FAMILY ROOTS RUN DEEP FOR ATTFIELD’S “TURF CHAMPIONS DAY” DUO

by Mike Henry

Thoroughbred trainer Roger Attfield wasn’t certain he would run breeder-owner Charles Fipke’s 4-year-old filly Lady Speightspeare in Saturday’s Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes on the turf until this morning.

The 82-year-old conditioner, a member of the U.S. and Canadian Racing Halls of Fame, scratched Lady Speightspeare from last Saturday’s Grade III TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational presented by PEPSI at Gulfstream Park when she failed to finish her feed the day before the race.

After shipping her back to his Payson Park Training Center base in Indiantown, Fla., Attfield and his staff monitored Lady Speightspeare around the clock to see if she could make the Endeavour. “She’s been eating up really well the last four or five days, and I think she’s coming into the race perfect,” Attfield said. “Her jockey (Emma-Jayne Wilson) got on her this morning and was happy, so we’re going to go.”

Lady Speightspeare, who won a 2020 Sovereign Award as Canada’s Champion 2-Year-Old Filly, is a daughter of the 2004 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter, Speightstown, and out of Lady Shakespeare, whom Attfield trained to a pair of graded-stakes victories in 2010.

Now 4-for-5 after a third-place finish on Dec. 26 in the Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream – a race in which she nearly lost a shoe after being clipped from behind, affecting her ability to finish down the lane – Lady Speightspeare is expected to be among the wagering favorites in the 23rd renewal of the Endeavour, a mile-and-a-sixteenth contest for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward.

The Endeavour is the sixth race on a 10-race program beginning at 12:13 p.m. Billed as “Turf Champions Day,” the card also features the 36th running of the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf for males 4-and-upward at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Attfield has entered another Fipke homebred, 5-year-old horse Shirl’s Speight, in the Tampa Bay Stakes, slated as the eighth race on the card. He is by Speightstown out of Perfect Shirl, who won the 2011 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs at odds of 27-1 for Attfield and Fipke. Going back further, Attfield trained Perfect Shirl’s sire Perfect Soul, a Grade I homebred winner and $1.5-million earner, for Fipke.

Shirl’s Speight, a Grade III winner as a 3-year-old, missed almost all of 2021 because of a soft tissue injury. Attfield said Shirl’s Sepight did not handle the all-weather Tapeta course at Gulfstream in his comeback effort on Dec. 19 in a race taken off the turf (he finished seventh), “so went sent him there (Tampa Bay Downs) for some encouragement.”

Shirl’s Speight won an allowance/optional claiming race here on Jan. 15 at the Tampa Bay Stakes distance, earning a return trip to Oldsmar. “It was always one of my aims to bring him for this race,” Attfield said. “He has been training very well, and I think he has a very bright future.” Wilson will be aboard.

Attfield, who has won eight Sovereign Awards as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer, is remembered by Oldsmar fans with longer memories as the trainer of Kinghaven Farms’ With Approval, who finished second to Storm Predictions in the 1989 Tampa Bay Derby. With Approval went on to win the Canadian Triple Crown and two Sovereign Awards that year and set a world record at 4 of 2:10.26 for a mile-and-three-eighths on the turf while capturing the Grade II Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont. He is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Here is the full field for the Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes in post position order, with runner, trainer and jockey:

  1. Nantucket Red, Michael Wright, Olaf Hernandez; 2. Bleecker Street, Chad Brown, Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr.; 3. Lady Speightspeare, Roger Attfield, Emma-Jayne Wilson; 4. Stunning Princess, Danny Gargan, Pablo Morales; 5. Katama Moonlight, Saffie Joseph, Jr., Daniel Centeno; 6. Pythoness, Michael Campbell, Edgar Perez; 7. In Italian, Chad Brown, Samy Camacho; 8. Jezebel’s Kitten, Christopher Davis, Joe Bravo; 9. Morning Molly, Tom Proctor, Jesus Castanon; 10. Oyster Box, H. Graham Motion, Antonio Gallardo

Here is the full field for the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes in post position order, with runner, trainer and jockey:

  1. Cellist, George R. Arnold, II, Isaac Castillo; 2. English Bee, H. Graham Motion, Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr.; 3. Eons, Arnaud Delacour, Jesus Castanon; 4. Shirl’s Speight, Roger Attfield, Emma-Jayne Wilson; 5. Fly Like an Eagle, Tom Albertrani, Fernando De La Cruz; 6. L’Imperator, Chad Brown, Samy Camacho; 7. Get Smokin, Mark Casse, Antonio Gallardo; 8. Talk Or Listen, Arnaud Delacour, Daniel Centeno; 9. Clear Vision, Matthew Brice O’Connor, Joe Bravo; 10. Devamani, Chad Brown, Pablo Morales; 11. Floriform, Bill Mott, unnamed rider; 12. Epic Bromance, Kent Sweezey, Jose Ferrer; 13. (also-eligible) Carpenters Call, Gerald Bennett, Roberto Alvarado, Jr.

O’Connell is Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of Month. Keeping a pulse on 70 Thoroughbreds split between Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park is a monumental task. But trainer Kathleen O’Connell and her crew never seem to tire of bringing well-prepared horses to the paddock and winning races.

During a recent period of 12 racing days, O’Connell won eight races at Tampa Bay Downs to capture the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award. She also won six races at Gulfstream in January, getting 2022 off to an outstanding start.

KATHLEENOCONNELL







Kathleen O'Connell

“It was a very lucky month. We had races go that fit our horses at both tracks, which is why we had such a good month,” O’Connell said.

