Shortly after last fall’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, trainer Dale Romans laid out a road map to get his talented 3-year-old, Brody’s Cause, into the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
The colt’s first major step toward Thoroughbred immortality takes place Saturday in the 36th edition of the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Brody’s Cause is the presumptive favorite in a 10-horse field for the mile-and-a-sixteenth main-track contest, which offers 50-20-10-5 points to the first four finishers as part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series of 3-year-old prep races.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the highlight of a lucrative Festival Day 36 Presented by Lambholm South card that includes the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; and the $100,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.
Romans, who won the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford and was voted an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer in 2012, shipped Brody’s Cause to Tampa Bay Downs from Gulfstream Park last week to acclimate him to the sand-based surface. Brody’s Cause breezed four furlongs here Sunday in 48 2/5 seconds, the sixth-fastest of 72 works at the distance.
Romans said Brody’s Cause has not missed a beat in his training since returning to the track after his third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Oct. 31. If all start, the favorite will break from the No. 8 post.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th race on a 12-race program scheduled to begin at 12:23 p.m. The first 7,500 fans through the turnstiles will receive a cooler bag with the distinctive Tampa Bay Downs logo, with paid admission.
“He’s been training very good all year for his 3-year-old debut,” said Romans, who trains Brody’s Cause for Albaugh Family Stable. “He’s doing everything right.”
While the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby field is comprised of potential superstars, a genuine one will start in the Hillsborough. The 5-year-old mare Tepin, which won the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes here four weeks ago after a 2015 campaign that saw her win the Breeders’ Cup Mile against males and earn an Eclipse Award, is likely to be an overwhelming favorite against nine foes.
Tepin, which is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, drew the No. 6 post position and will carry co-high weight (along with Ball Dancing) of 122 pounds. The Hillsborough is the 10th race.
A full field of 14 sophomore fillies will compete in the Florida Oaks, slated as the eighth race. Likely top contenders include Ava’s Kitten, from the barn of trainer Chad Brown; Grade III winner Family Meeting, trained by Tom Proctor; Spinamiss, a Pletcher charge; and Gamble’s Ghost, a Grade III winner trained by Josie Carroll.
Seven older horses will contest the Challenger, which is the third race. The most accomplished is Neck ‘n Neck, a consistent graded-stakes performer with career earnings of more than $1-million. Ian Wilkes is the trainer.
In the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Brody’s Cause will shoulder an impost of 122 pounds, spotting his foes between 4-to-6 pounds. Victory Saturday is the desired result, of course; Romans said the next planned step for the son of Giant’s Causeway-Sweet Breanna is the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 9, followed by the Run for the Roses.
It is the same route traveled by 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense, which won the Oldsmar showcase and finished second in the Blue Grass before his historic Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands triumph.
“We decided to go this route because of the timing (between races), and we’ve been staying the course,” Romans said. “He was very good his whole 2-year-old year, winning the Grade I (Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland) and closing so well in the Breeders’ Cup.
“Tampa Bay Downs is a good racetrack, and we shipped him a little early because it’s a little different than the places he’s been training and I thought it would be good for him to get some miles over it before he runs. Hopefully he will come running Saturday, get past all of them and have a nice gallop-out, to Kentucky,” Romans said.
Brody’s Cause’s regular jockey, Corey Lanerie, will be in for the assignment.
Top challengers appear to include the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 13, Destin and Rafting. Destin, which will be ridden by Javier Castellano, is one of two Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby entrants from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Tampa Bay Derby with Carpe Diem. The other is Outwork.
Like Brody’s Cause and Carpe Diem, Destin was sired by Giant’s Causeway.
“He’s trained very consistently,” Pletcher noted in a text message about Destin, which breezed four furlongs Saturday in 48.99 seconds at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach. “I feel like he should continue to improve with more experience.”
The full Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby field in post position order, with trainer and jockey:
- Morning Fire, Keith Nations, Daniel Centeno; 2. Rafting, H. Graham Motion, Edgar Prado; 3. Outwork, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 4. Economic Model, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 5. Star Hill, George R. Arnold, II, Julien Leparoux; 6. Riker, Mark Casse, Florent Geroux; 7. Destin, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano; 8. Brody’s Cause, Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie; 9. Tale of S’avall, Barclay Tagg, Joe Bravo; 10. Awesome Banner, Stanley Gold, Antonio Gallardo.
