When that task is completed, though, the veteran jockey will set sail for uncharted waters.
Spieth has been named to ride the Ohio-bred 3-year-old colt Sawyers Mickey in the Grade I, $1-million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby. So at about 8 a.m., he’ll load his gear for the four-hour drive to Hallandale Beach and Gulfstream Park and a chance at history.
Most experts don’t think it’s much of a chance. The mile-and-an-eighth race is billed as a heavyweight showdown between unbeatens Mohaymen and Nyquist, with the eight others entrants considered little more than window dressing.
At 30-1 on the morning line, Sawyers Mickey is one of the longest shots in the field; he remains a maiden after seven starts, although he managed a third-place finish three weeks ago in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. Sawyers Mickey will break from the No. 1 post.
But these kind of assignments rarely come along, even for an accomplished rider such as Spieth, whose 4,499 career victories is tops among all Tampa Bay Downs jockeys. Spieth is grateful for the opportunity and excited to be part of one of the major preps for the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, because I know I’m riding against Kentucky Derby horses,” said the 49-year-old Spieth, who will be riding Sawyers Mickey for the first time. “It’s a great opportunity to see what I’ve got and to be amongst those horses and some of my fellow jockeys I’ve ridden against from time to time.
“You never go into a race thinking you’re going to lose,” he said with a wide grin. “And it doesn’t matter what the purse is. I rarely get nervous anymore, because it’s when you get to the wire first that you get to realize what the purse is.”
Spieth, who started riding in 1981, will be riding in his first Florida Derby.
The Xpressbet.com Florida Derby, which will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs, is the 14th race on the Gulfstream card, with a probable post time of 6:48 p.m. Spieth has also been named to ride 3-year-old filly Double Entendre in the Grade II, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, which is the seventh race, and the 3-year-old gelding Torch the Voucher in the sixth race, a maiden special weight contest on the turf.
All three horses are owned by Loooch Racing Stables, which owns Double Entendre in partnership with Glenn K. Ellis. Peter Walder trains Sawyers Mickey and Double Entendre and Joe Sharp trains Torch the Voucher.
The opportunity arose through Spieth’s longstanding relationship with Loooch Racing Stables owner Ron Paolucci. “I’ve won a lot of stakes for him, and he asked me early last week if I would come to ride Sawyers Mickey. After he worked Monday (four furlongs in 48.07 seconds), Mr. Paolucci said everything was 100 percent, and I said great. I’m excited and ready to go,” Spieth said.
“I’ve gone through the past performances of all the horses and watched the race replays, and I like breaking from the No. 1 hole because going a mile-and-an-eighth at Gulfstream, you’re pretty close to the first turn. The perfect scenario for me is to see two speed horses go out – probably (trainer) Dale Romans’ horse (Takeittotheedge) and Nyquist – and if I could lay in third place comfortably on the fence, that would be perfect.
“Of course, you don’t know how many riders are going to send their horses and how much speed I’m going to have,” he added.
Nor does he know if Sawyers Mickey has the talent to be in the lead group at the wire. “I do think from what I’ve seen that when he gets in with state-breds in Ohio, he will dominate there,” Spieth said.
Double Entendre is regarded at 15-1 in a seven-horse Gulfstream Park Oaks field. Her only start resulted in an eight-length victory at Sam Houston on Feb. 29. “I’m excited to see how big a horse she really is, and I look for her to run big,” Spieth said.
Spieth is named to ride three horses at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday. And, this being horse racing, there is a chance (however slim) his path back to the Oldsmar jockeys’ room will be lined with autograph seekers and picture takers, eager to meet a Florida Derby winner.
Down the stretch. Today’s third race was of stakes quality, with 4-year-old gelding This Boy’s Sharp staging a determined rally to defeat 8-year-old El Grande Rojo by a half-length in an outstanding time of 1:22.07 for seven furlongs.
Daniel Centeno rode the winner, which is owned by W. Kenan Rand, Jr., and trained by Gerald Bennett. El Grande Rojo had equaled the Tampa Bay Downs track record of 1:21.40 four starts back on Dec. 30, and despite his advancing years, he was claimed for $32,000 by owner-trainer Charles Harvatt from previous owners Billy, Donna and Justin Hays and trainer Joe Woodard.
Bennett, the track’s leading trainer with 48 victories, also sent out the runaway winner of the seventh race, the 5-year-old mare Indian Chaser. Her time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was a highly respectable 1:44.18. She is owned by South Fork Creek Stables and was ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr.
Centeno kept a recent personal trend percolating by riding two winners, giving him 72 for the meeting, comfortably in the second spot. In addition to the third race, he won the second on 4-year-old filly Jewelisa for owner Guarnieri Stables and trainer Antonio Sano.
Jewelisa was claimed for $8,000 by trainer Joseph Minieri for new owner Jose L. Serrano.
Tampa Bay Downs will present a 10-race card Saturday beginning at 12:40 p.m. The first race is among the most intriguing on the card, with nine 3-year-old colts and geldings scheduled to compete at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf in a conditional allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race.
The morning-line favorite at 5-2 is Uncle Jerry, a son of Uncle Mo which broke his maiden last summer at Presque Isle Downs before contesting the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. He has finished second and third in his two starts at the current meeting.
Owned and trained by Eoin Harty, Uncle Jerry will be ridden by Manoel Cruz.
The 3-1 second choice is the Joseph Minieri-owned and trained Peppi the Hunter, which will be ridden by Pedro Cotto, Jr. Peppi the Hunter is 3-for-7 lifetime, bookending a seventh-place finish in the Pasco Stakes here with a pair of allowance/optional claiming victories.
The fourth race, a $23,000 allowance at a mile on the turf for older fillies and mares, looms a wide-open affair, with 10 set to go postward. Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III is shipping 5-year-old mare Orient Harbor for the race. The 2-1 morning-line favorite, she will be making her first start since a fifth-place finish last November at Belmont. Manoel Cruz is the jockey aboard the Stuart S. Janney, III-bred and owned runner.
Tampa Bay Downs conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.