Trainer Todd Pletcher is an old hand at winning the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Today’s victory by Destin was the sixth Davis triumph in the last 11 years for the conditioner in the major Tampa Bay Downs prep for the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.
From all accounts, the gray 3-year-old colt still needs plenty of experience before reaching his full potential. Considering he ran the second-fastest Sam F. Davis in history, though, don’t bet against Destin justifying his $400,000 yearling purchase price down the road.
“We are just tickled pink,” said Randy Gullatt, the Team Manager of winning owner Twin Creeks Racing Stables, his partnership with Director Steve Davison. Their Triple Crown nominee and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez posted a two-and-a-quarter length victory from Rafting in 1:43.67 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth, .13 seconds off the stakes record set in 2009 by General Quarters.
“John said he was still extremely green in this race, but if we can get him to learn something and keep his mind on running the whole time, I think he will take another step forward,” Gullatt said. “He is bred to run all day long (by Giant’s Causeway, out of Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer); he just has to keep his mind on running. Obviously he has taken a liking to this track, so the (Lambholm South) Tampa Bay Derby makes a lot of sense, but we’ll see.”
Destin’s Sam F. Davis victory was one of numerous highlights on a Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card that saw a crowd of 5,351 contribute to a Festival Preview Day record wagering handle of $10,743,714.70.
The reigning Eclipse Champion Grass Female and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tepin lived up to her billing in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf, exploding through the stretch under jockey Julien Leparoux for a three-and-a-half length victory from Lady Lara in 1:42.91 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth.
“There is nothing much I can say except that was perfect,” Leparoux said. “She’s got a big heart and she had a great kick at the end.”
In today’s other graded stakes, the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf, 7-year-old Phipps Stable runner Reload, from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, wore down 61-1 shot Take the Stand in the final strides to prevail by a neck under jockey Javier Castellano.
“I was able to save all the ground and he started picking it up at the half-mile pole,” said Castellano. “Turning for home, I knew I was going to win the race. I asked him at the right time and the right place, and he took off.”
More details follow on today’s graded stakes and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, won by Weep No More and jockey Victor Lebron for owner Glenn Bromagen and trainer George “Rusty” Arnold, II.
Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. Pletcher assistant Ginny DePasquale, who was in town for the saddling duties, said her boss switched from a French-cup style blinker to “one with the little peeps in them” for Destin after his erratic performance Jan. 16 in a fourth-place finish in the Grade III LeComte at Fair Grounds.
“I think he took a giant step forward from his New Orleans race,” DePasquale said. “Knowing his history, I was a little concerned he didn’t really seem like he was going to go on today, and John said ‘OK, we’re going to do this now.’ John kept at him and he kept him between horses where he was more focused. He could kind of look around and see the other horses instead of stopping and waiting.”
Velazquez said Destin, which he was riding for the first time, raced greenly, but his talent shone through.
“He is a very green horse,” Velazquez said. “He broke well enough and when the horses outside went in front of him, he kind of backed out of there going to the first turn. So I made sure I put him in the race so he didn’t drop too far back and put him in the clear in the backstretch, and he got into a nice rhythm and he was comfortable there.
“By the three-eighths pole I made sure I got him going and when the other horse (runner-up Rafting) came to him at the quarter-pole, he gave a nice response. But he was green in everything – looking at the horses sideways, and when he got to the quarter-pole he didn’t know what to do and I had to get after him.
“At least he put in a nice run, but he didn’t go forward to get away from the horses; he just kind of waited and was not really running the way he was supposed to. He was still good enough to win today, but he has to put his mind into the business,” Velazquez said.
Destin is 2-for-4 lifetime. He paid $10 to win. The winner’s share of $120,000 almost tripled his career earnings.
Twin Creeks Stables also won the 2014 Sam F. Davis Stakes in partnership with WinStar Farm with the Pletcher-trained Vinceremos.
Rafting and Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado were three-and-a-half lengths better than Pasco Stakes winner Morning Fire, with Awesome Slate fourth and betting favorite Gettysburg, also trained by Pletcher, fifth.
Tepin's wow factor is off the charts
Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes. You could almost feel trainer Mark Casse’s torment during the race. He paced nervously in the jockeys’ weigh-out area adjacent to the winner’s circle as long-shot Lovely Loyree led Tepin and the rest through pedestrian fractions of 24.19 seconds for the quarter-mile, 50.17 for the half and 1:14.84 for six furlongs.
But Tepin put all worries to rest with her explosive stretch kick, leaving the rest behind. Lady Lara was a half-length ahead of Lovely Loyree, who held on well for third. Tepin’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:42.91.
“You know, that’s why I have so much admiration for guys like Bob Baffert and my good friend Bill Mott (trainer of Lady Lara), who is one of my idols,” a suddenly composed Casse said after Tepin’s magnificent performance. “I can only imagine what they must have gone through with American Pharoah and Cigar.”