Cruz is Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month. When Manoel Cruz returned from school as a boy, he tossed his books and his homework assignments in a corner. The lure of working with animals on the family farm in Brazil almost always took precedence.
“I didn’t have toys when I was a kid,” said Cruz, who has been selected as the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month after rising to a tie for fifth in the Oldsmar standings with 26 victories. “I grew up with horses, cows, chickens, you name it. We even had some monkeys.”
As a 14-year-old, Cruz started riding show jumpers. He quickly gravitated toward the racetrack, enrolling in Brazil’s jockey school at the Hipodromo de Cidade Jardim racetrack in Sao Paulo. “The school there is like an army environment,” said Cruz. “Anyone who learns to ride there and graduates can ride anywhere in the world.”
Cruz stayed home for more than 10 years, riding about 1,200 winners before coming to the United States, where his career really took off. From 2005-07, he ranked fourth nationally in victories each year, including a career-best 323 in 2006.
Cruz won the 2001-2002 Tampa Bay Downs crown with 91 victories, and in the ensuing years he won five titles at Calder and two at Tropical at Calder. He has ridden a boatload of graded-stakes performers, including such Grade II winners as Twilight Eclipse, Smooth Air, Splendid Blended, D’Wildcat Speed and Point Prince.
Smooth Air took him to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands in 2008, and although they finished in the middle of the pack, Cruz teamed with Smooth Air for victories in the Grade II Hutcheson Stakes and Grade II Ohio Derby.
The last two years have been a period of reflection and rejuvenation for Cruz. In addition to riding primarily in south Florida, he spent three months in 2014 and in 2015 with family and friends back home in Brazil.
“I have four sisters and two brothers in Brazil, and I wanted to spend time with them, see where I grew up, see my little farm and the orange tree I planted,” said the 45-year-old Cruz. “I was chilling down a little, and at the same time I really charged my batteries.”
Returning to the Oldsmar oval this season has hastened his rebirth. His success here “has opened a lot of doors,” said Cruz, who has ridden winners at the current meeting for such top trainers as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Eoin Harty. “It’s amazing how good I feel. I’m healthy, and I’m doing what I love. My target is to be on top again.”
Cruz is closing in on 2,800 victories in the United States. “Manny has been to places most of these kids haven’t,” said his agent, Steve Elzey. “He might not have the youth, but he is one of the smartest riders you’ll find, and I think he is one of the best turf riders in the country.”
Cruz, who has two sons (Victor, 13, and Brian, 11) has embraced the challenge of rebuilding his career and his reputation as a jockey who knows how to win. “In this business, you have to be here every day so trainers can see your face, and you have to get on four or five horses in the morning,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing, and right now I feel like I can do more and more.”
Down the stretch. Leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett narrowly missed extending his consecutive races-won streak to six when his 5-year-old mare, Indian Chaser, came up a half-length short against 7-year-old Dreamed a Dream in today’s seventh race. The winner was a 16-1 shot bred, owned and trained by Robert Raymond and ridden by Dean Butler.
Bennett did what comes naturally: He started a new streak in the eighth race on the turf. The conditioner’s 5-year-old mare, Be Nice Or Leave, rolled to victory under jockey Daniel Centeno. Be Nice Or Leave is owned by Juan Cacho Castro.
Centeno rode three winners on the card. He won the fourth race on 6-year-old gelding Twocubanbrothersu, which is now 15-for-39 lifetime. He is owned by John Rigattieri and Stephen J. Derany and trained by Rigattieri.
Centeno also won the sixth on the turf on 4-year-old filly Rue de Rivoli for breeder-owner Alexander Groves Matz, LLC and trainer Michael Matz.
Victor Lebron also rode two winners. He took the first race on 5-year-old mare No Wedding for owner Miguel Barraza and Baltazar Galvan and returned to the winner’s circle after the ninth race on 4-year-old gelding Congrats to Ken for owner Nation’s Racing Stable and trainer Keith Nations. Congrats to Ken was claimed from the race for $8,000 by owner-trainer Charles Harvatt.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track 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.