by Mike Henry

Back-to-back, 4-furlong bullet workouts at Parx Racing since her previous start seemed to indicate Everything Lovely was ready for a crackerjack performance in Saturday’s Opening Day feature at Tampa Bay Downs, the $26,500 Lightning City Prep for fillies and mares going 5 furlongs on the turf.

The 5-year-old mare did not disappoint bettors who knocked her down to 11-10 favoritism against eight rivals. Dismissing a strong challenge from Just Talkin on the turn, Everything Lovely showed her class and determination to post a length victory in 56.18 seconds under jockey Daniel Centeno, who rode three winners on the card. Pink Mama rallied to finish third, a neck behind Just Talkin.

Blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s greeted an Opening Day crowd of 4,212, a 5-percent increase over last year’s figure.

A stakes winner who is now 7-for-25 lifetime, Everything Lovely is a Maryland-bred daughter of Pollard’s Vision-Desiderata, by During, and is owned by Kathleen DeMasi’s Pewter Stable and Armand A. Delaperriere. DeMasi is the trainer.

Everything Lovely won last year’s Lightning City Prep, then finished third three weeks later in the$100,000 Lightning City Stakes at the same distance. This year’s Lightning City is Dec. 30, and DeMasi thinks the extra time will benefit Everything Lovely.

“We’ve had our sights set on this race (today), and if she showed up the game plan was to bring her back in the stakes,” she said. “I love the fact there is a little more time between races this year.”

DeMasi also watched her 4-year-old gelding Dubini, who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in March, finish second in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship in New York today at odds of 59-1 (to Rainbow Heir), and she sent out a winner at Parx Racing.

“It’s been a team effort for me everywhere today, and Daniel rode Everything Lovely great. That was paramount,” she said.

Centeno, the six-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey, said breaking on top was the game plan, and Everything Lovely was up to the task.

“I wanted to go to the lead no matter what, and she broke sharp,” he said. “That’s the way she likes to run. (Just Talkin and jockey Orlando Bocachica) came up to us, but if you’re going to go by her, you have to go fast and you have to go right away, because if you stay next to her you’re not going to go by her. My horse fought all the way to the wire.”

“Kate told me she was ready, and she runs very well when she runs fresh,” chipped in assistant trainer Mike Pearson, who was on site. “I think the extra two weeks between races is going to be super for her.”

The widely acclaimed Tampa Bay Downs turf course got its first exposure in the sixth race, the first leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series for fillies and mares at a distance of a mile. Under a heady ride by Scott Spieth, 5-year-old mare Mast Cove broke on top and was never headed en route to a length-and-a-quarter victory from 3-year-old A Rose for Lizzy.

Mast Cove completed the distance in a time of 1:36.68, paying $16.80 to win. She is owned and trained by John Rigattieri.

In the male Tampa Turf Test event, run as the eighth race, 5-year-old gelding Bird Humor rallied from far back to post a length victory from 6-5 betting favorite Perfect Tay. The winner’s time for the mile was 1:35.74.

Owned by Big Lick Farm and trained by Reid Nagle, Bird Humor was ridden by Ronnie Allen, Jr. The hard-knocking Kentucky-bred, who has recorded six of his seven lifetime victories since April, paid $8.80 to win.

The Opening Day program got off to a rip-roaring start, with 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding W W Concerto breaking on top and holding on for a head victory from Big Silver Hoss in the 6-furlong waiver claiming contest.

W W Concerto was owned and trained by Miguel Feliciano, a long-time Oldsmar fixture, and ridden by Samy Camacho. His time for the six furlongs was 1:10.61.

W W Concerto was claimed from the race for $6,250 by trainer Gary Jackson for new owner Robert J. Devitz.

“My instructions were to take him back behind horses, but I couldn’t do that because I had so much horse,” Camacho said. “I’m happy to win the first race on Opening Day and get off to a good start.”

Butler returns to action for first time in five months. Veteran jockey Dean Butler says he has much to be thankful for after returning to race-riding for the first time since suffering a transverse fracture to his spine in a spill at Canterbury Park in Minnesota on June 30.

Although the injury did not require surgery, a routine examination that included a brain scan led to concerns among his doctors. A second brain scan using a special dye was conducted the following day, revealing a basilar tip brain aneurysm.

Butler underwent surgery in mid-September, a procedure that involved the insertion of flexible metal coils to “correct” the aneurysm and a stent to hold the coils in place.

Butler received clearance to return to riding after the procedure and exercised horses for two weeks before riding two horses today, finishing unplaced on a pair of long shots.

“My sister had an aneurysm that ruptured nine years ago, and she is lucky to be alive and doing as well as she is,” said Butler. “The doctors told me most aneurysms are either found by accident looking for something else, or because it’s too late. Fortunately, the good Lord was on my side and looking out for me – that’s just the way I look at it.”

Butler, who has won five riding titles at Canterbury, said the episode has reinforced his belief that everything happens for a reason, since the aneurysm probably would not have been found had he not been injured. “It could have been there for a long time and not (ruptured), but there was always that chance something could happen,” he said.

“If I don’t hit the ground (on June 30), I would never have known I had it. I’m excited to get back to riding races. I’ve been doing this almost 25 years, and I just put my faith and trust in the good Lord that He will watch over me like He has,” Butler said.

Butler exercised eight horses Wednesday morning, then drove to Alabama with his daughters, 10 and 6 years old, to visit his brother for Thanksgiving before returning for Opening Day.

Around the oval. Centeno rode two winners before the Lightning City Prep. Centeno captured the second race on Phish Fan, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Lawson Racing Stables and trained by Monte R. Thomas. He added the third on Fortythreeoeight N for trainer Phil Gleaves, who co-owns the 3-year-old gelding with Joseph R. Straus, Jr., Ltd.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:28 p.m. The track 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.