ISHAQ AVOIDS POTENTIAL DISASTER, WINS INAUGURAL

by Mike Henry
 ishaq
Ishaq (inside, loose blinkers) holds off Formal Summation in Inaugural Stakes


Horsemen, jockeys and bettors agree there are at least 1,000 ways to lose a race. The connections of 2-year-old colt Ishaq are grateful they didn’t discover No. 1,001.

Despite his blinkers coming loose in the stretch, a mishap that caused him to take a couple of awkward steps and probably impaired his vision, the Kentucky-bred from the barn of trainer Efren Loza, Jr., had the fortitude to stave off fast-closing Formal Summation in today’s $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

The 31st edition of the Inaugural was one of three six-figure stakes on a cool, sunny afternoon during the track’s annual Cotillion Festival Day, with all but one race featuring 2-year-olds that will all turn 3 (for record-keeping purposes) on Jan. 1.

In today’s other stakes, juvenile filly Hidden Treat sprang an upset to win the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes, while 4-year-old filly Richies Sweetheart led from gate to wire under substitute jockey Dean Butler to win the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.

But it was Ishaq and the Inaugural that drew much of the buzz before and after, as the St. George Stable-owned homebred sought to improve upon his first-ever start here on Nov. 28, when he won a five-and-a-half furlong maiden special weight race by 10-and-a-quarter lengths.

“When I was warming him up before the race, he was more aggressive and more into the bit,” said jockey Pedro Cotto, Jr., explaining why he expected a powerhouse effort. “Coming out of the gate, same thing. He came out real strong, and I think he can be something special.”

Bet down to 7-10 favoritism by a crowd of 3,035, Ishaq and Cotto appeared well on their way to justifying everyone’s confidence, stretching his lead to four lengths at the 1/8-mile pole. But his blinkers, which had loosened in the gate, began shifting over his head and started flapping around approaching the 1/16-mile pole, causing a pronounced stumble.

By the time horse and rider recovered, Formal Summation was in full pursuit, with Jay’s Way also uncorking a spirited challenge. But Ishaq had the determination to keep from being passed, winning by a neck in 1:11.04 for the six furlongs. Jay’s Way took third, two lengths ahead of 115-1 shot Union Grace in the 11-horse field.

“He completely lost momentum when the blinkers started flapping, and he veered out for two jumps,” Cotto said. “But when he saw those other horses, he re-broke. We were having problems with the blinkers in the gate, and they started coming off down the lane. I think he got a little scared and he was jumping back and forth, so I started screaming and yelling to keep him going."

Kathleen O’Connell, the trainer of Formal Summation, thought the result could have been different had not the Florida-bred colt broke slowly. “He stepped back at the break and that left him a lot to do,” O’Connell said. “But he ran big and that’s all you can ask.”

Loza said the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes on Jan. 23 is a strong option for Ishaq’s next race. He will return to the trainer’s base at Gulfstream Park West in the interim. “I think this is a horse that can go longer, so if the Pasco goes well, we’ll see if he can go two turns,” Loza said of the Harlan’s Holiday-Elusive Moment offspring.

Before the 37th running of the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes, trainer Arnaud Delacour was uncertain if his 2-year-old filly Hidden Treat could transfer her form to the dirt after her triumph Oct. 23 in a five-and-a-half furlong maiden special weight event on the Laurel turf course in her career debut.

“We wanted to try her on the dirt three weeks ago at Laurel, but the race didn’t go, so I told (owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stables) ‘Let’s train her straight to (the Sandpiper) and see what happens,’ ” Delacour said. “It worked out.”

Hidden Treat turned back a determined rally from 20-1 shot A Little Attitude for a half-length victory in 1:11.57 for the six-furlong distance. The 9-10 favorite, Kandoo, held on for third, a neck better than Conflate in the eight-horse field.

Hidden Treat, who was ridden by Daniel Centeno, paid $16.20 to win, with the $2 exacta combination of 2-3 paying $199.40. It is the third Sandpiper victory for Centeno, who won aboard Dr. Zic in 2008 and Devilish Lady in 2010.

