WHAT A NIGHT (YOU GOTTA THINK) FOR JERSEY BOY; CENTENO WINS THREE

by Mike Henry

Michael Cundari has entered several Thoroughbred handicapping contests in recent years, but his best performance until now was a ninth-place finish in a contest conducted by Del Mar that earned him a cap with the southern California track’s logo.

But the Farmingdale, N.J., resident proved nearly psychic in this year’s “10 Days of Festivus Challenge” On-line Handicapping Contest, picking nine Tampa Bay Downs winners and amassing a bankroll of $152.40 to finish in first place and earn top prize of $1,000.

A retired New York Police Department officer who now works as a school bus driver, Cundari competed under the online name of “Migaloutz” (a nickname bestowed upon him as a youngster by an uncle). He finished ahead of “Dennis66,” who earned $500 for finishing second with a $119.20 aggregate. "Dennis66" also had nine winners.

Cundari capped his championship run by picking today’s eighth-race winner, Itsnotezbeinbreezy, on the turf. His biggest score came in Saturday’s $100,000 Lightning City Stakes with Triple Chelsea, who paid $20.80 to win. “I think that’s the one that put me over the top,” Cundari said via telephone.

“It’s a great feeling because my wife and daughter were watching with me today, and my grandkids are here. It’s dynamite,” Cundari said. “And I think it will give me a little more confidence going into future tournaments.”

Cundari plans to compete in the “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest that begins Feb. 11. “I love the Florida tracks, and I love the turf racing at Tampa Bay Downs. I think I’m a pretty decent handicapper when it comes to turf,” he said.

Around the oval. Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno rode three winners today, giving him 19 over the first 13 days of the meeting. Centeno captured the third race on 3-year-old filly Milliondollarhiway, bred and owned by Team Block and trained by Chris Block. He added the seventh on 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Nightbar, a Carolyn Wilson-owned homebred trained by Larry Rivelli.

Centeno added the 10th race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Ballinskelligs for owner Waterville Lake Stable and trainer Arnaud Delacour.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Also on Wednesday, the Oldsmar oval will distribute the 2017 edition of its popular commemorative calendar to patrons with paid admission. The calendar giveaway continues through Dec. 31 or until they run out.

The 2017 calendar contains information on racing, poker, golf and dining; important dates;  historical track nuggets; and stunning photography. It is certain to be well-received as a holiday season gift.

Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Sunday, Christmas Day. The track will reopen Monday 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.

The first Sunday card of the 2016-2017 meeting is Jan. 1. Sunday Bruch begins in the Skye Terrace Dining Room on Jan. 8, with a full breakfast menu followed by traditional Sunday dinner fare and desserts for $28.99 a person. Reservations are suggested and a dress code will be enforced.

Grade I simulcast action set for Monday. Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby participant Awesome Banner is part of a nine-horse field set to compete in Monday’s Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds on Opening Day at Santa Anita. The only Florida-bred in the race will be ridden by Julien Leparoux. He is 8-1 on the morning line.

The Malibu, a seven-furlong contest, is the eighth race on the card. Post time for the first race is 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The entire Santa Anita card will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs.

After finishing eighth in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, won by Destin in stakes and track-record time, Awesome Banner was moved to the barn of trainer Mark Casse and given almost three months off. The multiple graded-stakes winner has three firsts and three seconds from six starts since, all in stakes company, but faces a stiff test against the likes of Mind Your Biscuits, Sharp Azteca and the Bob Baffert-trained trio of Ten Blessings, Mor Spirit and Jazzy Times.

Other stakes races on the Santa Anita card Monday are the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea; the Grade II, $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile; and the Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon.