TRAINER OF MONTH WRIGHT MAKES DAILY ROUTINE FUN, AND WINNING FOLLOWS

by Mike Henry

Jockey Isabelle C. Wenc was grateful for the opportunity to ride Call Her Joey for trainer Michael Wright in a 1-mile turf claiming race on Dec. 31 at Tampa Bay Downs. The (then)-5-year-old mare won, giving Wright his fourth consecutive victory of the meet and providing Wenc with a memorable Oldsmar oval debut.

Strange as it sounds, though, a trip to the winner’s circle takes a backseat to the continuing education Wenc receives around Wright’s barn, where the conditioner inspires employees through his devotion to the horses – and his insistence that everyone, including himself, be able to take a joke.

“It’s fun coming to work. He loves the sport, and he has a good sense of humor,” said trainer Mike Dunslow, who works for Wright here as an assistant.

“If I were to have any kind of question, he is somebody I can go to and ask, and he doesn’t even make you feel silly,” said Wenc, a 27-year-old Saskatchewan product who is working for Wright this season as an exercise rider. “It’s fun coming to work because he trusts your opinion. We all butt heads occasionally, but we get along pretty well and have a main goal in mind.”

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Trainer of the Month Michael Wright (left), who is 4-for-4 at the meeting, with groom Michael Whitelaw, jockey Isabelle C. Wenc and 7-year-old mare Nantucket Red

Four consecutive victories is a rarity for any trainer or jockey, but Wright seemed to take it in stride. “When you come with the right horses, it’s not difficult, I guess,” he said.

The streak started on Dec. 17 with a pair of victories, one by (then)-3-year-old gelding Decimator, owned by Colebrook Farms, in a claiming sprint and the next by 6-year-old mare Nantucket Red, also owned by Colebrook, in a 1-mile allowance/optional claiming race on the turf. On Dec. 29, Wright won a claiming sprint with 5-year-old mare Distinctly Blue, who was claimed from the race.

Call Her Joey, claimed by Wright from her previous start on Nov. 5 at Woodbine, is owned by Wright’s wife, Gina Wright.

A clear-cut choice as the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month for his 4-for-4 start, Wright is in the latter stages of a career that has seen him scale some peaks. In the 1990s, he trained for leading Canadian owner Bruno Schickedanz, with Wright averaging 66 winners a year from 1991-1995, primarily at Woodbine in Toronto.

Their top horse together was the Ontario-bred Scotzanna, who won a pair of Sovereign Awards in 1995 as Canada’s Champion Sprinter and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. Her major victories that year included the Grade II Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park under jockey Robin Platts. “She was a good horse right from the start,” Wright said of the $10,000 yearling auction purchase. “She’s the best horse I’ve ever had.”

Wright, a Manchester, England product, moved with his family to Toronto when he was 14. He sent out his first starter in 1967 or 1968 at Woodbine and has compiled 795 victories. He began competing at Tampa Bay Downs during the 2013-2014 season. It marked a pleasant change from cold winters spent at Woodbine and Laurel in years past.

“We went on a cruise to Mexico, and when we got back I said ‘Let’s stay here (Florida) for a while.’ We bought a house and now my wife lives here year-round while I go back to Woodbine in the summer.”

Wright’s son, Michael Wright, Jr., won a Sovereign Award in 1998 as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer. Younger son Andrew helps his father throughout the summer at Woodbine, while a daughter, Natalie, works at a golf course in Maryland.

Wife Gina’s brothers, Dale and Gary Capuano, are trainers, with Gary having trained 1997 Kentucky Derby runner-up Captain Bodgit.

Wright’s reputation for patience results in usually getting the best efforts from his horses. “He understands them. He takes good care of them and spots them well,” said Dunslow.

Wright also understands people. A groom, Michael Whitelaw, who has been with him for decades, says “he treats me like his son.”

Although his pace has slowed, Wright is having too much fun to contemplate retirement. “You have to keep going, because if you stop, all of a sudden it’s over. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve always liked the game, and I like to be here in the mornings.”

His ongoing presence is mighty reassuring.

“It’s nice to work for somebody who genuinely loves what they do,” Wenc said. “It’s a fun environment to be part of.”

Around the oval. In today’s second race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event for 3-year-olds, Golden Glider made an impressive move on the turn for home and held firm through the stretch for a 1 ¾-length victory from pace-setter Boitano. Golden Glider’s time for the mile-and-40-yard distance was 1:41.24.

Antonio Gallardo rode the winning colt, a son of Ghostzapper who is owned by Conrad Farms and trained by Mark Casse. It was the second lifetime start for Golden Glider, who broke his maiden going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the synthetic track at Woodbine on Nov. 27.

The race lost some of its luster when trainer Todd Pletcher’s well-regarded 3-year-old colt, Emmanuel, was scratched with a fever. Golden Glider took advantage with a performance that raises expectations for his next start, and possibly a meeting against Emmanuel down the road.

Samy Camacho and Fernando De La Cruz each rode two winners today. Camacho won the first race on Bubba Dreams, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Crown’s Way Racing, Lou Stevens and Jim Gulick and trained by Gulick. Camacho added the fifth race on the turf aboard first-time starter Microphone, a 4-year-old gelding owned by White Birch Farm and trained by Chad Brown.

De La Cruz captured the sixth on Atlantic Princess, a 4-year-old filly owned by Thomas Ridgely Demas and trained by Gerald Bennett. Atlantic Princess was claimed from the race by trainer Bobby Raymond for new owner Pedro Posadas. De La Cruz added the seventh on the turf on Marv’s Magic, a 7-year-old gelding owned and trained by Anthony Granitz.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:14 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval 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.

High Rollers Handicapping Contest is Saturday. The annual High Rollers Handicapping Contest Presented by HorseTourneys is Saturday, with first prize (based on 100 players) of $20,000. Players are required to deposit $1,000 to enter, with $500 serving as the player’s bankroll for wagering and the remaining $500 going to the prize pool. At the conclusion of the tournament, any dollar amount remaining in the bankroll remains the property of the player.

Wager types permitted are win, place and show only, with each player making five $100 win, place and/or show bets during the tournament. The player with the highest bankroll takes top prize (50 percent of the prize pool), plus a seat in either the 2022 or 2023 National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, plus accommodations.

To enter, register at www.tampabaydowns.com and make the required $1,000 payment by noon on Saturday. Players must check in at the VIP Room but are allowed to bet on any of the self-service wagering terminals throughout the racetrack.

For additional details, contact Margo Flynn at mjflynn@tampabaydowns.com or (813) 855-4401, extension 1368.