WAS SATURDAY’S CARD BEST IN TRACK HISTORY?

by Mike Henry

A few years from now, and even further down the road, many in Saturday’s Festival Day 36 Presented by Lambholm South crowd of 10,206 will begin discussions with “I was at Tampa Bay Downs that day. …”

The memories will carry an even brighter glow if Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin wins a Triple Crown race, or another traditional Grade I event. But the record-breaking performances by the rising 3-year-old and 5-year-old mare Tepin, whose dramatic rally in the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes also drew national attention, will stand on their own merits for a long time.

“Thoroughbred racing is a sport where everyone has their own opinion, but we heard a lot of fans in all age groups say Saturday was the greatest day in track history,” said track Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube.

“Simply attracting horses the quality of Tepin, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and Eclipse Award Champion Grass Female, and Destin, which has become a ‘now’ horse in many early Triple Crown forecasts, is a testament to the outstanding efforts of Racing Secretary Allison De Luca and her staff and our track maintenance crew for maintaining both surfaces in excellent condition,” Berube said.

“To have both races produce such thrilling finishes that resulted in stakes and track-record times was the icing on an already delicious cake.”

Although the attendance fell just outside the top-10 marks in Tampa Bay Downs history, total wagering handle of $12,250,446.88 was an all-time high, surpassing the previous standard of $10,949,948 on Festival Day 31 five years ago.

Saturday’s 12-race card generated on-track wagering handle of $815,918.20.

The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby triumph by Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Destin, which became the first horse since Burning Roma in 2001 to win both that race and the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, was achieved in a time of 1:42.82 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. Trainer Todd Pletcher has sent out three of the last four Tampa Bay Derby winners.

Destin’s time not only bettered the stakes record set in 2007 by subsequent Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Street Sense, it was .01 seconds faster than the track record established by then 6-year-old Bold Start in winning the 2010 Challenger Stakes. Also of significance, Destin’s Beyer Speed Figure of 100 was the highest this year for any 3-year-old in a two-turn race.

Robert Masterson’s Tepin, which won the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes here four weeks ago, rallied from an 18-length deficit on the backstretch of the Hillsborough to catch Grade II winner Isabella Sings in a mile-and-an-eighth time of 1:46.26, bettering Special Envoy’s turf course mark for the distance by .29 seconds and eclipsing the stakes mark of 1:46.97 set by Zagora in 2012 (the Hillsborough was first run at a mile-and-an-eighth in 2004).

Tepin earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for her victory, second in the country to the 108 earned by trainer Gerald Bennett’s Fast Flying Rumor in his Turf Dash victory here on Jan. 9.

With noteworthy efforts by Grade III Florida Oaks winner Baciami Piccola and Challenger Stakes winner Adirondack King, a superb undercard and such world-class jockeys as Javier Castellano, Julien Leparoux, Irad Ortiz, Jr., and Hall of Famers Edgar Prado and John Velazquez in town for the occasion, “being at Tampa Bay Downs” for Festival Day 36 will be a talking point for a long time to come.

Apprentice Lindsay is California-bound. Jockey Chad Lindsay, who won today’s fourth race aboard 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Run Gia Run, has accepted an offer to ride at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.

The 22-year-old apprentice, who won his first race here on Jan. 1 aboard Invasion Point for trainer Dennis Ward, will be represented by veteran agent Vince DeGregory, who has handled bookings for Hall of Fame jockeys Angel Cordero, Jr., Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Alex Solis, Jacinto Vasquez and Jorge Velasquez.

Lindsay was contacted by both DeGregory and veteran trainer Doug O’Neill before deciding to move his tack cross-country. O’Neill trained 2012 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another and currently conditions leading Kentucky Derby candidate Nyquist, last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner.

“Mr. O’Neill told me this is a huge opportunity, and obviously I agree,” Lindsay said.

With 11 lifetime victories, Lindsay is entitled to his current 7-pound weight allowance until he gets to 40 victories and, after that, 5 pounds through Jan. 1, 2017, one year from the date of his first victory.

“I’ve got the truck loaded and I’m ready to go,” said Lindsay, who departs Tampa Bay Downs with the 11 victories from 83 mounts. “Mr. DeGregory said they have a new (condition) book coming out (Thursday), and if I could be there by then, it would be great.

“I can’t take my experience at Tampa Bay Downs for granted. This is where I learned, this is where I won my first race and I’m going with a lot of good memories.”

Lindsay plans to stop in his hometown of Aledo, Texas to visit family before driving on to southern California.

Tampa Bay Downs trainer Ian Wilkes, who first employed Lindsay in his barn during the 2014-2015 meeting, believes the youngster is prepared to make an impact on a bigger stage.

“I think he has a lot of upside. I don’t think he’ll have a problem as long as he keeps listening and learning,” Wilkes said. “He has a good work ethic and a good attitude, which are the main things. Doug O’Neill has been impressed with his riding and said he would support him if he goes.

“I’m very happy for Chad and wish him luck,” Wilkes added.

The ride on Run Gia Run was the final mount here for Lindsay, at least for the foreseeable future. She is owned by Pedro Alarcon and trained by Monte Thomas.

Down the stretch. Trainer Todd Pletcher’s third victory of the Tampa Bay Downs Festival Day 36 weekend with 1-10 favorite Kinsley Kisses in today’s seventh race was No. 3,999 of his illustrious career. He also won Saturday with Destin, as mentioned, and the impressive maiden special weight winner Decorated Soldier.

Kinsley Kisses is a 3-year-old filly owned by Cheyenne Stables. She was ridden by Manoel Cruz. Her time for the seven furlongs was an excellent 1:23.17.

Cruz also won today’s first race on 13-1 shot Royal Fighter, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Lady Luck Stable and trained by Christos Gatis.

Leading jockey Antonio Gallardo also rode two winners on the card. He piloted 5-year-old mare Stranahan Dragon in the third race on the turf for owner James C. Smith, Jr., and trainer Chad Stewart and added the fifth, also on the grass, aboard 4-year-old gelding Midnight Man for owner Nation’s Racing Stable and trainer Keith Nations.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. 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.

The golf range will be open on Easter from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; the last bucket of dimpled eggs will be sold at 3:30 p.m.