SATURDAY’S $100,000 LIGHTNING CITY LOOMS AS WIDE-OPEN AFFAIR

by Mike Henry

Optimism abounds among trainers of the leading candidates for Saturday’s 13th running of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, a 5-furlong contest for fillies and mares on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.

Conditioners Larry Rivelli, Malcolm Pierce and Kathleen DeMasi each expressed confidence this morning in their horse’s ability to grab the winner’s share of the purse. The Lightning City, the eighth race on Saturday’s 10-race card, has attracted an overflow field of 14. Only 12 will be permitted to compete.

Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:25 p.m.

“She has settled in here real well and is doing great,” Rivelli said of his 5-year-old homebred mare Richies Sweetheart, the defending race champion who won the Honor the Hero Stakes at Canterbury in May. “I think this will be her best race of the year.”

Richies Sweetheart breezed 4 furlongs Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs in 47 4/5 seconds.

Pierce, who trains 4-year-old, Grade III-winning Southern Ring for her breeder and owner, Sam-Son Farm, said her 4-furlong workout in 47 4/5 seconds on Dec. 10 was exemplary and he expects a top-notch effort on race day.

“She’s a hard-trying filly who gives an honest effort every time we take her over to the paddock,” Pierce said. “She couldn’t be doing better. I’m just hoping 5 furlongs will be far enough for her.” All of Southern Ring’s seven races have been at least 6 furlongs.

DeMasi, who trains Everything Lovely, was bolstered by the 4-year-old’s convincing Lightning City Prep triumph on Nov. 26, which followed by two races a game second-place effort behind 2015 Eclipse Award Female Sprint finalist Lady Shipman in the Turf Amazon at Parx in September.

“My filly has shown she is pretty versatile, and she always gives 100 percent. I’d love for her to get a stakes win in her column, because she certainly deserves it,” DeMasi said. “She certainly relished this turf course last time, and we’re excited to be in the stakes.”

On paper, the Lightning City looks like the farthest thing from a three-horse race.

The 4-year-old Puntsville, trained by Michele Boyce, put together a four-race winning streak a while back, although none of those races were on the turf. Sanctifica, a 5-year-old mare from the barn of Christophe Clement, and Firsthand Report, a 3-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher, will demand attention in part because of their esteemed conditioners.

Rivelli, who owns the Illinois-bred Richies Sweetheart in partnership with co-breeder Richard Ravin and Patricia’s Hope, has named E.T. Baird to ride. The mare’s regular pilot, Baird did not arrive in time for last year’s Lightning City, with Tampa Bay Downs regular Dean Butler picking up the lucrative assignment.

Pierce has named veteran Jesus Castanon to ride Southern Ring. Jose Ferrer, who was aboard Everything Lovely for the Lightning City Prep, returns to ride the 4-year-old owned by DeMasi’s Pewter Stable and Armand A. Delaperriere.

Around the oval. Leading jockey Daniel Centeno and Orlando Bocachica each rode two winners on today’s card. Centeno captured the fourth race on the turf on 3-year-old gelding Irish Major for owner Nation’s Racing Stable and trainer Keith Nations. He added the sixth on the grass on 3-year-old filly I Dream of Lois for owners Pewter Stable and Diane Check and trainer Kathleen DeMasi.

Bocachica won the third race on 6-year-old gelding Summit County for owner Charles Fisher and trainer John Rigattieri. Bocachica also took the eighth on the turf on 2-year-old filly Super Marina for owner R.A. Hill Stable and trainer George Weaver.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through December, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Sundays will be added to the mix on Jan. 1.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.