by Mike Henry

Laur Net turned in an impressive performance to win today’s fifth race at Tampa Bay Downs, the Lambholm South Race of the Week for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf course.

As the 6-year-old mare entered the winner’s circle, heads turned again when track announcer Richard Grunder revealed the Illinois-bred had been claimed for $62,500, the highest price in track history.

The daughter of Strong Hope-Lady Lionel, by Lucky Lionel, was claimed from the conditional allowance/optional claiming race by trainer Aldana Gonzalez for the Loooch Racing Stables of Ron Paolucci. Perhaps best known as the co-owner of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner (via disqualification) Ria Antonia, Paolucci, as Loooch Racing Stables, is a co-owner of three horses that competed in today’s Grade II, $1.25-million Charles Town Classic: Imperative, War Story and Cautious Giant.

Owned going into today’s race by Charles J. Sigrist and Lynette Bassett and trained by Karen Yanez, Laur Net made a strong move on the far turn and went on to victory by two-and-a-quarter lengths under jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., in a time of 1:36.52. Laur Net improved her career mark to 7-for-27.

Gonzalez plans to take Laur Net with the rest of her stable to Delaware Park, which begins its 2017 meeting on June 3.

“We’re excited,” said Gonzalez, who recently married jockey Scott Spieth. “We watched her last two races before today (a fourth-place finish on Jan. 8 in an allowance/$100,000 optional claiming race and a victory on Dec. 21 in a conditional allowance/$75,000 optional claimer, both on the Oldsmar turf), and we think she is capable of running well on any good turf course up north.

“She’s put up very good numbers, and even with the fractions today (23.94 seconds for the quarter-mile, 48.96 for the half and 1:12.94 for six furlongs, which did not appear to favor her come-from-behind style), she was able to win impressively,” Gonzalez added.

Laur Net’s victory was No. 3,498 in Allen’s riding career. He added another victory in the eighth race on the turf on Game Lad, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Kathleen O’Connell and Dennis Holman and trained by O’Connell, to get to 3,499.

Lady’s Island produced a corker in the fourth race, winning the five-and-a-half furlong maiden claiming sprint in a swift time of 1:03.94. Her winning margin under jockey Pablo Morales was four-and-a-quarter lengths. The 3-year-old Florida-bred filly, bred and owned by Bailey Bolen and trained by Joseph Arboritanza, virtually eliminated the competition with an opening quarter-mile in 21.63 seconds and the half-mile in 44.72.  

Around the oval. Imperative won the Charles Town Classic in West Virginia under jockey Javier Castellano, with War Story finishing third, so that $62,500 spent by Paolucci on Laur Net suddenly looks like a drop in the bucket. The 7-year-old gelding Imperative also won the race in 2014, while owned by KM Racing Enterprise.

Edwin Gonzalez and Wilmer Garcia joined Allen in riding two winners today. In the first race on the turf, Gonzalez was aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Mill Hill Place for owner Michael Reynolds and trainer Gerald Bennett. Gonzalez added the seventh race on Louisianahotsauce, a 3-year-old filly owned by Kimberly Wichmann and trained by Robert A. Raymond.

Garcia scored in the second race on 9-year-old gelding Moonlit Meteor for owner Krown Racing Stable and trainer James Tsirigotis, Jr. Garcia added the ninth and final race on the turf on 7-year-old gelding Point Roll for owner-trainer John D. Stephens.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:45 p.m. The co-features are the fifth race, an allowance/$16,000 optional claiming race for older fillies and mares sprinting six furlongs on the main track, and the sixth race, a maiden special weight contest for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward sprinting five furlongs on the turf.

There are nine racing days remaining in the 2016-2017 meeting, including the June 30 card, which is also the first day of the track’s two-day Summer Festival of Racing and Music. On Saturday, May 6, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the 143rd edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. A field of 20 3-year-olds is expected to line up for the world’s most famous race.

The Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies is Friday, May 5. First-race post time at Churchill Downs both days is 10:30 a.m., and the gates at Tampa Bay Downs will open at 10, with a full card of racing each day preceding the big events in Louisville.

Mint juleps will be on sale at Tampa Bay Downs in Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses. The glasses will also be on sale (minus beverage) for $6 in the gift shop. Fans can also expect to see the latest in haute couture, including a wide array of memorable hats, dresses and ties, as race-goers enjoy the numerous traditions that make Kentucky Derby Day what it is.

As an added bonus, Sunday, May 7 is Fan Appreciation Day at Tampa Bay Downs. Grandstand admission is free and hot dogs, sodas and 12-ounce beers cost $1.50 from noon-3 p.m.

The Run for the Roses has been won on two occasions by horses that campaigned here earlier in their sophomore campaigns. In 2007, Street Sense used a thrilling nose victory from Any Given Saturday in the (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby as a springboard to glory under the Twin Spires.

Three years later, Super Saver, who had finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby, triumphed in the Kentucky Derby. Both winners were ridden by Calvin Borel.

At least three likely Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands starters have competed here and all three posted victories on an Oldsmar track surface many consider similar to Churchill’s. They include Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden here on Jan. 25 by 11 ½ lengths going a distance of a mile-and-40 yards under jockey John Velazquez; McCraken, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 11 under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.; and Tapwrit, who won the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11.

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.