In about the time it took Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner
Destin (SV Photography, left) to set a stakes and track record, the concerns over his green performance in last month’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes vanished.The 3-year-old gray son of Giant’s Causeway wore down Outwork, his stablemate from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, through a fierce stretch run, posting a one-length victory under jockey Javier Castellano in a time of 1:42.82 that bettered the 2007 mile-and-a-sixteenth stakes record set by Street Sense and the track record of 1:42.83 set by Bold Start in the 2010 Challenger Stakes.
The thrilling 36th annual Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby finish came on the heels of an incredible performance by reigning Eclipse Award Champion Grass Female Tepin in the 18th running of the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.
Trailing runaway pace-setter Isabella Sings by more than 18 lengths up the backstretch, Tepin gobbled up ground like a freight train under jockey Julien Leparoux en route to a one-length victory that rekindled memories of Personal Ensign’s dramatic comeback victory in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her time for the mile-and-an-eighth was a turf course-record 1:46.26, bettering Special Envoy’s 2015 course standard.
In the 33rd edition of the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, the other graded-stakes on the Festival Day 36 card Presented by Lambholm South, Great Britain-bred Baciami Piccola staged a whirlwind rally under jockey Leparoux to surge past the other Great Britain-bred filly in the race, Enjoy Yourself, posting a half-length victory in a time of 1:42.20 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.
A crowd of 10,206 contributed to an all-time record wagering handle of $12,250,446.88. That shattered the previous mark of $10,949,948 set on Festival Day 31 five years ago.
Destin, which thrust himself squarely into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands picture while becoming the first horse since Burning Roma in 2001 to win both the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby, paid $$9.20 to win as the third-wagering choice in the nine-horse field. The third-place finisher, Star Hill, was seven lengths behind Outwork, while Rafting staged a mild rally for fourth. The 2-1 favorite, Brody’s Cause, finished a disappointing seventh.
“I was very, very pleased with (Destin’s) performance,” Pletcher said by telephone from Gulfstream. This was the trainer’s third Tampa Bay Derby victory in four years and fourth overall. “He seems to be getting more and more professional and is learning how to finish his races. I felt he would improve with more experience and that is proving to be true.
“After his first two races, he was still piecing things together, but he has gotten better with experience. We will assess him but probably he would not come back in the Florida Derby, which leaves the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby as possibilities.”
Randy Gullatt, Team Manager of owner Twin Creeks Racing Stables, was elated by Destin’s performance. “He has come a long ways (since winning the Sam F. Davis) and I think he is ahead of even where we thought he would be,” Gullatt said. “He’s making big jumps, and we’re very happy. Obviously, this race gives you the option of (another prep before the Kentucky Derby) because of the timing.
“He ran super last time, but I think he was even more into the bit today and just took Javier right where he wanted. I think he ran even better than I was hoping he would,” Gullatt said.
Castellano also sounded as if he has a leading candidate for the May 7 Run for the Roses. “It was a beautiful trip. He broke sharp out of the gate and put me in good position behind the top two horses (Outwork and Riker),” Castellano said. “I thought there would be a little more speed, but the way he set out was beautiful. I asked him turning for home and he responded so well. He finished good and the way he galloped out was phenomenal, especially after the (track record time).
“The way he’s been doing, he could be a (Kentucky Derby) horse. He could be destined to win it – who knows?”
Destin, a son of Giant’s Causeway-Dream of Summer which is a full brother to multiple graded-stakes winner and 2012 Preakness third-place finisher Creative Cause, improved to 3-for-5 lifetime and first-place money of $210,000 raised his earnings to $390,700 -- $9,300 shy of his yearling purchase price.
Even though the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby was Outwork’s third start and first around two turns, his effort under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez could lead to an even bigger stage, Pletcher said.
“For Outwork to put forth that type of performance in only his third start is quite impressive. We were hoping he would move forward, and he certainly ran well enough to put himself in the next round of preps, where hopefully he will move forward again,” the conditioner said.
As strong as Destin and Outwork ran, it would have been impossible to top Tepin’s performance in the Hillsborough. Pletcher and Velazquez plotted to win the nine-furlong race by stealing to a massive lead, and it appeared to be a foolproof scheme – except that they were dealing with the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner who gets better with each race.
Owner Robert Masterson, trainer Mark Casse, groom Rosa Jimenez: sheer joy
Tepin, which won the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes here four weeks ago, caught Isabella Sings with enough to spare to post a one-length margin. She paid $2.80 as the heavy betting favorite in the 10-horse field. The third-place finisher was 90-1 shot Lovely Loyree, trained locally by Michele Boyce and ridden by Fernando De La Cruz.
