THAT REALLY WAS LeROY JOLLEY IN OLDSMAR WINNER’S CIRCLE

by Mike Henry

jolleyHall of Famer LeRoy Jolley is 1-for-1 at Tampa Bay Downs!

Hang around the winner’s circle long enough and you’re bound to run into a living legend.

Such was the case after today’s fifth race at Tampa Bay Downs, when 2-year-old colt Marrakech held off Mambocello by three-quarters of a length in the mile-and-a-sixteenth, $32-$30,000 maiden claiming event on the turf. The Kentucky-bred Marrakech is trained by National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame member LeRoy Jolley, who made the trip from his winter home in Ocala to cheer on the winner.

Marrakech, which was making his fifth career start, is owned by the Hot Scot Racing Stables of Bev Hendry and Racing Manager Christine Hosier and was ridden by Jose Ferrer.

“I’ve been here before, but I had never run a horse here. Jose rode a very good race,” said Jolley, best known for training Kentucky Derby winners Foolish Pleasure (1975) and Genuine Risk (1980), as well as Manila, Honest Pleasure, What a Summer and Meadow Star. Foolish Pleasure, Genuine Risk and Manila are in the Hall of Fame.

“(Marrakech) is kind of a big, overgrown 2-year-old, and as he gets a little older, I think he’ll improve. But right now, I’m happy to win a race with him,” Jolley said.

A trainer for almost 60 years, Jolley is conditioning a handful of horses for Hot Scot Racing at Classic Mile in Ocala. He hopes to return to Tampa Bay Downs for the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes on the grass on Dec. 19 with 3-year-old filly Perfect Fit, which was second as a 2-year-old in the Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park.

“My sister Pat lives in Ocala, so it’s a nice place for me to spend the winter and come over here and run,” Jolley said. “I’m too old for that cold stuff, but when you’ve been competing all your life, it’s tough to be on the sidelines.”

Hot Scot Racing and Ferrer also teamed to win the eighth race with 3-year-old filly Fiesta Rose, which is owned in partnership with Ridenjac Racing. Dennis Ward is the trainer.

Upcoming action. A field of 10 fillies and mares will contest Saturday’s feature race, a $23,000 allowance at one mile on the turf. The morning-line favorite at 5-2 is the Michelle Nihei-trained 4-year-old filly Tis Duet, who broke her maiden in May at Gulfstream.

Saturday begins with “Breakfast at the Downs” under the Picnic Pavilion Tent adjacent to the paddock from 8-10 a.m. The cost is $8 for a full, country-style buffet, pastries, coffee and beverages. Included are Saturday’s racing program and a copy of Peter Mallett’s book, “Tampa Bay Downs 2015-2016: An Up-to-Date Guide for Bettors Handicapping the Oldsmar Oval.”

Gallardo’s four-bagger tops today’s highlights. After finishing second in the first two races, two-time defending jockey champion Antonio Gallardo hit his stride. He rode four winners, boosting his total for 2015 to 292. He is second in North America this year to Javier Castellano, who has 315 victories.

Gallardo captured the third race on I Cat, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding, for owners Kathleen O’Connell and James O’Connor and trainer O’Connell. Gallardo went back-to-back in the fourth on heavy favorite Fionetta, a 4-year-old filly owned by Equiforce, Inc., and Joanne Patten and trained by Dale Bennett.

Gallardo and O’Connell combined forces to win the seventh race on the turf with the promising 3-year-old Florida-bred colt Sweet Soul Music, owned by Robert A. Meier IV and Mark F. Taylor. The 28-year-old Gallardo completed his outstanding afternoon by winning the ninth and final race on 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Daddy’s Boo, owned by Patricia’s Hope, LLC and trained by Larry Rivelli.

Trainer Dale Bennett saddled two winners today. In addition to Fionetta, he sent out sixth-race winner Savio, a 2-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Savoy Stable, LLC and ridden by Pablo Morales. Savio was claimed for $16,000 by his new owners, Nannette and James McCullough.   

