by Mike Henry

Field Trip, who overcame a sloppy track to break his maiden in virtually gate-to-wire fashion at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 10, and R Angel Katelyn, a two-time stakes winner co-owned by Bradenton, Fla., construction executive Rich Averill, have been installed as the morning-line favorites for Saturday’s co-feature stakes races on Skyway Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs.

Post time for the first of 11 races is 12:12 p.m. Meanwhile, on today’s card, jockeys Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Edwin Gonzalez continued to sizzle; more on their accomplishments in the “Around the oval” section.

Field Trip, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Four Horsemen Racing Stable and Lady Lindsay Racing Stables and trained by Henry Collazo, heads a seven-colt field for the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes on the main dirt track. His odds have been set at 3-1.

The Pasco is the third race on the card.

R Angel Katelyn, also a Florida-bred and trained by Gerald Bennett, spearheads a nine-horse field for the $100,000, seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, which is Saturday’s ninth race, also on the dirt. The Dec. 3 Sandpiper Stakes winner here is considered a 5-2 choice.

The third stakes race on the card is the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track. The morning-line favorite at 5-2 is No Fault of Mine, a 5-year-old mare owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Chris M. Block. The Wayward Lass is the seventh race.

Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. with track announcer Richard Grunder’s weekly “Morning Glory Club” show on the first floor of the Grandstand. His special guest is Oldsmar trainer Jordan Blair, a former assistant to Ken McPeek and Mike Maker.

Fans attending the “Morning Glory Club” show receive free donuts, coffee and Grandstand admission.

South Florida-based jockey Jose L. Alvarez has been named to ride Field Trip in the Pasco. While the invader merits plenty of attention, local bettors might gravitate to the Bennett-trained Chance of Luck, winner here of the Dec. 3 Inaugural Stakes. Erick Rodriguez will again ride Chance of Luck, who is owned by J J Brevan Stable.

Another Pasco entrant to watch is Union Blues, who broke his maiden by a widening six lengths at Penn National in November. Trained by Arnaud Delacour (who will be attending the Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream, where his A.P. Indian is a finalist for Outstanding Male Sprinter), Union Blues will be ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno.

R Angel Katelyn, who will be ridden by Gonzalez, may face a strong challenge from Jumby Bay, a Todd Pletcher-trained filly who finished second in the Sandpiper, three-and-a-half lengths back. Jumby Bay will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.

The Gasparilla field also includes the third-place finisher in the Sandpiper, the Kathleen O’Connell-trained Rashette. She will be ridden by Ronnie Allen, who piloted her in a Jan. 1 turf try in which she finished a non-threatening fourth.

Pletcher is represented in the Wayward Lass by Alto Belle, a south Florida-based 4-year-old shipper who will be ridden by Castanon. Trainer Eoin Harty sends out a pair of Godolphin Racing-owned 4-year-old lasses in an uncoupled entry: Construe, to be ridden by Pablo Morales, and Desert Tune, with Fernando De La Cruz in the irons.

Allen remains red-hot. The aforementioned Ronnie Allen, Jr., a four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion, collected three victories today, giving him eight over the last three racing days.

Allen gained his first victory in the sixth race on the turf on 9-1 shot My Cowboy, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by B G Havari, Inc., and trained by Monte Thomas. Allen next won the eighth on the turf with a flawlessly timed, come-from-behind victory aboard Tree Fire, a 6-year-old Florida-bred horse owned by Joseph H. Pierce, Jr., and trained by Derek Ryan.

Allen added the ninth on the main track on Indian Chaser, a 6-year-old mare owned by South Fork Creek Stables and trained by Gerald Bennett.

Gonzalez named Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month. Edwin Gonzalez has no intention of resting on his laurels.

A day after the announcement of his selection as the Hampton Inn & Suites Jockey of the Month, the 25-year-old Gonzalez rode two winners on Friday’s card, including a victory on 62-1 shot Diamond Tour, the longest shot in the field, in the fourth race.

Although he is a new face to Oldsmar fans, the native of Canovanas, Puerto Rico has enjoyed considerable success since starting his career at Calder in Miami when he was 18. Gonzalez rode only three races at Calder, then returned home because of his struggles with English and unfamiliarity with his new surroundings.

Gonzalez, who knew he wanted to be a jockey from the time he was 11, learned under top Puerto Rico jockeys Edwin Castro and the late Carlos Pizarro. He began making his own name in 2009 when he won the Grade III Clasico Prensa Hipica aboard Boowoogeemalia at Camarero Race Track, then two years later captured the Grade I Clasico Dia del Veterano on Guadalquivir.

After coming to the United States, Gonzalez spent the last three years at Penn National, finishing third in that track’s 2016 standings with 129 victories. Riding the nighttime cards in the middle of a Grantville, Pa., winter could be brutal, but Gonzalez persevered.

“I wasn’t used to that kind of cold, but I wanted to get to the top,” he said. “So I had to work hard and show people I was hungry and that I wanted to win.”

When jockey agent Mike Moran and last year’s leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey, Antonio Gallardo, parted ways, Gonzalez sent Moran video of a couple of his races, and after receiving a strong recommendation from trainer Jamie Ness, Moran agreed to take the rider’s book.

They have proved to be a powerful combination from the resumption of the 2016-2017 meeting. Gonzalez won the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes on Dec. 3 on trainer Gerald Bennett’s filly, R Angel Katelyn, and they are favored to repeat that victory Saturday in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes.

Gonzalez also rides Bennett’s 5-year-old mare Royal Jewely in the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes.

“I love the way he rides,” Moran said. “He is aggressive leaving the gate, gets his horses in the right spots, makes good, decisive moves and keeps his horses running. And he wants to keep learning and improving.”

Gonzalez has always had a strong belief that being a jockey was his destiny. When he was 15, he got kicked in the head by a young horse he was helping to break near his home in Canovanas, opening a wound that required 85 stitches. His mother insisted he not return to the farm, but he was back the next day looking for work. “My mom wanted to kill be, but all I could think about was being a jockey,” he recalled.

His parents, Orlando and Iraida Gonzalez, visited him recently, and he has long had his mother’s full blessing to pursue his dream. In fact, she agreed to send him to a friend who lived in Ocala when he was 17 for seasoning, an impetus that gave him the confidence to enter the competitive realm of race-riding.

Through today’s card, Gonzalez is fourth in the Oldsmar jockey standings with 19 victories. He won the third race on 6-year-old mare Don’tstop Theparty for owner Jagger, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness and added the fourth on 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Diamond Tour, who paid $127.80 to win, for owner Black Stallion E.P. Racing Stable and trainer Jennifer A. Quinones.

Jesus Castanon also rode two winners today. He scored in the second race on Lady Cleopatra, a 3-year-old filly owned by Dave Hearn and trained by George Leonard, III. Castanon added the seventh to his ledger with 4-year-old colt Noble Thought, bred and owned by Pin Oak Stud and trained by Malcolm Pierce.

Trainer Monte Thomas was 2-for-2 on the card. In addition to his victory with My Cowboy, he won the first race with Saleas, owned by B G Havari, Inc., and ridden by Ademar Santos.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day 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.