by Mike Henry

Rush-hour commuters on Linebaugh Avenue have noticed an increase the past few weeks in the number of vans and trailers exiting the stable gate area on the way to new equine adventures.

With Tampa Bay Downs set to put the finishing touches on its 2016-2017 season next weekend with full racing programs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 7 (the meeting officially ends on June 30, the first day of the fifth annual, two-day Summer Festival of Racing and Music), horsemen began shipping stock a few weeks ago to various racetracks.

Although Arnaud Delacour has spent most of April at Keeneland, where his 7-year-old gelding A.P. Indian finished second in the Grade III Commonwealth Stakes and 3-year-old No Dozing was third in the Grade III Stonestreet Lexington Stakes, he has kept a number of horses at Tampa Bay Downs with his wife, former trainer Leigh Delacour. They have sent out five winners here this month.

Like many who compete here each year, the Delacours believe the sand-based main track and lush turf course are ideal surfaces for promoting fitness and general well-being in their Thoroughbreds.

“When our horses leave here, they are very fit and very happy, which is what we look for to start the spring racing season,” Leigh Delacour said. “The weather here is also a big plus. You can train horses every day, the sunshine on their backs is good for them and the stinky-sulfur water is good for their skin. We’re happy to train here and grateful to the track operators for letting us take some of our horses to other venues” (before the end of the meeting).

Once all their horses have relocated, the Delacours will have about 40 horses at their Fair Hill Training Center base in Maryland, with another 10-15 at Delaware Park, which begins its 2017 meeting on June 3.

Joan Scott, who will keep 12-15 horses stabled at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., while racing at Churchill Downs and elsewhere, also touts the benefits of wintering at Tampa Bay Downs that can lead to enjoying successful spring and summer campaigns.

“Tampa has a great racetrack and a great gate crew, and it’s a nice place to be in the winter,” said Scott, who won the Grade I Vinery Madison at Keeneland in 2010 with Dr. Zic after prepping the filly at Tampa Bay Downs. “Horses do well here. They really thrive.”

As track officials make final arrangements for racing action throughout the three-day Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands weekend, here is a look at where some of the Oldsmar oval’s leading trainers and jockeys will be competing the next few months.

The track’s three leading trainers – Gerald Bennett, Kathleen O’Connell and Dennis Ward – will compete at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. O’Connell will also keep a string of 25-30 horses at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, which kicks off its meeting on May 13.

“There are a lot of opportunities at Gulfstream, and 284 miles is as far as I’m going,” quipped Ward, who stabled at Monmouth the last two summers.

Tom Proctor, who is based at Fair Hill, left several weeks ago and has entered horses the last few weeks at Keeneland, Aqueduct, Laurel Park and Penn National.

Dale Bennett will be shipping about 20 horses to Delaware after racing at Arlington Park outside Chicago the last 13 years. Keith Nations plans to compete primarily at Delaware and Parx Racing outside Philadelphia.

Ashlee Brnjas, who trains for Colebrook Farms, is based at Woodbine outside Toronto. Derek Ryan will be at Monmouth Park, while Darien Rodriguez plans to bring 10-15 horses to Delaware. Maria Bowersock is taking her horses to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa.

Also heading to Delaware are Joseph Arboritanza and Aldana Gonzalez. Anthony Granitz, who has a home in Indianapolis, has already saddled two winners at Indiana Grand and will also stable horses at Arlington.

As has been the case in recent years, a contingent of Tampa Bay Downs jockeys will move their tack to Presque Isle Downs, where racing begins on May 21. The group of Keystone State-bound riders includes Pablo Morales; Ronnie Allen, Jr.; Willie Martinez; and Mike Allen.

The track’s leading jockey, Daniel Centeno, plans to accept mounts at Monmouth and Laurel Park (which still has a week left in its winter-spring meeting) before heading to Delaware, where he finished fifth last season with 45 victories.

Edwin Gonzalez, second in the Oldsmar standings, also plans to compete at Monmouth and Delaware. Scott Spieth will ride in the mid-Atlantic area, looking to secure business at Pimlico, Parx Racing and Penn National before heading to Delaware.

Jose Ferrer plans to ride at Monmouth, with Orlando Bocachica riding there and at Delaware. Wilmer Garcia will also be based in the mid-Atlantic at Monmouth and Delaware. Samy Camacho is headed to Gulfstream Park.

Jesus Castanon has been riding the past three weeks at Keeneland, while Leandro Goncalves is competing at Indiana Grand. Dean Butler is in Minnesota preparing for Friday’s opening at Canterbury Park.

Fernando De La Cruz, who won with his final three mounts here on April 12, injured his left shoulder in the last of those races and recently underwent surgery. His agent, Don Cespedes, said he could return to action at Indiana Grand in two months.

Around the oval. Wilmer Garcia rode three winners today. Garcia captured the fourth race on Smooth Cookie, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by J D Farms and trained by George S. Bush. Garcia added the seventh race on 5-year-old gelding Whole for owner Big E Stables and trainer Dale Bennett.

Garcia came right back to win the eighth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week on the turf, on I. Damiana, a 3-year-old filly owned by Leonard Racing Stable and trained by George Leonard, III.

Trainer Dennis Ward and his Ridenjac Racing outfit, which leads the track’s owner standings with 21 victories, won today’s second and third races. Ward sent out 3-year-old filly Eternal Tempest to win the second race under apprentice jockey Ajhari Williams.

Ward and Ridenjac took the third race on the turf with 8-year-old horse Smart and True, the Smarty Jones offspring’s fourth consecutive victory. Jose Ferrer was the jockey.

Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner McCraken turned in his final workout in preparation for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands today at Churchill Downs, breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 seconds under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.

Both Hernandez and trainer Ian Wilkes expressed enthusiasm about the effort from the son of Ghostzapper, who is bidding to become the first Sam F. Davis winner to capture the Run for the Roses. The 143rd edition of the Kentucky Derby is Saturday and will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs.

McCraken is 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs in his career, including a victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as a 2-year-old last November.

“Today was really good because he found his rhythm, which is what we were looking for,” Hernandez said. “When I wanted him to pick it up, when he knew it was time to pick it up, he picked it up. It was one of those maintenance-type works that Ian was looking for and he was right on cue with it.”

“I like what I see,” Wilkes said. “He looked like he was doing it easy down the lane. He galloped out good; I didn’t want him to gallop out too far today, but he just kept wanting to go. I wanted the horse to want more, I wanted to come out of here wanting more.”