TAMPA BAY DOWNS VISITORS EXCEL ON BIGGEST STAGE; SPIETH BAGS 4,500

by Mike Henry

Although the Florida Cup keeps growing in stature, a series of $75,000 stakes races for state-bred horses can’t compete for national attention against three $1-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands preps and other Grade I stakes.

But as the results from major races filtered in throughout Saturday’s Florida Cup XIV card, handicappers and racing fans might have wondered what’s in the water at Tampa Bay Downs.

Three of Saturday’s Grade I winners had last raced in Oldsmar, including the Wood Memorial winner at Aqueduct, Outwork, and the Toyota Blue Grass winner at Keeneland, Brody’s Cause. Outwork, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished second in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12, while the Dale Romans-trained Brody’s Cause was a mystifying seventh in that race.

You can expect both of those horses to take plenty of wagering dollars should they progress, as expected, to the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 7. The Oldsmar oval graduate likely to be best regarded in Louisville, Pletcher’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Destin, will not race again before the Kentucky Derby.

Those three are candidates to join 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense and 2010 third-place finisher Super Saver as horses to compete at Tampa Bay Downs before their Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands triumphs.

Saturday’s only Grade I winner which had won its previous start at Tampa Bay Downs was the 3-year-old filly Weep No More, which staged a whirlwind rally to win the $500,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland at odds of 30-1 in a three-horse blanket finish with the two wagering favorites, runner-up Rachel’s Valentina and Cathryn Sophia.

Owned by Ashbrook Farm and trained by George “Rusty” Arnold, II, Weep No More was ridden by Corey Lanerie. She had won the mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes here on Feb. 13 under Victor Lebron at odds of 13-1.

Weep No More followed in the footsteps of last year’s Suncoast winner, Include Betty, by capturing a Grade I stakes. The latter, a Tom Proctor trainee, won last year’s Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont.

“Each race, she’s been better and better,” Arnold told reporters about Weep No More after the Central Bank Ashland. “Did we expect this? Not quite, but she’s a step ahead of us. We’ve got the mile-and-an-eighth in the (Longines Kentucky) Oaks coming up.”

Weep No More is certainly well-named for that $1-million, Grade I race for 3-year-old fillies on May 6. The following day, we’ll all be singing along:

   Weep no more, my lady

   Oh, weep no more, today

   We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home

   For the old Kentucky home far away.

She’ll probably be facing the highly touted Songbird, who improved to 7-for-7 Saturday with her virtually effortless triumph in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on a sloppy racetrack, but there is no question Weep No More has earned a spot in the Longines Kentucky Oaks starting gate.

Should Weep No More win that race, she would become the third horse to progress from Tampa Bay Downs to a victory in Churchill’s fillies showcase. Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992) and Secret Status (2000) used victories in the Florida Oaks as stepping stones to Kentucky Oaks glory, before the now-Grade III Florida Oaks was moved to the turf.

Spieth reaches milestone. Jockey Scott Spieth, who has ridden the most winners of any member of the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony, hit the 4,500 mark in the sixth race aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Awesome Indeed. The winner is owned by her breeder, Bruno Schickedanz, and trained by Aldana Gonzalez, Spieth’s fiancée.

“It’s very nice and just an extra bonus with Aldana being the trainer,” said Spieth, who was congratulated in the winner’s circle by his fellow jockeys. “This filly has been training well coming to this race, and I thought she was my best shot on the day.”

Awesome Indeed paid $8 to win after capturing the five-and-a-half furlong maiden claiming event in her second career start.

Spieth was unfazed by a recent dry spell that left friends and fans wondering when he would get to the mark. “The same thing happened here (in 2012) when I was sitting on 3,999 for about two weeks, then I had back-to-back winners,” he recalled.

This time, Spieth finished second in the seventh race on the turf on Dudette to first-time starter and winner Ballinskelligs.

The 49-year-old Spieth is 10th in the Oldsmar standings with 22 victories. He finished fourth last year at Delaware Park with 46 victories before arriving at Tampa Bay Downs and is confident he can get to 5,000 within three years.

“Moving to Delaware Park last year lets me be able to ride seven days a week,” he said, citing that track’s proximity to Monmouth and other mid-Atlantic tracks. “It (reaching 5,000) won’t be a problem.

“I love what I do; that’s No. 1. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “I was in pre-med in college and I chose to be a jockey. I’m very satisfied with what I do.”

The Michigan native rode 307 winners in 2005 and averaged 269 a year from 2005-2007.

Live It Up Challenge winner crowned. Shawn Heron of Westfield, N.J., outlasted 607 opponents to win the Live It Up Challenge handicapping contest. Heron, 50, won $1,000 and a coveted seat at the 2017 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship event in January in Las Vegas and a chance to win in the vicinity of $800,000.

Rich Averill won the $500 prize by selecting the most winners, 14, throughout the contest. He tied in that category with Heron, winning the tiebreaker with a higher total bankroll.

Entering the final day Saturday, Heron and Carson Bird were the only remaining contestants, everyone else having been eliminated by running out of lifelines. Heron and Bird each chose the same horse Saturday (Florida Cup Sophomore Turf winner Life Imitates Art), enabling Heron to maintain his slight lead, $$233.50-$231.40.

“I really didn’t think I had any chance of winning until it got down to the last seven or eight days,” said Heron, who played online from his home. “Racing and handicapping are more of a hobby for me, and playing these kind of contests is a good way to enjoy it.”

This was Heron’s first time playing the Live It Up Challenge. He works as an investment advisor.

Down the stretch. Five-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno rode three consecutive winners today, capped by Distorted Type’s victory in the ninth race, The Oldsmar Cup. The City of Oldsmar celebrates its 100th birthday Tuesday. Centeno also won The Oldsmar Cup last year.

Today, he guided 4-year-old filly Distorted Type to victory in the mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance/optional claiming event on the turf for trainer Jamie Ness and the conditioner’s Jagger, Inc., operation.

Centeno’s streak started in the seventh race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Ballinskelligs, a first-time starter, for owner Waterville Lake Stable and trainer Christophe Clement. The rider captured the eighth race aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding West of Eden for owner The Four Horseman Racing Stable and trainer Barbara McBride.

Jose Ferrer notched two winners in the saddle. He won the third race on 3-year-old filly Eye of Ra, a first-time starter, for owners Beverly S. Anderson and Edward A. Seltzer and trainer Ben Colebrook. Ferrer added the fifth race on the grass on 5-year-old gelding Tiger D for owner Krenz Stables and trainer Arnaud Delacour.

Tiger D was claimed from the race for $16,000 by owner-trainer Tim Padilla.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:43 p.m. 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.