BEST-LAID PLANS PAN OUT FOR DELACOUR CHARGE IN MAIDEN SPECIAL

by Mike Henry

Fillies with outstanding pedigrees and trained by some of the biggest names in the sport graced the turf landscape in today’s sixth race at Tampa Bay Downs.

With a combined 19 starts among the 10 3-year-old maidens, the level of unpredictability was high. But for winning trainer Arnaud Delacour and jockey Luis Garcia, the race unfolded almost precisely as planned, as Hitting Spree grabbed the early lead and led every step of the way in the $23,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden special weight event.

“I told Luis she should be pretty sharp after going two turns on the dirt (in a third-place finish on Jan. 29 in a race taken off the turf), and she was very fit,” Delacour said. “I wanted him to slow them down if he made the lead, and he did that fine (24.81 seconds for the quarter-mile and 50.15 for the half).

“Usually when Luis is on the lead, he has a good clock in his head. When you go a half in 50 seconds, and as fit as this filly is, you hope they can finish,” Delacour added.

Hitting Spree won by two-and-three-quarter lengths from first-time starter Giovanna, with Prudence a nose back in third and the 7-10 favorite, Texting, staging a mild rally for fourth.

The other Delacour-trained entrant, 81-1 shot Mini Channel, ran evenly to finish fifth.

Hitting Spree paid $22.00 to win after touring the distance in 1:43.91. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Grand Slam-Zarrin, by Maria’s Mon, is owned by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who purchased her as a yearling for $160,000.

Hitting Spree was part of a potential-laden field that included fillies sired by Giant’s Causeway, Tiznow, Candy Ride, Malibu Moon, Galileo, English Channel, Pleasantly Perfect, Gio Ponti and Drosselmeyer – some of the biggest names in racing. The trainer roster was just as impressive, with the likes of Chad Brown, H. Graham Motion, Christophe Clement, George “Rusty” Arnold, II, Ian Wilkes and Eoin Harty represented.

Yet the inexperience of the field made the race a handicapper’s delight and a crap shoot, at the same time.

“A maiden race is always unpredictable, because the first couple of times you run a horse you really don’t know what will happen,” Delacour said. “You hope they have enough ability to overcome their lack of experience.

“We had her as a 2-year-old but I went slow with her because I didn’t think she had come together. Since she came to Tampa Bay Downs in December, she’s been doing better and better, physically and mentally.”

Garcia said Hitting Spree had plenty of energy approaching the wire. “I only asked her the last eighth of a mile, and she picked it up pretty good,” he said. “She is like a little baby; she needs something to pay attention to.”

Delacour is in no rush to hurry her development. “We’ll see how she comes back and find another race in a month or a month and a half, and at some point we’ll probably try her in a little stakes to see if she can be competitive there,” he said.

The triumph was one of two on today’s card for Delacour. He also captured the 10th race on the turf with a first-time starter, the Woodslane Farm-bred and owned 3-year-old colt Hadron. Antonio Gallardo was the jockey.

Down the stretch. Ademar Santos, Fernando De La Cruz and Daniel Centeno all rode a pair of winners today. Santos, who won back-to-back races, was aboard 6-year-old Florida-bred horse Moonlit Park in the third race for owner Lynn Rarick and trainer Randy Rarick. He added the fourth race on 4-year-old gelding Sky City for owners Blazing Meadows Farm and Casner Racing and trainer Timothy Hamm.

De La Cruz won the fifth race on Back for Dinner, a 10-year-old Florida-bred mare owned and trained by Jason DaCosta. He added the eighth race on the turf on Break the Silence, a 3-year-old gelding owned and trained by Ray Trisler. Break the Silence paid $71.20 to win.

Centeno won the seventh race on Alfredo Romana, a 5-year-old Florida-bred horse owned by Maria Claire Van Sant, Theresa Salerno and David Nunn and trained by Nunn. Then in the ninth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, the veteran pilot scored on 11-1 shot Triple Chelsea, a 3-year-old filly owned by Calvin Johnston and Carlos Tonda and trained by Anthony Granitz.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There will be a Pick-5 carryover pool of $32,320.96.

The track will conduct racing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 28, then drop Thursdays from the mix in March, going back to a four-days-a-week schedule.

The Oldsmar oval is open every day except Easter Sunday, March 27 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

Chaplaincy benefit golf tournament set. The Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA) – Tampa Bay Downs Division will host its 24th annual “Hearts Reaching Out” golf tournament and fundraiser on Monday, March 7 to support the continued work of the chaplaincy. The tournament, which has a four-person scramble format, will begin at 11 a.m. at East Lake Woodlands Country Club in Oldsmar.

A dinner, awards ceremony and auction will be held beneath the pavilion tent at Tampa Bay Downs afterward, with the dinner getting underway at 5 p.m. The cost is $100 for the tournament, dinner and auction, $20 to attend the dinner and auction only.

The event kicks off the track’s Festival Week, which culminates Saturday, March 12 with the most lucrative card in Tampa Bay Downs history, featuring the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby; the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf; and the $100,000 Challenger Stakes.

Donors are asked to support the Tampa Bay Downs Division of the RTCA in any of the following ways:

  • As a volunteer;
  • By sponsoring a golf hole for $125;
  • By playing in the tournament;
  • By attending the dinner and purchasing an item in the live and/or silent auction;
  • By donating money or an auction item.

For details or to reserve a spot in the tournament, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 854-1313.