FESTIVAL PREVIEW DAY FIELDS TAKING SHAPE; DE LA CRUZ WINS THREE

by Mike Henry

Tampa Bay Downs will play host to Triple Crown candidates, a reigning Eclipse Award champion and top jockeys and trainers during Saturday’s Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South program at the Oldsmar oval.

The centerpiece of the stakes-laden card is the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race on the main track for 3-year-olds which has become a bona fide proving ground for horses with designs on the spring classics since a victory by WinStar Farm’s Bluegrass Cat in 2006.

That Todd Pletcher-trained horse won the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth that summer to go with runner-up performances in the (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Belmont Stakes and the Travers.

Pletcher has won the Sam F. Davis in five of the last 10 years, all for WinStar, which owned 2014 winner Vinceremos in partnership with Twin Creeks Racing. The conditioner is virtually certain to be represented by one or more entrants in Saturday’s 36th renewal, with six horses from his barn nominated to the race.

Each of Pletcher’s Sam F. Davis nominees – Battery, Boalt Hall, Destin, Gettysburg, Gimlet and Prospectus – has been nominated to the Triple Crown.

The Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward on the turf course, is the planned first 2016 start for 5-year-old mare Tepin, which won the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf at Keeneland against males on Oct. 31 to nail down an Eclipse Award as Champion Grass Mare.

By Bernstein, out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, Tepin made beautiful music throughout her 2015 campaign for owner Robert E. Masterson and trainer Mark Casse. Her other Grade I victories included the Longines Just a Game at Belmont and the First Lady at Keeneland. Tepin scored graded-stakes victories on firm, good and soft turf.

Tepin’s regular jockey, Julien Leparoux, is expected to travel here for the Endeavour assignment.

Casse has not ruled out entering his 5-year-old Lexie Lou, who won three 2014 Sovereign Awards in Canada, including her election as the nation’s Horse of the Year following a campaign which included her victory against males in the prestigious Queen’s Plate at Woodbine.

Lexie Lou returned to action here on Jan. 13 after a long layoff, finishing third in an allowance/optional claiming race on the turf.

The Lambholm South Endeavour could also draw 5-year-old Ireland-bred Photo Call, which won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita last September. She is owned by Teresa Viola Racing Stables and trained by Pletcher.

The third graded stakes on the Festival Preview Day Presnted by Lambholm South card is the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.

A likely top contender is the 7-year-old Florida-bred gelding Old Time Hockey, a Grade II winner which just missed catching Lochte in last year’s renewal for breeder-owner Glen Hill Farm and trainer Tom Proctor.

Others certain to attract much interest from bettors, should they start, are 7-year-old Reload, a Grade III winner from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, and the Lilli Kurtinecz-owned and trained 8-year-old gelding Manchurian High, impressive in his Sunshine Millions Turf victory at Gulfstream on Jan. 16.

The other stakes on the card, the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and 40 yards on the main track, is expected to draw a large field of youngsters with something to prove.

That certainly was the case last year, when the Tom Proctor-trained Include Betty won at odds of 18-1. She used the race as a stepping stone to subsequent victories in the Grade III Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont and the Remington Park Oaks.

Down the stretch. Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Thursdays added to the mix on Feb. 18 and Feb. 25.

Trainer Michele Boyce and jockey Fernando De La Cruz teamed to win back-to-back races on today’s card. They won the seventh, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, with 4-year-old gelding Ruffolo for owners Caroline Mansour and Cherrywood Racing Stables, II. The duo captured the eighth race with 4-year-old filly Devil’s Rose for owners Oak Rock Racing and Terry Biondo.

De La Cruz also won the first race on 4-year-old gelding Hoosier Boy for owner South Fork Creek Stables and trainer Gerald Bennett.

Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., captured the fourth and fifth races. The fourth went to Megatrez, a 4-year-old gelding owned by RAP Racing and trained by Tom Proctor. Allen won the fifth on 4-year-old filly Scottish Sweetie for owner Alifyfe Racing and trainer Joan Scott.

The sixth annual Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship concluded today at The Downs Golf Practice Facility. Jeffrey Thompson, a collateral underwriter from Tampa, was the finalist in the $1-million Hole-in-One Challenge after his qualifying shot from 155 yards landed 5 feet from the hole.

Thompson did not make a hole-in-one from 165 yards on his ultimate shot, but received $150 in range balls for his effort.

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.