Throughout her 40-year training career, O’Connell has developed a reputation for excelling with young horses. Among those 14 recent winners, half were horses scoring their first career victories in maiden races.

“I tell my owners I’m a realist. That is the key,” O’Connell said. “It’s like parents with kids in high school – everyone wants their daughter to be the head cheerleader or their son to be a star quarterback, but it doesn’t always work that way.

“”I want to achieve what is best for my owners and my horses, and to do that the owners need to know the truth about each horse. You can’t make them something they’re not.”

O’Connell, who won Oldsmar training titles in 1998-1999 and 2009-2010 (tying with Jamie Ness that season), discovered her personal Shangri-La in 1976 when she arrived at the sleepy racetrack then known as Florida Downs to gallop horses. She had started in the business in 1970 in her hometown of Detroit as a hot-walker.

“I’ve always loved it here, from the day I walked in. This has always been a special place for me,” she said. “That’s why winning the Tampa Bay Derby (with Watch Me Go in 2011, the first time the race was contested as a Grade II stakes) meant so much. This is my home away from home.”

Through the decades, O’Connell has built an enviable record. She has 2,311 career victories, second to Kim Hammond’s 2,366 among female trainers in North America, and has a remarkable 23-year ongoing streak of purse earnings exceeding $1-million (her best year was 2015, when her runners amassed more than $2.7-million).

In addition to Watch Me Go, she has trained such notable graded-stakes winners as Blazing Sword, Ivanavinalot, Fly by Phil, Stormy Embrace and still-active Well Defined, who won the 2019 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and is now owned by Kathleen O’Connell Racing Stable.

With the exception of Stormy Embrace, each of those named were products of Gilbert G. Campbell’s Stonehedge Farm South breeding program near Williston, Fla. Campbell died last September at 91; his wife Marilyn is going forward with the operation, to O’Connell’s joy.

Another accomplished O’Connell charge was Lady Shipman, who finished second as a 3-year-old in the 2015 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland to Mongolian Saturday after winning six stakes and setting a pair of course records.

While traveling between both tracks during the winter and early spring, O’Connell relies on long-term employees such as Oldsmar assistant Sharilyn Stephens, south Florida assistant Jesus Herrera and foreman Cesar Pinones to help keep things running smoothly. “I can’t give enough credit to the exercise riders and the grooms who have been with me for years,” O’Connell said. “It’s an old cliché, but it’s all about the T.E.A.M. – Together, Everyone Achieves More.”

O’Connell also praised the contributions of Holli Day, a long-time friend who handles billings, payroll and other paperwork duties that at times can seem endless. “She’s an unsung hero for us,” O’Connell said.

Reflecting on a life that has sent her to the Kentucky Derby, with Watch Me Go, and three Breeders’ Cups, might cause O’Connell to become nostalgic – if she wasn’t so busy.

“It’s not like I set off to go to the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup when I went to work at Detroit Race Course in 1970,” she said. “I sacrificed a lot of things, but I wouldn’t trade my life in racing for anything because I enjoy it so much.

“I’ve always loved horses, and to make a living working with them and accomplishing what I have is so fulfilling. In life, when you want more, you persevere. When you persevere, it pays off.”

O’Connell’s victory in today’s second race with Ups and Downs Racing’s 5-year-old gelding Broadway Pete gives her 13 for the meet, second-best to Gerald Bennett’s 18.

“Live It Up Challenge” starts Feb. 12. The “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest begins Saturday, Feb. 12 – Festival Preview Day – with a rules change designed to place even more emphasis on handicapping skill.

The free-to-enter online competition will require players to select a horse in two of each day’s three “Challenge Races,” which will be selected by contest officials. In previous years, players selected a horse in one of two designated “Challenge Races.”

All wagers are mythical. Scores, or bankrolls, will be determined on the basis of $2 mythical win-place-show wagers on each participant’s selections. Any race when a player’s choice finishes off-the-board, or the player does not make a selection for any reason, results in the loss of a ‘lifeline.” Players losing all their lifelines are eliminated from further participation, although they are still eligible for the $500 bonus prize for overall most winners.

All entrants begin the contest with one free lifeline. Players may purchase eight additional lifelines for $5 each upon signup, eight more on Feb. 25 for $10 each and four more on March 11 for $25 each.

The contest runs through March 27, which is Florida Cup Day, enhancing the potential for a dramatic finish. Players must register by 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 12. To do so, go to www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet.

The first-place winner will receive two seats for the 2023 High Rollers Handicapping Contest at Tampa Bay Downs next January (a $2,000 value). The second-through-fourth-place finishers will receive one seat apiece, a $1,000 equivalency.

The player selecting the most winners throughout the contest’s duration, as mentioned, receives $500.

For additional details, contact Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing & Publicity, at (813) 855-4401, extension 1368.

Around the oval. Leading jockey Samy Camacho rode three winners today, two coming on the turf for owner Klaravich Stables and trainer Chad Brown.

Camacho won the first race on Acaciahelpme, a 3-year-old filly owned by Bruce McCrea and trained by Rob O’Connor, II. In the fifth race, Camacho scored aboard Unanimous Consent, a 3-year-old colt competing for Klaravich and Brown. They found the winner’s circle again after the seventh with 6-year-old horse Good Governance.

Brown is now 8-for-15 at the meet.

Sunday is the first “Family Days” event of the season, with the Backyard Picnic Area adjacent to the paddock open for family fun throughout the day’s races.

Kids can enjoy bounce houses and a variety of games and special activities, and fans will get to meet the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse, weather permitting. It’s a great way to introduce newcomers and children to the fun and excitement of the sport.

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.