Feliciano earns Jockey of the Month honors. Ricardo Feliciano is the recipient of the inaugural Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month award for the 2015-2016 meeting. The Cleveland native rode two winners on Opening Day and might have won a third had his mount not veered erratically rounding the far turn, eventually settling for second.

The 39-year-old Feliciano’s roots extend to early childhood, when his father, Benny R. Feliciano, was crafting a career as a top rider and his uncle Miguel Feliciano was building his reputation as a winning trainer in Ohio and Florida. Ricardo rode his first race at Classic Mile Park in Ocala when he was 11, already determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

In subsequent summers, Feliciano worked with his father at Miguel’s barn, learning to feed and groom, bandage horses and put on tack. He arose early to gallop horses for his uncle and other trainers, then worked three seasons as a valet (an attendant who cleans and organizes a jockey’s tack, boots and equipment racing during racing) at ThistleDown outside Cleveland.

To say Feliciano was prepared for racetrack life, then, might be an understatement. But the day he felt he truly belonged came at ThistleDown in August of 1997, a day before his 21st birthday, when he rallied Call Me Marfa to a photo-finish victory from his father and Go Kaz, who happened to be trained by Uncle Miguel.

Benny has been a trainer since 1999, and Ricardo’s first victory Saturday came on one of his father’s horses, the 4-year-old gelding Bluegrass Kid, which paid $36.20 to win. Benny had claimed the 4-year-old gelding from his previous start at ThistleDown in October, and Ricardo believes the decision to add blinkers was instrumental in the upset.

“My dad can just look at a horse and pick things up,” said the younger Feliciano. “You can’t even teach that. He’s been around forever, and that I get to have him not only as a dad, but I get to ride for him – that’s awesome.”

Uncle Miguel unveiled an Ohio-bred 2-year-old at ThistleDown outside Cleveland this summer that he also bred and owns, and Ricardo rode him to a pair of victories by a combined margin of 15 lengths. Master Mick (by Two Step Salsa, out of Master’s Megan, by Formal Dinner) “is the real deal,” Ricardo said. “I rode him twice and haven’t even hit him,” including a five-and-a-quarter length victory in the Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes.

For Ricardo, the impact of family is felt most keenly in his home life. He and his wife Lady have two sons, Benny, 4, and Armani, 2, who are currently residing in Cleveland while Benny attends preschool and Lady pursues a nursing degree. They were together over the Thanksgiving holiday, reminding Ricardo of what he keeps pushing for.

“There’s nothing greater than seeing the smile on their faces and having them running around and jumping on me and playing with me,” Feliciano said. “That’s what drives me to get up every day and work hard and try my best, so I can provide for them and make sure they have a healthy life and make it as easy as I can for them.”

On the track, his agent, Paula Bacon, is part of his extended family. A former jockey, she helped drive new business his way during the summer at ThistleDown and Presque Isle Downs, where he often competed on both cards on a single day. With 98 victories in 2015, Feliciano is on the verge of his second consecutive 100-plus victory campaign (he has averaged more than 110 victories a year since 2008).

With 1,935 career victories, the Feliciano legacy has never been stronger. And his father, who rode 2,802 career winners (and was the leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs in the 1980-1981 meeting), foresees Ricardo passing his total.

“Every year, he just gets better and better,” said Benny, trying to remain objective. “He has always been a quick learner and stayed with the things I tried to teach him. He’s always been talented, but the big thing is he likes what he does. And his sons are his inspiration. He loves those two boys, and they are crazy about him, too.

“I would love to see him come up with a really nice horse,” Benny added. “I think if he gets a good horse, he can get the job done as well as anyone in the country.”

Ricardo hopes to prove the validity of his father’s belief with Master Mick in 2016.

Tampa Bay Downs is conducting Thoroughbred racing on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 20. The track is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.