Mike Dini says equipping Dynatail with blinkers for her first Tampa Bay Downs start on Dec. 3 was a turning point in her development.
“They’ve made her more focused and kept her on her game,” said the Oldsmar conditioner, who has entered Ballybrit Stable’s 3-year-old filly in Saturday’s Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course. “Her (speed) numbers have almost doubled, and the more we train her, the tougher she gets.”
Dynatail is part of a small but willing local contingent set to chase graded-stakes riches on Saturday’s Festival Day program, the most lucrative day in track history. A 12-race card, which begins at noon, is topped by the 37th edition of the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race for 3-year-olds racing a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.
Saturday’s five stakes will be run as races 7-11, offering bettors a Pick-5 wager with a 15-percent takeout. The Florida Oaks will be the ninth race.
Will Dynatail be part of your ticket? You would be hard-pressed to leave her off after talking to Dini.
In her last three starts, including a Jan. 24 victory in the Ocala Breeders’ Championship Stakes (Fillies Division) on the Ocala Training Center all-weather track, Dynatail has led at every point of call, posting an aggregate winning margin of 9 ¾ lengths. She breezed five furlongs on the main track Saturday in 1:01 2/5.
“She’s just getting stronger all the time and doing everything right,” Dini said. “We have no complaints about her. I think she’ll be at her best (Saturday).”
She had better be.
Since the Florida Oaks was switched from the main dirt track to the turf for the 2011 edition, no Tampa Bay Downs-based filly has won the race. With two victories for Hall of Fame trainer William Mott and one each for H. Graham Motion, Mark Casse, Chad Brown and Brian Lynch, the Florida Oaks has become a popular target for south Florida-based conditioners and their potential-laden sophomore fillies.
This year is no exception, with top trainers Casse (two Florida Oaks entries), Thomas M. Bush and Ken McPeek all sending contenders in what is certain to be Dynatail’s toughest test.
“The horses she’s beaten (to date) aren’t stars, and this time she’s facing horses that have been in major races,” Dini said. “But I have a lot of good thoughts about her, and she will probably be in front early.
“I told her that when they come to her, you have to be ready,” joked Dini, who has again named Orlando Bocachica to ride Dynatail.
Preparation will be a key throughout Saturday’s Festival Day program, which offers $925,000 in stakes purse money alone. The Florida Oaks is one of three graded stakes on the card, along with the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, awarding Run for the Roses qualifying points to the first four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
Here is the field for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in post position order, along with each horse’s trainer and jockey:
No. 1: Tale of Silence, Barclay Tagg, Paco Lopez; 2. The Money Monster, William Mott, Joel Rosario; 3. Basha, Gilberto Zerpa, Emisael Jaramillo; 4. No Dozing, Arnaud Delacour, Daniel Centeno; 5. Tapwrit, Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz; 6. Beasley, Mark Hennig, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 7. Sonic Mule, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 8. State of Honor, Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux; 9. Wild Shot, George “Rusty” Arnold, II, Robby Albarado; 10. Zion Valley, Kevin Rice, Huber Villa-Gomez.
Two other stakes are also on tap: the $100,000 Challenger Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes (formerly the Chris Thomas Turf Classic) for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf.
Ballybrit and Dini have entered their colt Bird’s Eye View in the Columbia. He was 1-for-4 as a 2-year-old, with third-place finishes on the turf on Aug. 31 in the Grade II With Anticipation at Saratoga and on Oct. 9 in the Grade III Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. “He’s got the best form of anybody in there, and I think he’s ready to go,” Dini said.
Dynatail is one of two Oldsmar-based fillies entered in the Florida Oaks, along with the Tom Proctor-trained Compelled, a Florida-bred stakes winner whose five starts have been at different tracks.
The invading forces include McPeek’s Grade II winner Daddys Lil Darling, who finished fourth on Nov. 5 in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, and the Casse-trained Grade III winner La Coronel, who finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.
Daddys Lil Darling is considered a top candidate for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs, and she currently sits sixth in the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points chase with 20 points. The Florida Oaks is not part of the series, but McPeek considers the race a logical 2017 starting point for the Normandy Farm-bred and owned youngster.
Although she has yet to race on the turf, Daddys Lil Darling is a half-sister to Mongolian Saturday, the (now)-7-year-old gelding who won the 2015 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland.
“She’s doing quite well, and we feel that timing-wise, this is a really good first race of the year for her,” McPeek said of Daddys Lil Darling, who trains at Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Fla.
“We’ve been very patient bringing her back to the races, and this is just one step of many. With her breeding, I don’t think the (switch to turf) is going to hurt anything,” McPeek said. “The main thing I wanted for her was a two-turn race, and I didn’t want to ship her all the way to Oaklawn Park (in Hot Springs, Ark.) for the (Grade III) Honeybee.
“She’s doing super, she’s put on a lot of weight and she’s gotten stronger, and she is dappled from head to toe,” McPeek added. “That’s when you pull the trigger.”
McPeek knows something about timing. In 1999, he sent out Pineaff to win the Tampa Bay Derby, upsetting Menifee. The conditioner’s Grade I winners include the 2002 Belmont champion, Sarava, as well as Rosalind, Java’s War, Golden Ticket, Pure Fun, Noble’s Promise, Harlan’s Holiday and Take Charge Lady.
Robby Albarado will ride Daddys Lil Darling, who won the Grade II Pocahontas Stakes last September at Churchill Downs and finished second in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland and the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill, behind “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” co-points leader Farrell.
Now 3-for-6 in her career, Dynatail is by Hightail, who won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, out of Southern Dynamo, who failed to place in two starts. Dini purchased Dynatail on behalf of Ballybrit owner Alan Lustig for $5,000 at last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales June Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age Sale.
“We thought we were just getting a little horse to have fun with, and she keeps getting better and better,” Dini said. “In horse racing, it is all about the heart, and she definitely has that.”
Around the oval. The first 7,500 fans through the turnstiles Saturday will receive a commemorative Festival Day umbrella, with paid admission. Each umbrella is lined with colorful photographs of last year’s Festival Day winners.
Samy Camacho, Jose Ferrer and Ronnie Allen, Jr., each rode two winners today. Camacho captured the second race aboard Pillango, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Span Investments and George S. DeBenedicty and trained by Braulio Lopez, Jr. Camacho added the sixth race on the turf on 5-year-old Florida-bred horse Tutti Sanno, bred and owned by Michael Feriole and trained by Reid Nagle.
Ferrer won the third race on Doinmysongndance, a 9-year-old gelding owned by Alan Booge Racing and trained by Tim Padilla. Ferrer added the ninth and final race on the turf on 25-1 shot Igotyoursix, a 3-year-old colt owned by Group 1 Racing and trained by Stacy L. Hendry.
Allen visited the winner’s circle after the fourth race on Odessa Wind, a 5-year-old mare owned by Jack Cannon and trained by Luis R. Dominguez. The four-time Oldsmar riding champion also won the seventh race on Royal Crusader, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Horseshoe Farm and trained by James C. Kirk.
Thoroughbred racing at the Oldsmar oval resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout April, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 16, when the track is closed.