The scene in the winner’s circle was surreal, as photographers vied for position to shoot Tepin as she returned from her stupendous victory. The emotion was sky-high, even from fans who vowed not to cash their winning $2 tickets.
An emotional trainer Mark Casse, whose father, Florida breeding and sales industry leader Norman Casse, died March 6, expressed his emotions in one word: “Relief.
“I was a little worried after the first quarter-mile, but I’m happy,” Casse said. “I’m always nervous. It’s funny, the distance worked in our favor today. She’s quite a horse. She can do a little bit of everything; that’s what makes her so amazing.”
Owner Robert Masterson also struggled for words. “She is older, smarter, and more relaxed,” he said. “She doesn’t have to be on the lead now, or close to the lead. She can sit back and pick her spot. At the top of the lane she was still eight lengths behind, but she’s got the biggest turn of foot you’ll see in the last eighth.”
Superstar Tepin about to make her grand entrance into winner's circle
Leparoux, who has ridden the daughter of Bernstein-Life Happened in each of her last nine starts, didn’t rush her despite Isabella Sings’ huge lead. “I knew (Isabella Sings) was going fast, but when that happens, you almost have to not pay attention to the one in front,” he said. “My horse had to fight hard today, which is good. I didn’t whip her because I could feel she was running for me. She had to have a big race to win, and she did.”
Velazquez knew the winner was something special before the race; more so, afterward. “Todd (Pletcher) said to me ‘When (Isabella Sings) breaks, drop your hands down and let her go as fast as she can. That’s her weapon.’ So I didn’t take a hold of her and I let her do her own thing.
“It was a great effort by my horse and I think if she had a little race before, she would have been even tougher. I’m not surprised (by Tepin). How are you going to be surprised by that?”
Tepin is now 9-for-17 lifetime and the winner’s purse of $120,000 upped her career bankroll to $2,685,973.
Jockey Julien Leparoux knows he has the Florida Oaks won
Florida Oaks winner Baciami Piccola, a daughter of the French sire Equiano, out of Lucky Legs, by Danehill Dancer, paid $31 to win. She is owned by the Amerman Racing outfit of John and Jerry Amerman and trained by Brian Lynch. Family Meeting finished third in the 13-horse field, a neck behind the runner-up, followed by Princess Princess. The 9-5 favorite, Ava’s Kitten, was fifth.
In the Florida Oaks, Baciami Piccola won despite not having raced since July 23. She broke her maiden in her first start in Milan, Italy last May going five furlongs on the turf and finished third and second in a pair of subsequent European stakes. Today, she powered home from seventh place at the top of the stretch to post the upset.
“She came over in mid-summer and was a little slow to get adjusted to the way we do things over here, so we sort of played with her through the fall,” trainer Brian Lynch said. “Julien and her started to hook up once we got to Palm Meadows, and he spent a lot of time with her. She is a very difficult filly to ride and can be temperamental, but they seemed to get along fantastic.
“If you have a bigger stable, you are able to gauge them a little off your better horses, and she held her own with them. So we thought we would take a shot and run her here in the Oaks. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together; you look like a genius some days and like a fool other days, but today was a good day.”
The time was the second-fastest since the Florida Oaks was moved to the turf in 2011, only .31 seconds off Tapicat’s 2013 mark.
When Enjoy Yourself and leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo struck the lead at the sixteenth pole, it appeared the “home team” might steal a victory. But Leparoux had the winner on a serious roll that proved decisive.
“First of all, we wanted to give her a good experience,” said Leparoux. “Today she broke good, and I took her back and saved ground around the turn. I knew if I found some room in the stretch, she was going to kick nice for me. We had questions before the race because this was her first time to go that far, but she competed. She has some guts.”
That was also Lynch’s impression. “She is very gutsy and we have a lot to look forward to,” he said of the Amerman Racing-owned lass. “To get the mile-and-a-sixteenth after she had never been beyond six furlongs shows she has an abundance of talent.”
Trainer John P. Terranova, II was pleased with Enjoy Yourself’s performance. “I thought that was a pretty nice group of turf fillies, and (Enjoy Yourself) came into the race training so well,” he said. “She never gave up. We just had a new shooter come out of Europe for Brian Lynch and crew, and it looked like a nice race time-wise. I’m really happy with our horse – I think she has a nice future.”