BALLINSKELLIGS STAYS PERFECT AT A MILE, REJUVENATES ALLEN

by Mike Henry

Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., missed the previous two days with a bad case of the flu and severe bronchitis. But when it looked as if he might not be able to ride Ballinskelligs in today’s sixth race, the 4-year-old filly’s trainer, Maria Bowersock, took proactive steps to get Allen back in the saddle.

“I said ‘You’re riding (today), because I think Babe can win,’ ” said Bowersock, who also happens to be Allen’s fiancée. “So I sat with him in the emergency room (Saturday) for five hours and made him get new antibiotics.”

Ballinskelligs and a still-recovering Allen rewarded the conditioner with a pulsating neck victory in the allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf. The winner’s time was 1:36.37. Ballinskelligs improved to 6-for-6 in her career in 1-mile turf races, three coming this season at Tampa Bay Downs, and is 6-for-12 lifetime.

“We did everything we could to make sure Ronnie was good, and she ran a good race,” Bowersock said. “I could tell by the way he rode her he was back and ready to go.”

Bowersock claimed Ballinskelligs for $16,000 from a mile turf victory on Dec. 23, two days after she had claimed (now)-3-year-old filly Adios Cat for the same price for the same owner, Ralph E. Whitney, a Massachusetts resident. “I had given (Whitney) an option of claiming Babe or Adios Cat, but I really liked Babe,” Bowersock said.

“He said ‘No, we’re going to claim both of them.’ Adios Cat has won two starter races for us since then and Babe has now won two in a row with a second and a third, so you really can’t ask for much more.”

Ballinskelligs was in tight quarters up the backstretch, trailing in last at one point, and Allen was unsure if she would be able to unleash her late kick. “I was on heels the whole way, and she clipped herself and got a little cut on her shin,” he said. “But she has a lot of hard-try in her and a big heart, and she likes winning.”

Finally getting untracked after rallying four or five wide on the turn, Ballinskelligs gradually wore down Cowgirl Tough, who was making her first start since August.

“She picked my head up today,” said a grinning Allen, who will welcome the next two days off to fully recover from his illness. “Maria keeps her happy and doesn’t train her too hard. When you’re good to them, they’ll be good to you.”

“I’m a claiming trainer, and she is a huge horse for our stable,” Bowersock said of the daughter of Malibu Moon-Eden’s Storm, by Stormy Atlantic. “She consistently runs the same numbers every time and she always gives you 100 percent, and that’s what we look for.”

Around the oval. Gerald Bennett sent out two winners for the third time in four days, strengthening his chances of successfully defending his Oldsmar training title. Both of Bennett’s winners today were ridden by Edwin Gonzalez.

They teamed to win the fifth race with first-time starter Axial Load, a 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Thomas J. Young. Axial Load was claimed from the race for $25,000 by trainer Joan Scott for new owner Steve Ballou.

Bennett and Gonzalez also won the seventh race with The Great Loudini, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt bred and owned by J J Brevan Stable.

Florida Cup to be conducted Sunday, April 2. Six stakes races worth $100,000 each comprise the 15th edition of the Florida Cup, to be held Sunday, April 2 at Tampa Bay Downs.

This year’s Florida Cup will be the most lucrative ever, with purses being increased 33 percent from 2016. Races are restricted to registered Florida-breds, with three races apiece on the main dirt track and the turf course.

This marks the third time, and the first since 2004, that the Florida Cup will be held on a Sunday. With major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races being simulcast each of the next two Saturdays, the switch was made for heightened interest and visibility.

The Florida Cup dirt races are the six-furlong Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; the seven-furlong Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore, for 3-year-olds; and the seven-furlong Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, for 3-year-old fillies.

The turf lineup includes the mile-and-a-sixteenth 14 Hands Winery Sophomore Turf, for 3-year-olds; the mile-and-a-sixteenth Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward; and the mile-and-an-eighth EG Vodka Turf Classic, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:55 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.