FEBRUARY SHAPING UP AS MEMORABLE MONTH; HUGE PICK-5 PAYOFF

by Mike Henry

There is a natural reluctance in horse racing circles to look too far ahead, but February seems certain to provide a cornucopia of memories and excitement for Thoroughbred fans, handicappers, families, golfers and first-time visitors to Tampa Bay Downs.

Today’s program offered thrills galore for those bettors who hit the 50-cent Pick-5 for a payoff of $28,443.05. There were five winning tickets sold. The wager requires bettors to select the winners of the last five races on the card, and back-to-back long-shot winners in the sixth and seventh races knocked out most participants.

The winning numbers were 6-6-9-7-5.

Thoroughbred racing resumes here Wednesday, but a sneak peek to next month begins with the sixth annual Golfest celebration, to be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 6-7 at The Downs Golf Practice Facility just south of the racetrack. Players of all ability levels will have the opportunity to sample and purchase the newest equipment from the top manufacturers in the industry at the Tampa Bay area’s largest golf demo day and expo.

PGA Tour professional Chris DiMarco, a University of Florida product, and actor Christopher McDonald, also known as Shooter McGavin from the movie Happy Gilmore, will compete in the Celebrity Golf Skills Challenge.

There will be a silent auction, including a chance to win a trip to the season’s first major professional tournament in Georgia, with proceeds to benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, as well as a $1-million Hole-in-One Contest, and numerous other competitions and exhibits.

The Downs Golf Practice Facility is within easy walking distance of the racetrack, where the action will heat up to scorching on Feb. 13 for the track’s annual Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South. The centerpiece of the lucrative card is the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds, which is also the official prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.

Also on tap on the Feb. 13 card are the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf, the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South also kicks off the “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest, offering a $1,000 first prize and a seat at the 2017 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.

Fans wishing to enjoy a laid-back day at the races should circle Sunday, Feb. 14 and Sunday, Feb. 28 on their calendars. Those are the first “Kids and Family Days” outings of the meeting, with the fun taking place in the Backyard Picnic Area just north of the paddock.

Games, pony rides and bounce houses are among the numerous attractions, and visitors can also look forward to a visit from the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse.

Down the stretch. The 3-year-old colt Brerry bounced back from his fifth-place finish in the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes on Dec. 19, rolling to a two-and-a-half length victory from Highly Prized in today’s featured eighth race, a one-mile allowance/optional claiming event on the turf for sophomores that was also the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week.

Brerry improved to 2-for-2 on the turf with his gate-to-wire score under jockey Manoel Cruz. The Kentucky-bred son of Haynesfield-Don’t Do Lunch, by Montbrook, is owned by Casner Racing, LP and his breeder, former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones, and trained by Eoin Harty. His time for the mile on a good turf course was 1:39.76.

Brerry’s triumph was one of two on the card for Cruz, who also won the seventh race on 17-1 shot Drama Princess. That 3-year-old filly is owned by Olympia Stables and trained by Christos Gatis.

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo rode three winners, giving him 62 through the first 31 days of the meeting and seven over the past two days.

Gallardo captured the first race on 7-year-old mare Ms Bloomfield High for owner-trainer Kathleen Guciardo and fellow owners Jeff Barbee and James J. Kerins, Sr. He added the fifth on 3-year-old gelding R Sniper Jones for owners Averill Racing and CCF Racing Stable and trainer Gerald Bennett.

Gallardo then won the 10th on the turf on 4-year-old gelding Philoctetes for owner Tim Mawhinney and trainer Kathleen O’Connell, delighting the handful of bettors who needed the previously 0-for-11 Florida-bred to complete their monster Pick-5.

Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners. He was aboard the 6-year-old gelding Caleb’s Comet for his third-race victory for owners Natalie Annis and Bill Kraker and trainer Randy Rarick. Allen added the ninth on 6-year-old gelding Son of Pearl for owner Justin Johns and trainer Maria Bowersock.

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.