OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR SUMMER FESTIVAL WINNERS

by Mike Henry

The fourth annual Summer Festival of Racing couldn’t have come at a better time for 4-year-old filly Sophia Sky, who kicked off two days of Thoroughbred action by rallying from a stalking position to win today’s first race at five furlongs on the turf in her career debut.

“We wanted to get her some experience, and (the Summer Festival) just sort of popped up and hit us in the head,” said Stacy L. Hendry, who took over training duties in February after Sophia Sky was sent to his Hendry Training Stables at Classic Mile in Ocala from Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

“Now we have a better idea of what makes her tick,” Hendry said. “She’s a talented filly, but she needed time to grow up.”

For trainer Robert Boileau, meanwhile, the satisfaction of winning a race at the Oldsmar oval has no tie-in to the calendar. “This is my home base,” said Boileau, who sent out his son Stan Boileau’s 3-year-old gelding Darn That Parker to win the third race on the grass.

“We live in Ocala, and I’d race here year-round if I could.”

Maiden victories by Sophia Sky ($14.20) and Darn That Parker ($3.40) were only two of the highlights on a slightly overcast afternoon on the first day of the Summer Festival. Samy Camacho took the first-day lead in the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge, riding two winners with a second-place finish to amass 37 points. Pedro Monterrey, Jr., who rode two winners, and Carson Sullivan, who won the seventh race on 20-1 shot Key Agent and had two seconds, are tied for second with 35 points.

Apprentice jockey Keiber Rengifo is fourth with 31 points and defending champion Ademar Santos is fifth with 30 points.

The winner over the two days receives $2,500, the second-place finisher earns $1,500 and the third-place finisher collects $1,000.

Today’s card marked the final official day of the 2015-2016 meeting, while Friday’s eight-race card, which concludes the Summer Festival, represents the beginning of the 2016-2017 meeting, which is scheduled to resume Saturday, Nov. 26.

Friday’s action will be followed by an on-track concert featuring area groups The Black Honkeys and the Soul Circus Cowboys. General admission for the concert is $5 and VIP seats are $10.

Camacho’s two winners  moved him into 14th place in the final 2015-2016 standings with 20 victories. Monterrey’s pair enabled him to finish tied for 17th with 11 victories. He missed most of the final two months with a fractured shoulder.

Mike Allen won the second race on 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Gabo for owner Terry Jo Herwy and trainer Edward L. Williams to move into a tie for 15th place with 16 victories.

Owned by Donarra Thoroughbreds, Sophia Sky was ridden by Rengifo to a length-and-three-quarter victory from pace-setter Nina’s Patience in the $16,000 maiden claiming contest. The winner’s time was 57.43 seconds.

At Fair Grounds, Sophia Sky had been in the barn of prominent trainer Dallas Stewart. She turned in an eye-catching four-furlong workout of 48 3/5 seconds there Jan. 18, but nerves caused her connections to delay her first race, Hendry said. She had been training exceptionally well at Classic Mile, including a five-furlong gate workout of 1:03 4/5 on June 2, and was the picture of decorum in the paddock before the race.

Entering today’s action, Darn That Parker had made eight career starts, with a pair of seconds and two thirds. Trainer Boileau said he has been improving each time, and he outdueled Eileenflyr on the lead early before pulling away for a two-and-a-half length victory from Champierre Spot in the 1-mile, $16,000 maiden claiming turf contest in 1:36.47.

Sophia Sky and Darn That Parker were both sired by Divine Park, who won the 2008 Grade I Metropolitan Mile at Belmont and now stands in Korea.

 “He (Darn That Parker) was just learning to run his first two or three races, and once we started sending him to the lead, he kept getting better,” Boileau said. “He just had to get some smarts to him and I believe he has a good future. I’m surprised nobody has claimed him by now.”

Stan Boileau, a post office employee, was represented in the winner’s circle by his wife, Kim.

Robert Boileau also sent out 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding Limehousegas, owner Thomas D. Lehman’s son of 2004 Tampa Bay Derby winner Limehouse, to win the sixth race under Monterrey.

Boileau’s history at Tampa Bay Downs goes back more than a half-century. He was a jockey at Tampa Bay Downs in the late 1960s, when the track was known as Sunshine Park and later Florida Downs, before taking out his trainer’s license in 1970.

No wonder he is so fond of the place.

Tampa Bay Downs 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.