THREE “PROVING-GROUND” RACES HIGHLIGHT SATURDAY CARD

by Michael Henry

A $24,000 conditional allowance/optional claiming race for older fillies and mares on the turf and a pair of maiden special weight events, one on dirt and one on turf, highlight Saturday’s 11-race Tampa Bay Downs program. Post time for the first race is 12:25 p.m.

The ninth race will be contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, with fillies from the barns of trainers John P. Terranova, II and William Mott favorably regarded by the track oddsmaker in the nine-horse field.

Terranova’s entrant, the 4-year-old filly Greywalls, found stakes company in New York last year daunting, but she managed to win a one-mile allowance/optional claiming turf allowance last August at Saratoga in gate-to-wire fashion despite breaking from the No. 11 post. Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Antonio Gallardo is named to ride Greywalls, which is owned by Long Lake Stable.

Since finishing fourth in her seasonal debut here in a seven-furlong main-track contest on Jan. 20, Greywalls has posted three workouts, including a five-furlong breeze of 1:00 1/5 on Feb. 14 that was the fastest of 28 that day at the distance.

Mott’s charge, 4-year-old filly Gigi’s Kitten, broke her maiden last July at Belmont and won an allowance/optional claiming race on Nov. 5 at Aqueduct, rallying from last place to grab the upset victory. She has finished off the board in two starts at Gulfstream this winter, and Mott is no doubt hopeful she will find the lush Oldsmar oval grass to her liking.

Daniel Centeno is named to ride Gigi’s Kitten, which is owned by Mike Anderson.

The first of Saturday’s maiden special weight races is the seventh, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf. The 5-2 morning-line favorite in the nine-horse field is the H. Graham Motion-trained Majestic Smile, to be ridden by Scott Spieth.

The eighth race is a five-and-a-half furlong, main-track contest for 3-year-olds. The gelding Splash Rules, trained by John G. Vinson and to be ridden by Manoel Cruz, has been established at 2-1 after his respectable fourth-place finish in his career debut here going six furlongs on Jan. 30.

Saturday’s fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th races are scheduled for the turf course.

Down the stretch. A pair of today’s winners found a switch in surfaces to their liking. In the third race, 3-year-old filly Sunshine Life, a beaten favorite four times, broke her maiden in her 10th start in a six-furlong maiden claiming event on the main dirt track. Each of her previous eight starts, including the last four at Tampa Bay Downs, were on the turf, the last five around two turns.

Ridden by Dean Butler, Sunshine Life sped the distance in 1:13.21, defeating Red Hot n’ Boom by four-and-a-quarter lengths. The winner is owned by Empire Racing and trained by Bernell Rhone.

In the fourth race, another maiden claiming affair, 3-year-old colt Flower Punch finally got a chance to run on the grass after his first three career starts had been switched from the turf to the main track. Flower Punch scored a gate-to-wire victory under Daniel Centeno at odds of 13-1, winning by a length from Silent Waters in 1:43.83 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Flower Punch is owned by Patrick H. Hoppel and trained by Sandino R. Hernandez, Jr.

Butler and Centeno each added another winner. Butler won the seventh race on National, an 8-year-old gelding owned by Tom Abrahamson and trained by Randy Rarick. Centeno captured the eighth race on the turf on another 8-year-old gelding, Azure Dragon, for owner Ruman Stable and trainer Michael Dini.

R Girls a Charmer, winner of the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes here on Jan. 23, stretches out to a mile in today’s Grade II, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Davona Dale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park. The race attracted seven horses. Owned by Gary Barber and trained by Mark Casse, R Girls a Charmer will be ridden by Luis Saez.

The Fasig-Tipton Davona Dale is the fifth race on Gulfstream’s stakes-laden card, which will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs. Also on tap much later in the afternoon is the Grade II, $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth, featuring top Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands candidate Mohaymen, which seeks to improve to 5-for-5.

Tampa Bay Downs 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 and is open to the public and media.

A dinner, awards ceremony and live and silent auctions 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.

Proceeds benefit the chaplaincy, which ministers to backstretch workers by attending to their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.

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.

Kids and Family Day is Sunday. The popular “Kids and Family” Day gathering returns to the track’s Picnic Pavilion Area on Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free. In addition to watching the on-track action, attendees get to meet the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse, and enjoy bounce houses, slides and a variety of games and special activities.

Tampa Bay Downs 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.