue Grass triumph on April 4 at Keeneland by John Velazquez.
Carpe Diem could become the third Tampa Bay Derby participant to win the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense won both races in 2007, while Super Saver – trained by Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem’s conditioner – was third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby before triumphing at Churchill.
Another Tampa Bay Derby entrant expected to contest the Kentucky Derby is Danzig Moon, who followed his fourth-place finish in Oldsmar with a second to Carpe Diem in the Toyota Blue Grass.
The gates will open early May 2 and Tampa Bay Downs will present a full card of Thoroughbred action before as many as 20 3-year-olds vie for a slice of horse racing immortality.
The Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies will be contested Friday, May 1 at Churchill Downs. The field could include the heart-stopping Include Betty, trained by perennial top Oldsmar conditioner Tom Proctor.
Under jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., Include Betty has blossomed as a 3-year-old, with a victory here on Jan. 3 in a maiden special weight event; a victory in the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards on Jan. 31, at odds of 18-1; and a thrilling neck victory on April 4 at Oaklawn Park in the Grade III, $400,000 Fantasy Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, also at 18-1.
In each of her victories, Include Betty has lagged behind in last place before unleashing her winning kick.
For Tampa Bay Downs regulars, the combination of Include Betty, Proctor and Homeister would provide the perfect lead-in to a full weekend of Thoroughbred racing.
In addition to its full card on Kentucky Derby Day, Tampa Bay Downs will also conduct Thoroughbred racing on Kentucky Oaks Day and on Sunday, May 3. The track then will offer simulcast wagering only until the official final day of the 2014-2015 meeting, which is Tuesday, June 30, the first day of the track’s annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing.