by Mike Henry

Chance of Luck and R Angel Katelyn, impressive stakes winners here on Dec. 3 in their final starts as 2-year-olds, are among the nominees to the Jan. 21 Skyway Festival Day card, which features three stakes races worth a combined $250,000 in purse money.

On tap are the 18th edition of the Pasco Stakes, a $100,000, seven-furlong contest for 3-year-olds; the 33rd running of the Gasparilla Stakes, a $100,000, seven-furlong event for 3-year-old fillies; and the 33rd Wayward Lass Stakes, a $50,000 race at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth for older fillies and mares.

Meanwhile, on today’s card, jockey Fernando De La Cruz rode three consecutive winners in the eighth, ninth and 10th races (more on his big day in the “Around the oval” section).

Chance of Luck, a 3-year-old gray colt owned by J J Brevan Stable and trained by Gerald Bennett and the winner of the Inaugural Stakes on the first Saturday in December, heads a group of 26 nominations for the Pasco Stakes, which in recent years has proved a significant springboard for several subsequent graded-stakes winners.

The 2009 Pasco winner, Musket Man, won that year’s (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and Grade II Illinois Derby and finished third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the BlackBerry Preakness. That year’s Pasco runner-up, General Quarters, captured the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here and the (then)-Grade I Toyota Blue Grass and was a Grade I winner as a 4-year-old.

Other Pasco winners to enjoy graded-stakes success include Prospective (2012), winner of the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Ohio Derby as a 3-year-old; Dynamic Sky (2013), a Grade III winner and Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s Champion Grass Horse as a 4-year-old; and Catalina Red (2015), who won last year’s Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes.

Now 2-for-2, Chance of Luck is joined on the nominations list by the second and third-place Inaugural Stakes finishers, Florida-bred Dont Come Knockin and the gelding Triumphant Joy. Dont Come Knockin is owned by Frank Carl Calabrese and trained by Angel M. Rodriguez. Triumphant Joy, another Bennett trainee, is owned by South Fork Creek Stables.

Other impressive-looking Pasco nominees include the Grade I-placed colt Wild Shot, from the barn of trainer George R. Arnold, II; graded-stakes placed Recruiting Ready, trained by Horacio DePaz; the Todd Pletcher-trained multiple stakes-winner Sonic Mule; and multiple stakes-winning gelding Even Thunder, conditioned by Joseph Orseno.

As impressive as the long-striding Chance of Luck appeared in the Inaugural, Gasparilla nominee R Angel Katelyn did not take a backseat with her three-and-a-half length Sandpiper Stakes victory in a time of 1:10.67 for six furlongs, .17 seconds faster than Chance of Luck’s winning time.

The Florida-bred R Angel Katelyn, who had won the Juvenile Filly Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park West in her previous start and is 3-for-4 lifetime, is owned by Averill Racing, CCF Racing Stable and K Lauren Racing and trained by Bennett.

The second, third and fourth-place Sandpiper Stakes finishers – Jumby Bay, Rashette and Star Gala – are among the 34-strong nominations list. Jumby Bay is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and trained by Pletcher.

Florida-bred Rashette is owned by hert breeder, Blackacre Farms, and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Star Gala is a homebred racing for Florida breeders Helen and Joseph Barbazon and trained by Ian Hemingway.

Other intriguing Gasparilla nominees include Florida-bred stakes-winner Lirica, from the barn of Antonio Sano; the Michael Matz-trained stakes-winner Tequilita; Velvet Mood, a Timothy Hamm-trained stakes winner last summer at Woodbine; and the O’Connell-trained Florida-bred Wildcat Kate, who won the Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 7.

The Gasparilla has produced such notable winners as Ebony Breeze (2003), the George Steinbrenner-bred runner who went on to win the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs and three other Grade III stakes; Diva Delite (2010), who also won the Florida Oaks; and Irish Jasper (2015), whose three subsequent graded-stakes victories include the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland.

The Wayward Lass, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward, has attracted 18 nominees. Prominent among them is Genre, a 5-year-old Grade III stakes winner owned by Cheyenne Stables and trained by Pletcher; Lothenbach Stables’ 5-year-old No Fault of Mine, a graded stakes-placed runner trained by Chris Block; Florida-bred stakes-winning 5-year-old Royal Jewely, owned by Michael Reynolds and Anthony Piarulli and trained by Bennett; and Godolphin Racing’s 5-year-old Regia Marina, trained by Eoin Harty.

Around the oval. Jockey Fernando De La Cruz swept the last three races. He won the eighth on the turf on 4-year-old homebred filly Street Strut, who is owned by celebrity chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay and trained by Hall of Fame conditioner William Mott.

De La Cruz won the ninth race aboard 3-year-old gelding Downtownbigbrown for trainer Jason DaCosta, who owns the winner with John T. Brown. The rider added the 10th and final on the turf on 4-year-old gelding Perfect Execution for owner VinLaur Racing Stables and trainer Jordan Blair.

Interestingly, De La Cruz was named as a replacement for both his eighth and 10th-race winners.

A pair of exciting rallies highlighted today’s second legs of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series.

In the sixth race, the Males Division, leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno rallied 5-year-old gelding Diaz to a neck victory from pace-setter Yes I See. The Irish-bred winner paid $10.60 after completing the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance in a time of 1:41.57.

Tamara L. Levy trains Diaz, who is owned by the IAB Stables of her and her husband Ron. Claimed by Diaz for $10,000 from a victory last June at Gulfstream, Diaz has won three of seven starts since. He is 2-for-3 with a second on the Tampa Bay Downs lawn.

In the Females Division, contested as the fourth race, 6-year-old Florida-bred mare Babe’s Ruler wore down pace-setter Ballinskelligs in the final strides for a half-length victory in a time of 1:42.24. Babe’s Ruler is owned by the Jagger, Inc., stable of her trainer, Jamie Ness, and was ridden by Edwin Gonzalez.

Babe’s Ruler is 4-for-14 lifetime on the Oldsmar turf course. She won a leg of the 2016 Tampa Turf Test series going a mile-and-an-eighth in a race that was switched to the main track because of course conditions.

Centeno, the five-time leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs, also won the seventh race today on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Phil’sfirstfactum, who is owned by Charles Tebbutt, Edwin Schatzel and Stephen Buonome and trained by John Tebbutt. Centeno has 32 victories, 14 more than runner-up Pablo Morales.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:55 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Card Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.