“She has natural speed, and when she broke well I was able to get a good position on the backside,” Centeno said. “She got a little tired at the end, which is understandable since it was her first race on dirt, but when (A Little Attitude) got next to her she came back and started fighting again.

“She didn’t want to get beat today.”

Hidden Treat, who was bred by the Jacksons in Kentucky, is by 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid out of the Jacksons’ mare Maraschino Red, which is by Medaglia d’Oro. The pretty bay had worked out twice on the main Tampa Bay Downs surface since her arrival, including an impressive four-furlong breeze Monday in 48 3/5 seconds.

“She had done nothing wrong on the dirt in her morning training, so we thought we would take a shot,” Delacour said.

The conditioner was pleased at her acceleration on the turn, for which Kandoo had no answer. “Danny said he might have had to make that move a little prematurely, but the horse on the inside (Kandoo) was starting to bring him out a little and he didn’t want to have a real wide trip,” Delacour said.

Delacour plans to sit down with the Jacksons to discuss future plans for Hidden Talent. They could elect to try her in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes here at seven furlongs on Jan. 23.

In the Lightning City, Richies Sweetheart’s trainer, co-owner and co-breeder, Larry Rivelli, discovered about 15 minutes before the race that jockey E.T. Baird had missed his connections to the Oldsmar oval. Rivelli summoned Dean Butler, who had won the 2008 Lightning City on Game N Laughin.’

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Butler said. “I was told to let her break, be chilly and ride her with confidence, and that’s what I did. When I asked her she kicked and went on with it. I was just along for the ride.”

“Dean has been the leading rider at Canterbury Park for a long time, and he’s a plenty capable jock,” Rivelli said after Richies Sweetheart and Butler held off Katie’s Kiss by a half-length, with Iroquois Girl another half-length back in third and favored Joya Real fourth in the 12-horse field. The winner’s time for the five furlongs was 56.18 seconds. She paid $13.40 to win.

“Baird has won a million races on her and knows her real well and she is a funny horse to ride,” Rivelli said. “I just told (Butler) to ride her with confidence. That is the main thing about her, ride her with confidence. Don’t move, and always think you’re going to win no matter what. Once you start pumping and scrubbing on her, she starts tensing up.”

The victory was the 13th in 26 career starts for the Illinois-bred daughter of Bring the Heat-Make an Offer, by Officer, and first-place money of $45,000 raised her career earnings to $522,014. The Lightning City was her third stakes victory of 2015.

Rivelli was joined in the winner’s circle by co-breeder and part-owner Richard Ravin. The third owner, Patricia’s Hope, LLC, is an entity named for the mother of Illinois resident Vince Foglia.

“It’s Vince’s birthday today, and he is probably jumping up and down in Chicago,” Rivelli said.

Down the stretch. Delacour and Centeno also teamed to win the fifth race on the turf with first-time starter Armoire, a 2-year-old filly bred and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone. Trainer Eoin Harty also sent out two winners. His 2-year-old filly High Pitch, owned by Godolphin Racing, won the fourth race under jockey Antonio Gallardo in her first start.

Harty added the sixth with another Godolphin 2-year-old filly, Cosmic Girl, ridden by Fernando De La Cruz.

Gallardo grabbed a second victory in the seventh race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on the turf course with juvenile colt Bluegrass Tiger for breeder-owner Ann Lorenson Lynch and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.

Sunday racing returns to the Oldsmar oval with a 10-race card beginning at 12:28 p.m. The track will be on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday Sunday schedule with the exception of Christmas, Dec. 25, when the track is closed.

The track’s popular Calendar Giveaway begins Saturday, Dec. 26, continuing the following day and while supplies last. The Dec. 26 program also marks the return of track announcer Richard Grunder’s Morning Glory Show, featuring a special guest each Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Grandstand.

Admission is free and attendees receive Grandstand passes, coffee and donuts.

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.