BENNETT WIDENS LEAD IN STANDINGS, LOOKS AHEAD TO FLORIDA CUP

by Mike Henry

Even though Gadsby Tavern had finished sixth in his previous start, trainer Gerald Bennett liked his chances going into today’s second race on the turf.

“We cut (gelded) him before his last start, and he just had to learn that he wasn’t hurting,” Bennett said after the 3-year-old’s one-length victory in the mile maiden claiming event gave the conditioner a sweep of the early daily double. “I thought he ran a real good race his first time on the turf (on March 8), but he got covered up and had nowhere to go all the way through the lane.”

His two victories from four starters gives Bennett 36 victories for the meeting in his quest to win back-to-back Tampa Bay Downs training titles. Only past track champion Kathleen O’Connell, with 28 victories, appears to have a realistic chance to catch Bennett.

“Sure it’s important. You want to be No. 1. That’s what everyone is fighting to be, and it’s a good accomplishment,” Bennett said. “Plus, it helps get you clients (owners).”

Bennett won the first race with 2-5 favorite Roundupthelute, who never appeared in danger in the $5,000 claiming event. The 6-year-old gelding’s final margin from runner-up Tempietto was one-and-three-quarter lengths. Edwin Gonzalez rode the winner, who was claimed for $5,000 by owner-trainer Tim Padilla.

Two other entities also put in a claim for Roundupthelute, with Padilla winning the shake.

“If you lose a horse (have one claimed), you lose the horse,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t surprised. He had a couple of rough trips his last two starts, but you need to put horses in at the level they can win or they’ll start quitting in the race.”

Gadsby Tavern, by contrast, paid $25.60 to win. He is owned by James Georgeades and Michael Pugliese and was ridden by Samy Camacho. The other Bennett-trained entry in the second race, 5-2 shot Big Bad Kitty, finished a non-threatening sixth, and Bennett said he plans to geld him before racing again.

Bennett is planning to be well-represented in the 15th annual Florida Cup on Sunday, April 2 at Tampa Bay Downs. His 3-year-old filly R Angel Katelyn, who won both the Sandpiper and Gasparilla Stakes here earlier in the meeting, will work out this Sunday in preparation for her expected start in the $100,000 Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs.

The 5-year-old stakes-winning mare Royal Jewely, who finished second here in the Wayward Lass Stakes on Jan. 21, breezed four furlongs Friday in a swift 47 2/5 seconds, the fastest of 25 recorded workouts that day at the distance. She is nominated to the $100,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf.

Bennett’s other nominees for the Florida Cup include his 3-year-old gelding Do Yahwanna Salsa, nominated for both the $100,000 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf and the $100,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, and 5-year-old gelding One Lucky Step, a candidate for the $100,000 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint.

Around the oval. Bennett’s son Dale Bennett saddled the winner of the sixth race, 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding Pacific Image, but the celebration was short-lived. Pacific Image was claimed from the Lambholm South Race of the Week for $16,000 by trainer Gary L. Johnson for new owner Michael Weiss.

Pacific Image has put together a five-race winning streak during the meeting for three different trainers. He was claimed from the barn of trainer Tony Wilson after his first victory here on Dec. 17 by conditioner Justin Johns, who won three in a row with him. Dale Bennett claimed him for $10,000 from his March 12 victory.

Pacific Image is 8-for-12 lifetime on the Tampa Bay Downs dirt track. His time for the six furlongs today was a snappy 1:09.83.

Samy Camacho rode two winners today, the fourth time he has done so this month. In addition to his victory on Gadsby Tavern, Camacho won the fifth race on the turf aboard I’m No Secret, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Martinez Polo and Racing and trained by Teresa Connelly.

In the ninth race, the final leg of the annual Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding Diaz appeared to find another gear through the stretch, winning the mile-and-three-eighths contest by a neck from Vitium. Daniel Centeno rode the winner.

Diaz competed in three legs of the four-race series, winning twice with a third-place finish. He is trained by Tamara Levy, who owns Diaz with her husband Ron under their IAB Stables banner. The winning time of 2:16.68 was .52 seconds off the course record.

Centeno, the track’s leading jockey with 73 victories, also won the fourth race aboard 3-year-old gelding Unassuming for breeder-owner Glen Hill Farm and trainer Tom Proctor.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The Oldsmar oval conducts racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands weekend May 6-7, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 16, when the track is closed, and Wednesday, May 3.

 Otherwise, 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.