by Mike Henry


Tiger Blood and jockey Pablo Morales pull away from Springmeier late to capture $100,000 Pelican Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

From his career debut at Tampa Bay Downs in January of 2016, when he won a maiden special weight contest by more than nine lengths in a sizzling six-furlong time of 1:09.90, Tiger Blood has always been regarded as a colt with tremendous ability.

After his victory in today’s $100,000 Pelican Stakes, the 4-year-old appears to be on the verge of realizing his full potential.

Ridden smartly by Pablo Morales, who was aboard for his first race last year as well as his two most recent starts at Tampa Bay Downs this season, the Florida-bred son of Cowtown Cat-Sarah Cataldo, by Smarty Jones, pressed the pace early and pulled away late for a one-length victory from pace-setter Springmeier. Sonoma Crush, a 43-1 shot, held on for third.

The 11-10 favorite, Futile, finished seventh. Tiger Blood paid $8.60 to win as the second choice.

Tiger Blood sped the distance in 1:09.42, only .28 seconds off the stakes record set by Action Andy in 2013. Bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung, Tiger Blood is owned by Miguel Barraza and trained by Darien Rodriguez, who took over the conditioning duties when Tiger Blood arrived at Tampa Bay Downs in November.

In the other stakes on today’s Oldsmar card, the 36th edition of the $50,000 Minaret Stakes, 7-year-old mare Spanish Concert also scored her first career stakes victory, jumping to a two-length lead the first few steps away from the gate and finishing strong for a three-and-a-quarter length victory from 28-1 shot My Mertie. Southern Ring finished third.


Spanish Concert, Ronnie Allen, Jr., up, wins the Minaret Stakes in record time (courtesy SV Photography)

Spanish Concert’s time of 1:09.63 for the six-furlong distance is a stakes record, bettering the previous mark of 1:09.68 set by It’s Me Mom in December of 2011.

It would take some doing to top Spanish Concert’s performance, but Tiger Blood may have done so.

“I knew the horse was something special from Day 1 (last winter), and after I worked him once for Darien at this meeting, I knew I was sitting on a monster,” Morales said. “Darien had him absolutely 100 percent ready, and we knew he could do this.”

Tiger Blood improved to 4-for-9 lifetime, with each of his victories coming at Tampa Bay Downs. The Pelican is his first stakes triumph. The winner’s share of $60,000 raised his career earnings to $115,302.

Morales said he felt confident throughout the race as he and Tiger Blood raced just outside Springmeier. “He has tactical speed and doesn’t have to be right up there, but he likes to be running in the clear,” Morales said. “He was ready to go today and he was sharp, and there was nobody on our outside so there was no reason to pull him back.

“I just kind of inched him outside a bit (on the turn) to make sure there was nobody outside him, and he was super happy and just dragging me along,” Morales added. “I felt like we were in good shape all the way around, and once he switches leads he always takes off.”

Rodriguez had been pointing Tiger Blood to the Pelican for several weeks. “He’s been good since I got him,” said Rodriguez, who saddled Tiger Blood for a victory and a second in his two allowance efforts here before the Pelican. “He’s a little strong in the morning, and I told Pablo to just break well and put him on the outside because last time (a second to Futile on Jan. 15), he got between horses and got a little shy. I’m happy with the way he ran today.”

In the Minaret, Spanish Concert controlled the pace from the outset. The two betting favorites in the Minaret, You Bought Her and No Fault of Mine, finished fifth and seventh, respectively.

The 7-year-old mare You Bought Her, winner of the previous two Minaret Stakes, is expected to be retired, with a booking to Taylor Made Stallions resident California Chrome, the two-time Horse of the Year, in her near future.

Spanish Concert improved to 7-for-27 lifetime and is 6-for-14 at Tampa Bay Downs, with six seconds and a third. Her regular pilot, Ronnie Allen, Jr., was aboard for the victory.

The Florida-bred daughter of Concerto-Spanish Slew, by Seattle Sleet, paid $10.60 to win. Her victory marked trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s third in the Minaret and the first stakes triumph ever for owner James M. Chicklo of Ocala, who has raced Thoroughbreds for about 20 years.

“She’s the queen of Tampa,” said assistant trainer Brian Smeak, filling in for O’Connell. “She’s on top of her game right now, like I told you before the race, and she loves the cooler weather. Everything came together for her.”

Breaking from the outside No. 8 post, Spanish Concert wasted no time announcing she would take some catching. “She has a lot of natural speed, and being on the outside they usually break a lot faster,” said Allen. “Once she got the lead, I worked her down to get on the path I wanted, where the tractor goes and it was packed down good, because she likes it hard and fast.

“She was striding out nice and relaxed heading down the stretch. I heard (My Mertie and jockey Fernando De La Cruz) coming, but I knew I still had a lot of horse. When I uncorked my stick and hit her once inside the quarter-mile pole, she just took off for me,” Allen said.

Spanish Concert’s fractions were 22.30 for the quarter-mile, 44.84 for the half and 56.99 for five furlongs.

Chicklo described the victory as “exhilarating.” He owns four horses, all trained by O’Connell. “She is a great horse, but the competition she had today. … I thought the Pelican might be easier for her than this race. But (O’Connell) puts them where they can win,” he said.

Around the oval. In today’s third leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series for males, contested as the second race, 5-year-old gelding Impromptu surged to the lead just inside the 1/8-mile pole and held off a late rally from Foxhall Drive to win by three-quarters of a length. Diaz, who won the second leg of the series on Jan. 11, finished third.

Impromptu had finished seventh that day but appeared to relish the added sixteenth of a mile, scoring at odds of 10-1 under jockey Dean Butler. Owned by Empire Racing and trained by Bernell Rhone, Impromptu improved to 7-for-26 lifetime.

The Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series is for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2016-17.

Trainer Dennis Ward sent out back-to-back winners on today’s card. His 7-year-old gelding China Prince won the third race under jockey Jose Ferrer, with Ward’s Ridenjac Racing outfit the owner. The conditioner then took the fourth on the turf with Trismen, a 4-year-old gelding ridden by Pablo Morales. Paul Girdner is the owner.

Ferrer also won the fifth race on Indio Nativo, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Rafael Obeso and trained by Braulio Lopez, Jr.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:55 p.m. The track will conduct racing next Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning to a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule in March and April.

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.