Florida’s Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry put its best foot forward today at Tampa Bay Downs, and even fans who didn’t cash a ticket came away feeling like winners after a pair of breathtaking stakes races.
In the fourth race, the fifth edition of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes for registered state-bred fillies and mares, unbeaten 3-year-old R Adios Jersey engineered a tour de force, dominating four rivals for an 11-length victory.
Two races later, in the FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes for registered state-bred males, owners, trainers and spectators were left gasping as 4-year-old colt Shivaree defended his 2020 Marion County title with a desperate rally in the final strides that deprived 5-year-old gelding R Mercedes Boy of victory by a head.
Both winners earned $60,000 from the $100,000 purses, but it was the thrills they provided along the way that proved priceless. Shivaree’s winning time of 1:22.58 for the 7-furlong distance was .02 seconds faster than R Adios Jersey, but it should also be mentioned she was geared down late while Shivaree was all-out at the finish.
Jockey Paco Lopez knew R Adios Jersey was virtually flying during the early stages of the City of Ocala. But the 3-year-old filly felt so comfortable beneath him, he decided it would be counter-productive to try to slow her down.
By the time she got to the 1/8-mile pole of the 7-furlong race, her four Florida-bred rivals were vying for second place. R Adios Jersey continued to roll, improving her record to 6-for-6.
R Adios Jersey and jockey Paco Lopez are all by themselves at the finish of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)
An overwhelming favorite in the wagering, R Adios Jersey paid $2.40 to win. She probably would have set a stakes record had not Lopez throttled her back in the final yards, still posting a time of 1:22.60, .20 seconds off Surprise Wedding’s 2017 stakes mark. Starship Nala finished second and Bramble Berry was third.
R Adios Jersey, who won the Grade III Charles Town Oaks on Aug. 27 in her previous start, is owned by Rich Averill’s Averill Racing, Anthony Mattera’s ATM Racing and retired major league baseball outfielder Jayson Werth. Georgina Baxter trains the daughter of Adios Charlie-Marion Theatre, by Montbrook, who was bred in the Sunshine State by Ocala Stud and J. Michael O’Farrell, Jr.
First-place money raised R Adios Jersey’s career earnings to $427,400.
“That was kind of easy, but when you have a very nice, fast filly like that, it can look easy. I wanted her to go in 22 (seconds) and 46 (for the quarter-mile and the half), but (21.79) and (44.35). … she’s just very fast,” Lopez said. “She wanted to go so hard but I didn’t fight her too much, because she was doing it very comfortable. She was really sharp today and Georgina did a great job getting her ready.”
Lopez has ridden R Adios Jersey in all but one of her starts, including the Charles Town Oaks and the Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies Stakes here in March.
Bradenton, Fla., resident Averill, who owns Rich Averill Masonry, has built an impressive racing resume since emerging on the scene in 2005 with Florida Oaks and Grade II Delaware Oaks winner R Lady Joy. With such prominent stakes winners as Lady’s Island, Pay Any Price, R Angel Katelyn, Paradise Dancer and Grade II Saratoga winner R Free Roll to his credit, Averill keeps proving he’s a major player.
As is customary when he competes in a stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs, he brought close to 100 family members, co-workers, friends and friends of friends to enjoy R Adios Jersey’s sheer brilliance.
“We wanted this race for the hometown team, and it’s great when the plan comes together,” Averill said. “Every race she has done better and better and better. She’s 6-for-6 and you can’t ask for more than that. We’re taking things one race at a time with her, and we’ll figure out what’s next.
“I always try to plan a party here with my friends and family and co-workers, and right now it’s a feeling of stress relief because I don’t have to answer all the questions of ‘why didn’t you win.’ It’s fun to get new people into the game, like Anthony, who moved down from New Jersey, and Jayson, and today is a day they will always remember in a good way.”
In the Marion County, Shivaree bettered his record to 5-for-23 the hard way, digging into a deep reserve of desire in the final strides to edge a tiring but game R Mercedes Boy. Samy Camacho rode the winner for breeder-owner Jacks or Better Farm and trainer Ralph Nicks.
Shivaree, the 2020 Grade I Curlin Florida Derby runner-up, raised his lifetime bankroll to $546,294.
Jockey Samy Camacho, outside, beams at the knowledge that Shivaree has gotten there just in time in the FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)
Camacho said the race unfolded as he expected, with Shivaree making a bold move on the turn for home, until Averill Racing and partners’ R Mercedes Boy kept going inside the 1/8-mile pole under Lopez.
“I was a little worried when that horse gave another kick,” said Camacho, who surprised more than a few people by knowing he’d gotten there just in time. “But my horse kept trying. I rode this horse in two stakes at Gulfstream this year and finished second by a neck and second by a head, so I know him and he did a great job. He tries all the time.”
Nicks, who watched the race from Gulfstream Park in south Florida, was worried when Shivaree went wide on the turn for home. But the son of Awesome of Course-Garter Belt, by Anasheed, seemed to thirst for a victory that was his first in 364 days – since last year’s Marion County.
“He’s gritty and he’s very competitive. He makes up for his size in try,” Nicks said. “I knew he would keep grinding and luckily he had room to get there. Very rarely is he not competitive.”
Shivaree paid $4.40 as the wagering favorite. His time was .90 seconds off his 2020 stakes record. Well Defined, the 2019 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner, finished third, a length-and-a-quarter behind R Mercedes Boy.
Around the oval. Camacho also won today’s 10th race on the turf for maidens aboard heavy favorite Jura, a 3-year-old gelding bred and owned by Mooncoin, LLC and trained by J. R. McGaughey.
Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:20 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with a special Thursday, Dec. 23 card and Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 26.
The track is closed on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and Easter Sunday, April 17. 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.