Owner Robert E. Masterson was ebullient after the victory, the eighth in 16 starts for Tepin. First-place money of $90,000 pushed her career bankroll to $2,565,973. She paid $2.60 to win.
“These are once-in-a-lifetime horses,” Masterson said. “I’ve had a lot of graded horses, but this one, she’s a champion and she is just special. We know her so well – when they let her go out in (50.17 for the half-mile), it was like, you’re not going to catch her down the lane. She is just too fast.”
Casse agreed that the pace scenario really didn’t matter for Tepin in her first race since her Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph against males at Keeneland.
“That is what is so great about her,” Casse said. “Julien can kind of do whatever he needs to do – if they’re running fast, he’ll sit back, and if they are running slow, she’ll relax. You’re always nervous coming back, but she’s back.
“The ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the year, but our first major goal with her is the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland (April 15). She kind of likes Keeneland. That will be against the boys, so I think we’ll try them again,” Casse added, while not ruling out the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes here on March 12.
Casse’s other Lambholm South Endeavour entrant, 2014 Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou, trailed throughout, finishing sixth and last.
Reload makes it in nick of time
Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes. Jockey Edgar Prado, aboard the William Mott-trained long shot Take the Stand, took the lead shortly after the break and accelerated on the turn for home, threatening a major upset.
But Reload and Castellano were just getting rolling, and the 7-year-old son of Hard Spun got past his determined rival just in time to collect the winner’s share of $90,000. Karibu Gardens rallied late to be third, followed by Sky Captain and Old Time Hockey.
Reload, making his first start since a third-place finish in the Artie Schiller Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 21, had won the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream in 2014 and is now 8-for-23 lifetime. Reload’s time on the turf for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was a commendable 1:40.15.
“I thought he ran a great race,” said McGaughey’s assistant trainer, Robbie Medina. “He’s been training so well. I was a little worried early because he was farther back than he usually is, but going down the backside, I saw Javier (Castellano) had plenty of horse and he had him out in the clear. It looked like he was going a little easy, but that’s his personality.
“He kind of stayed with (Take the Stand) and he does have a tendency to hang a little bit, but he’s a 7-year-old horse with a mind of his own,” Medina added.
Castellano rode a confident race throughout, and Reload’s strong finish stamped him as a deserving winner.
“I had a beautiful trip,” the reigning Eclipse Award Champion Jockey said. “I would have liked to have been a little closer, but fortunately the pace was quick enough and I was able to save all the ground.”
Down the stretch. Victor Lebron’s victory aboard 13-1 shot Weep No More in the Suncoast Stakes on the main track marked the rider’s second stakes victory of the meeting for trainer George R. “Rusty” Arnold, II. They combined to win the Wayward Lass with 4-year-old filly White Clover, also at odds of 13-1. Pace-setter Valueable Charmer held on doggedly for second, followed by Smart Shopping.
Weep No More entered the Suncoast off a Jan. 22 maiden victory at the same mile-and-40-yard distance, and Lebron, who rode her that day also, went to school off the earlier triumph.
“I watched the replay again because I wanted to give her the same trip,” Lebron said. “As soon as I asked her today, she took off, the same as last time.”
Weep No More’s time in the Suncoast was 1:41.69, more than two seconds faster than her maiden triumph. Her winning margin was two-and-three-quarter lengths.
Pletcher and Velazquez combined for three victories today. In addition to Destin’s Sam F. Davis, they took the fourth race with first-time starter Sense of Beauty, a 3-year-old filly owned by Mathis Stable. They added the seventh race with Triple Crown nominee Outwork, a 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo bred and owned by Repole Stable. It was Outwork’s first start since his maiden victory last April at Keeneland.
In the $35,000 Challenger Prep on today’s undercard, Ghost Hunter and jockey Antonio Gallardo found a narrow opening along the rail in deep stretch and drew away to a length-and-a-half victory from long-shot This Boy’s Sharp.
The winner’s time for the mile-and-40-yard distance was an excellent 1:40.44. Ghost Hunter is a 6-year-old gelding owned by Triple K Stables and Jagger, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness. Ghost Hunter is now 10-for-31 lifetime. He paid $9.20 to win.
The betting favorite, Mr. Jordan, lacked the needed late kick and finished third in the seven-horse field.
The $100,000 Challenger Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward is part of the track’s March 12 Festival Day program.
Gallardo and Ness also teamed to win the sixth race on the turf, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, with 7-year-old mare Miss Giacomo for owner Triple K Stables.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. Thursday racing has been added to the mix the next two weeks, putting the track on a five-days-a-week schedule. Tampa Bay Downs will go back to a four-day weekly schedule in March, with the track closed for all activity on Easter Sunday, March 27.
Otherwise, 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.