by Mike Henry

From the time she claimed Chess Master for $32,000 last winter at Tampa Bay Downs, owner-trainer Kerri Raven knew she was in possession of a bundle of talent and raw speed – and a lot of nervous energy.

“The big thing was getting his brain good,” Raven said after the 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding posted a front-running, 2 ½-length victory from Xy Speed in the 19th edition of the $100,000, 5-furlong Turf Dash Stakes for older males on the Tampa Bay Downs grass course.

“He’s always been a really fast horse, but he can be fractious. So we got him happy that way, and he’s the nicest horse I’ve had,” Raven said.


Chess Master and jockey Jesus Castanon controlled the Turf Dash every step of the way (courtesy SV Photography)

Chess Master’s victory in 55.56 seconds under jockey Jesus Castanon followed an equally convincing score by Payntdembluesaway and jockey Pablo Morales in the $100,000, 5-furlong Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares on the track’s “Turf Sprint Showcase Day” card.

More on the Lightning City Stakes shortly. The Turf Dash victory was the first in a stakes for Raven, who has saddled Chess Master for seven victories from 11 starts since the claim. Bred by Brenda K. Jones, Chess Master is by Overdriven out of the Chester House mare Chesty. He earned $60,000, which included the $15,000 in additional funds provided by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association to a registered state-bred winner.

The Connector finished third in the nine-horse field, while never threatening the top two. The 2-1 favorite, Bad Beat Brian, finished sixth. Baby Boomer and Diamond Oops were scratched from the race.

Xy Speed and Samy Camacho broke on top from the No. 6 post, but it was only a matter of a few strides before Chess Master shot to an advantage from inside post that he would never yield. “I just took advantage of my (post) position, because I knew my horse wants to be in front,” Castanon said.

“I was pretty sure (trainer Gerald) Bennett’s horse was going to chase me, and I knew he was really going to have to run because every time (Chess Master) gets around another horse, he gets stronger.”

Xy Speed and Camacho took their best shots at the quarter-mile pole and the top of the stretch, to no avail. “I tried my best to take the lead, but he (Chess Master) broke so sharp,” Camacho said. “I tried to go with him, but he beat me.”

“It was like (Chess Master) was just exploding in (Castanon’s) hands,” Raven said. “He kept finding another gear. It was fantastic.”

Chess Master is 11-for-27, with career earnings of $230,755.

It’s rare when a plan works as well as it did for 6-year-old mare Payntdembluesaway in the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes. But the talented Kentucky-bred isn’t your typical racehorse.

“She is just a really, really fast filly,” trainer Jane Cibelli said via telephone after Payntdembluesaway scored a 3 ¼-length victory from Poseidon’s Passion in 56.73 seconds for the 5-furlong distance on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course. “She is pretty straightforward. The key to her is to just not get in her way.”


Following trainer Jane Cibelli's instructions to the letter, Pablo Morales is rewarded with a dream trip on Payntdembluesaway in the Lightning City Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

A 2-1 second-choice at post time, Payntdembluesaway left no doubts of her superiority to her 11 rivals on this day. Morales kept her flanked outside Senora Roma on the backstretch, and when it came time to decide the outcome, Payntdembluesaway did what comes naturally – run for daylight.

Poseidon’s Passion and jockey Fernando De La Cruz edged a game Senora Roma by a neck for second, with Beantown Baby finishing fourth. The 9-5 wagering favorite, Mamba Wamba, never got untracked, finishing 10th.

The Lightning City is the second career stakes victory for Payntdembluesaway, who won the Claiming Crown Distaff Dash Starter Stakes on Dec. 4 at Gulfstream Park. She had finished fourth in last year’s Lightning City.

“She is just so naturally fast, you can do whatever,” Morales said. “My only instructions from (Cibelli) were to let her do her own running – don’t send her, don’t take her back, just give her a nice, long hold and she’ll do the rest, and she couldn’t have been more right.

“My job was to let her use her natural speed and just keep her happy. She was super good in the gate the whole time, very professional, and when the gate opened she shot out of there like a rocket.

“She was running hard the whole way. Turning for home, I thought we were going to win unless something really finished,” added Morales.

The victory raised Payntdembluesaway’s career record to 9-for-15, with the winner’s share of $45,000 raising her career earnings to $237,920. Owned by Ed Hart’s All My Hart Racing, Tom Holland and others, Payntdembluesaway is a daughter of Paynter, out of the Unbridled Song’s mare Denim n’ Motion.

“Jane had her well-prepared and ready to go,” Holland said. “She was hyped-up in the paddock, and I had a really good feeling about the race. Jane has had this filly prepared for every single outing.”

Payntdembluesaway raced for a claiming price as recently as her ninth start, a victory at Gulfstream in December of 2020. “That’s how you make horses sometimes,” Cibelli said. “We had some issues early in her career – nothing major, but it was start and stop, start and stop. We got through that and now she has so much confidence, she thinks she’s a world-beater.”

Around the oval. In today’s first race, Belgrade, a 3-year-old colt recently purchased for $700,000, overcame a stumble at the start and getting caught in tight quarters down the backstretch to emerge with a head victory from Florida-bred gelding Morgan Point.

Belgrade paid $3 to win while improving his record to 2-for-2. His time for the 7-furlong distance was 1:24.1. Owned by Carl F. Pascarella and Yurie Pascarella and trained by H. Graham Motion, Belgrade was ridden by Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr.

Previously owned by Randy Bradshaw and trained by Brendan Walsh, Belgrade won his career debut on Dec. 18 at Fair Grounds sprinting 6 furlongs by 6 lengths. He was consigned by Four Star Sales, agent, to the Keeneland sale.

After a couple of weeks off following the sale, Belgrade began working at Tampa Bay Downs, turning in three 4-furlong breezes before today’s victory.

In addition to winning the Lightning City Stakes, Morales was victorious in the fifth race aboard Onlyamatteroftime, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Monarch Stables and trained by John Rigattieri.

Samy Camacho and Antonio Gallardo also rode two winners today. Camacho won the fourth race on the turf on Xcaret, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Mario Silva and trained by Chad Stewart. Camacho added the seventh with Lyrical, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Arindel and trained by Scott Acker.

Gallardo tallied in the sixth race on the turf with Feets of Feather, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Jared Cheeks and trained by Ron G. Potts. Gallardo added the ninth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on Basquiat, a 5-year-old gelding owned and trained by Lisa L. Lewis.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:13 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.